After a diabetes diagnosis, you’ve likely worked on changing your eating habits at home. But what happens when it’s time to head out to a restaurant? Eating out with diabetes can be a challenge — most restaurant foods are not very blood sugar friendly.
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Eating Out With Diabetes
Eating at restaurants can magnify the typical challenges people with diabetes face when planning their meals. After all, when you head to your favorite restaurant, you give up a fair amount of control.
You are likely looking at big portions and unexpected — often carbohydrate-rich — ingredients. A few cocktails and a well-stocked dessert tray can lead even the most disciplined eaters to indulge a little too much, at times. Unfortunately, even the menu options marked “diabetic-friendly” can still send your blood sugar sky high.
The good news is that you don’t have to give up a good meal out to maintain healthy blood sugars. And when you can avoid common restaurant pitfalls, you can enjoy a great meal without high blood sugar regret. Here are a few tips on how to successfully dine out with diabetes:
- Plan ahead. Today, most restaurants publish their menus on their websites. Online menus are great for people living with diabetes. You can look at your options ahead of time and calculate potential carbs. Picking healthy options before sitting down at the table is a great way to resist temptation.
- Be wary of the cocktail menu. One of the first questions your waiter will likely ask is, “Can I get you started with a cocktail?” Unfortunately, most alcoholic beverages, especially the fancier, fruitier varieties, are chock full of sugar and carbohydrates. If you’d like to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, stick to a single glass of wine, a beer, or pure spirits. Keep your blood sugar in check by including it in your carb count!
- Keep an eye on portion size. Restaurants pride themselves on offering their customers large portions. It can be hard to estimate serving sizes for that rice or pasta side dish. But you can avoid these super-sized portions by ordering a child’s meal or a lunch-sized plate. If those options don’t appeal to you, try asking your waiter to bring a go-to container with your meal. You can box up half your plate before digging in to avoid over-indulging.
- Make smart substitutions. Too often, the meal that calls to you may not be the most glucose friendly. But you can always make smart substitutions to enjoy what you want without hiking up your blood sugar. Try swapping a fried entree with a grilled or broiled option. Instead of fries or pasta on the side, ask for steamed veggies, fruit, or a side salad. And while sugary or creamy sauces are delicious, they are often chock full of carbs. Ask if you can get them on the side to avoid overdoing it.
- Pay attention to the extras. Sometimes, you may not even realize you are consuming extra carbs. The waiter sets some bread on the table and you need a couple of bites to tide you over. Or you just have a few of the free chips and salsa. Before you even know it, the waiter has also refilled your sugary soda. When you avoid these extras, you can better manage your blood sugars (and leave room to enjoy your entree!)
- Consider trade-offs. The whole point of dining out is to enjoy yourself! A little indulgence isn’t a bad thing. But to have that piece of cheesecake at the end of the meal, you probably want to avoid the pasta. It’s all about trade-offs. Take the time to consider what foods are most important to you before you start eating. Leave yourself room to get what you crave most and keep your blood sugar in check.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Link.
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.