Tips for Dining Out When You Have Diabetes
A big part of dining out is spending time with family and friends and, of course, enjoying a delicious meal! Earl "The Pearl" Monroe ate a lot of meals on the road when he was playing pro-basketball, and he knows how hard it is to maintain a healthy diet when eating out. It's even more difficult now that he has type 2 diabetes.
When you have type 2 diabetes, figuring out what you can order at a restaurant can be tricky. But it's easier when you take small steps to learn about what to look for on a menu. You can almost always find something to order that is diabetes-friendly – you just need to know what to look for! It took time for Earl to learn these things years ago when he was first diagnosed, and that's why he wants to help make it less intimidating for you. Below is an easy-to-use guide to help you make stress-free choices when going out to eat.
Let's get started!
Look for these terms below on menus —
they are healthier choices and can be ordered often
Blackened chicken salad
|Meat coated with a mixture of Cajun spices and cooked in a cast-iron skillet that's been heated until almost red hot||Coating meat in spices and herbs is a healthy way to add flavor to a dish without extra calories and fat.|
|Food cooked under or above a direct heat source, allowing fat to drain||Broiling is an excellent cooking method that does not add extra fat or calories to a dish.*|
Grilled hangar steak or wild salmon
|Prepared on a grill over hot coals or other heat source||Grilling meats allows excess fat to drain while maintaining a great flavor.|
Roasted chicken or potatoes
|Oven-cooked food in an uncovered pan||Roasting enhances flavor. Roasted meat is brown on the outside and tender on the inside. Roasted vegetables cook slowly, which brings out their natural sweetness. Roasting usually is not done with the addition of a lot of fat and is a good option.|
Sautéed sea scallops
|Food cooked quickly in a small amount of oil||Sautéing uses less oil than deep frying, making it a more nutritious menu option.*|
Steamed broccoli and asparagus
|Cooked over boiling or simmering water||Steaming is a very healthy cooking method that adds no extra calories or fat and retains nutrients.|
*Although these cooking methods are healthy options, a good rule of thumb is to ask that these dishes be prepared without extra salt, butter, cream, or cheese, which could pile on the calories, saturated fat, and sodium.
Keep an eye out for these menu terms. These terms usually mean that the dish is loaded with calories, saturated fat (What's this?) , sodium (What's this?) , and/or sugar – order these only every once in a while
|A la mode
Apple pie a la mode
|Served with ice cream||Ice cream served with pies and cakes adds calories, saturated fat, and sugar to your meal. Order dessert without the ice cream, or, if it is ice cream you want, have one scoop and skip the pie or cake.|
|Sauce made from cheese, butter, and heavy cream||This sauce is extremely heavy and rich and is very high in calories and saturated fat. Opt for a tomato-based sauce, such as marinara.|
|Breaded or crusted
|Dry-grain coating, such as breadcrumbs, which meat is dipped into after it has been dipped in eggs or milk. The breaded food is then fried or baked.||Meats that are breaded or crusted are often a good choice if they are baked, but frying a breaded meat adds calories and saturated and trans fats.* Ask your waiter or waitress about whether the breaded food is baked or fried.|
Chili con queso
|Served with cheese||Cheese served with meals adds extra calories and saturated fat. Opt for a dish with fresh or steamed vegetables as a garnish instead of cheese.|
|Made with butter and cream or milk||Serving vegetables creamed adds an excessive amount of calories and saturated fat. Choose raw, steamed, or sautéed vegetables instead.|
Crispy chicken tenders
|Deep-fried in fat||Deep fat frying can add calories and saturated and trans fats to your diet.* Instead, pick another dish that is broiled, baked, or sautéed.|
|A Japanese specialty of batter-dipped and deep-fried pieces of fish or vegetables||Deep-frying in fat adds calories and fat to your diet.* Instead, pick a dish that is broiled, baked, or sautéed.|
*Many deep fried foods are fried in trans fat, which increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Having diabetes doesn't mean you can't enjoy delicious, flavorful meals at your favorite restaurant. Below are some tips to help you dine out and still take care of yourself. These tips were put together in collaboration with a nutrition expert.
Beware of sauces and sodium
Restaurants often use excessive amounts of butter, oil, cream, and sodium in sauces and recipes to help make them taste good and achieve a desired texture. In fact, sodium is often so abundant in restaurant sauces that it may exceed the recommended amount you consume in an entire day (the daily recommendation for sodium intake is 2,300 mg, about one teaspoon of salt). If a sauce is cream- or butter-based, it probably has a high amount of saturated fat and calories — ask for the sauce on the side (as little as two tablespoons goes a long way!) or make another choice.
Keep carbohydrates in mind
Keeping track of your carbohydrates doesn't have to be a chore when dining out. Order an extra side of vegetables in place of rice or potatoes, ask your waiter not to bring a bread basket, and limit alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverages. These are simple ways to keep your carbohydrate count in check.
Waiters and waitresses know their menus and are there for you to ask questions. If you're not sure about certain ingredients in a menu item, ask! How is this dish prepared? Is this dish made with butter or cheese? How are the vegetables (or meat) cooked? Do they come in a sauce?
Waiters and waitresses may also be able to help you choose healthier dishes or substitutions, or speak with the chef about how your meal is prepared. Don't be afraid to ask for foods to be prepared the way you want them – you don't have to eat exactly what's on the menu – for example, you can ask for broiled or steamed instead of fried.
Not all salads are created equal
Salad entrees are becoming more popular in many restaurants, but some contain large amounts of hidden fat and calories in ingredients like bacon, cheese, eggs, and creamy dressing. To choose a healthy salad, make sure the bulk of your salad consists of leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and lean protein. Opt for vinaigrette, oil and vinegar, or low-fat dressings. Always ask for dressing on the side – we rarely need as much as restaurants provide!
Save room for dessert
Dessert isn't always a bad thing – many of us crave something sweet after our main meal. A lot of restaurants offer seasonal fresh fruit plates, sorbet or frozen yogurt. The sugar content in sorbet and frozen yogurt varies, so be sure to control portion sizes. If you're a choco-holic, try sharing the dessert with a few friends.
Keep in mind that restaurant portion sizes can be double or triple (!) the size of a normal meal, translating to at least twice as many calories as you may think they have. When ordering your meal, ask for a half- or lunch-size portion, or have your server package part of your dish to go before it even arrives at the table. You'll have instant leftovers for the next day!