Diabetes and eating out

If you have diabetes and eat out occasionally, as in the annual Gleaner-sponsored Restaurant Week which starts today, or if eating out is a way of life, the rules are the same. It means practising control by having smaller portions and making the right nutritional choices for your condition.

Having diabetes does not mean you have to banish fine dining and certain celebratory foods. There is still life with diabetes, as demonstrated by James Brown, ‘The Godfather of Soul’, Aretha Franklin, ‘The Queen of Soul’, and Patti LaBelle, soul singer.

Preparing to dine out

It is important to research the menu and food preparation of the restaurant you want to visit. Call ahead to the restaurant to determine if what you want can be provided and if their selection is wide enough to give you healthy meal options.

Do not be afraid to ask questions of former patrons, as word of mouth is an excellent medium for finding out about the fare at the restaurant of choice. If the restaurant has a website, it should give some indication about what to expect.

Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets, as you will find it very difficult to resist some of the selections which may be laden with fats, sugars and sodium.

Before you leave home, have a small snack, like a ripe banana, as you may have a long wait at the restaurant. This helps to prevent hypoglycaemia – low blood glucose levels.


You should have an idea of what to substitute in a particular dish. If the waiter is reluctant to make the changes, ask to speak with the chef regarding the changes you need. Also, ask about serving sizes, as you should try to eat the same portion you do at home. Where the serving size is larger, it is advisable to share some with members of your dining party or ask that the extra food be placed in a container for you to take home.

Having paid for it, the food is yours. Make menu selections creatively. For example, from an a la carte menu, order breakfast melon for an appetiser and fruit salad for dessert. Your dinner entree could be a hearty salad with fat-free dressing.

Other tips for eating out

Chewing slowly and engaging in conversation can slow down your eating time. Conversation will slow the speed at which you put food in your mouth and you will feel full faster.

Fish or meat should be baked, grilled or broiled, without the addition of extra butter.

Baked potatoes are just as tasty with a teaspoon of margarine or low-calorie sour cream, and/or vegetables from the salad bar.

If you are on a low-salt meal plan, ask that no salt be added to your food.

Place sauces, gravy and salad dressings ‘on the side’. To control the amount you may use, try dipping the tines of your fork in the salad dressing salad dressing, then apply to a piece of lettuce.

Eat limited amounts of fatty foods, especially those which are breaded or fried, because they add fat. Peeling off the outer coating of breaded foods will also help in calorie reduction.

Make substitutions for certain dishes. You could order extra vegetables instead of having French fries, or request a double order of vegetables. If a substitution is not possible, ask your waiter not to bring a high-calorie item on your plate.

Request low-calorie items even when they are not on the menu. You should know what to tell the chef for substitution, for example, vinegar and a dash of oil or a squeeze of lemon for a salad dressing.

When you make the reservation, ask if your food can be prepared with vegetable oil, low-fat margarine, little salt, no extra sauce or butter, broiled instead of fried, and no artificial flavourings like MSG.

Watch your intake of alcohol, as this only adds calories but no nutritive value to your meal.

Use common sense

According to Marci Stone, registered dietitian and author of the ‘Diet Game: Playing for Life’, when you dine out, you must use your common sense to make reasonable choices for control of your diabetes. Take time to consider all the foods that will have the most impact on your blood sugar and be moderate with them. (www.americandiabetesdestination.com)

Stone offers some healthy suggestions for various cuisines:

Chinese food

Shrimp, chicken, lean pork or beef with vegetables.

Do not select breaded or fried choices.

Ask for your food dry, with little sauce, or get it steamed with the sauce on the side for dipping as the sauce has hundreds of calories, lots of salt, sugar, fat, and cornstarch.

If only white rice is available, don’t eat more than three tablespoons. Remember Chinese style is white rice browned with soy sauce.

Eat the inside of the egg roll and watch all the extra sauces like duck sauce (sweet) and soy sauce (salty) that you add.

Have the soup, but only consume a few fried noodles, if you must.

Eat half the ice cream or a fortune cookie, if necessary.

Chinese foods that could affect your blood sugar: white rice, sauces, noodles, egg roll wrapper, wonton wrappers and dessert.

Italian Food

If you select Parmesan veal, chicken or shrimp, do not get the cheese on top! This saves an easy 500 calories (500 calories x 7 days a week is the pound you will lose at the end of the week). Remember that excess weight affects blood glucose levels. The cheese restaurants use has a lot of sodium and artery-clogging saturated fat.

Select entrees that are not fried or soaked in butter or cream sauce, like a broiled piece of fish. Heart disease is a common complication of diabetes.

Your side dish can be pasta and one roll, or request to forego the pasta and have a double order of vegetables. Have a salad with the vinaigrette on the side.

The soup has additional carbohydrates, so you need to decide if you want to skip soup to spread your total carbohydrate intake.

Italian foods that could affect your blood sugar: breading, bread, pasta, sauce, beans and dessert.

Mexican food

Forego the nachos, or share them with friends.

Try to limit cheese and/or fried dishes. After all, full-fat cheese is 100 calories per ounce, with sodium and saturated fat that clogs your arteries.

Choose shrimp, vegetable or chicken fajitas.

Ask them to leave off the sour cream which has saturated fat, and provide only one or two tortillas, instead of four, to eliminate the temptation to overeat high-calorie foods.

The avocado guacamole is the healthiest of the choices.

Mexican foods that could affect your blood sugar: nachos, tortillas, beans, chips and dessert.

Japanese food

Sushi, or even better, sashimi (sushi without rice)

Steamed dumplings

Teriyaki dishes (sauce on the side)

Sparingly use soy sauce or any sauces – remember that sauces have the majority of fat, salt and/or sugar. In this case, soy sauce has about half your daily sodium allowance in one tablespoon.

Have a miso soup (salty) or a salad with your entre

Japanese food is usually one of the better lower-calorie choices you can make, but watch the salt!

Japanese foods that could affect your blood sugar: rice, dumplings, teriyaki sauce, noodles and dessert.

Continental cuisine

Fill up on a salad.

If you have a piece of bread or a roll, skip the potato.

Order your protein with a double order of vegetables, and make sure they are not swimming in fat.

Do not have dessert just for the sake of having it. After a full meal, you should not be hungry. Therefore, there is no need for dessert. Get out of that habit. Have coffee or a skim-milk latte instead if you have some carbohydrates left in your dinner budget.

Continental foods that could affect your blood sugar: condensed milk, white bread, white rice, corn, soups with beans or rice or noodles and dessert.

Chicken Organato

This is a popular low-carb recipe you could select when dining out.

7 chicken thighs

2 tsps ground oregano

1 pinch salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 medium lemon, juiced


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Wash chicken well and pat-dry. Mix oregano with salt and pepper to taste. Rub well over all of the chicken pieces.

3. Put chicken in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish.

4. Whisk the oil with the lemon juice and drizzle half over the chicken. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.

5. Turn the chicken pieces and drizzle with the remaining oil/lemon mixture. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Makes 7 servings.

Additional information

Can be served warm or cold and is perfect for a picnic or get-together.

Nutrition facts:

Calories: 309.2g

Total carbohydrates: 0.7 g

Dietary fibre: 0.3 g

Sugars: 0.1 g

Total fat: 25.0 g

Saturated fat: 6.0g

Unsaturated fat: 18.9g

Protein: 19.6g

Sodium: 8g

At the restaurant or the party, you may be offered alcoholic beverages as cocktails. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, as it will lower your blood sugar too low, causing hypoglycaemia. The rule is to drink alcohol with food rather than before a meal or before food is served.

As you eat out, ensure that you enjoy yourself and do not get too uptight about food that is served. You should not worry about a few extra calories or fat if you eat out only occasionally, as long as your blood glucose level is under control. If you eat out regularly, you would learn to choose food very carefully.

News Source: Jamaica Gleaner

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