Having diabetes doesn’t mean that eating out is impossible! However, a little bit of planning can help alleviate some of the stress that may accompany eating out at restaurants. It’s understandably harder to stick to a diet or meal plan when all your senses are engulfed with delicious temptations. Unfortunately, restaurants aren’t usually catered towards the most balanced meals. Still, with these tips, your next meal can hopefully go a little smoother!
1. Plan Ahead
Many restaurants have their nutrition information available online. Think about looking at the menu online before you leave. This will give you an idea of what to expect on the menu and possibly help you make your meal decision beforehand. Thinking on the spot puts you under pressure, forcing a quick judgement instead of carefully assessing your nutritional needs.
2. Seize Control Over Portion Sizing
The phenomenon of ‘value sizing’ – when you are getting more bang for your buck – has significantly impacted how food is served. Research has shown a steady upward trend in the portion sizes served by restaurants that mirror the rising prevalence of obesity, heart disease, and other related illnesses.
Studies have shown that people will eat more than when given a smaller amount of the same food when given a more significant portion. Less than 45% of them noticed the amounts were smaller. With this popularity of increased portion sizing, overconsumption becomes significantly more accessible to the point where the larger size may even go unnoticed.
Overeating can cause large spikes in blood glucose, thus, impacting the insulin response. Ask the server to estimate the amount of food per served portion, if needed. Many restaurants offer a smaller size (sometimes called the ‘lunch portion’) but only if asked! Most dishes come with some sort of addition, such as garlic bread with a pasta dish or fries with a burger. Typically, these options can be substituted for a healthier alternative or removed from the order! Try to balance your meal as best you can. Aim to have ¼ of your plate as grains/carbs, ½ plate full of vegetables and ¼ of your plate as protein.
Another tip is to put the extra food in a container to go before you begin to eat. This way, you won’t be tempted to eat everything on the plate!
3. Avoid the Traps
When talking about healthy food, salad seems always to be the go-to option, but often salads are not as healthy as they seem! One of the most popular types of salad is caesar which is loaded with cheese, bacon bits, and croutons on top of the lettuce. These additions are high in sodium, trans and saturated fats, and carbohydrates. Asking for the toppings on the side allows more control over the nutritional content. While surveying the menu, a good tip is to stay away from the stereotypically healthy choices and read deeper into the ingredients of the other menu options. For example, avoid dishes with sugar-based sauces (teriyaki, BBQ, honey etc.) and substitute fried food for grilled. Instead, try to look for dishes with a high fibre content while being low in trans and saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.
4. Don’t Skip Meals Before Going Out
Having regular eating times helps to maintain fluctuating blood glucose levels throughout the day. Ideally, when making a reservation, ask the group if they can schedule the outing around when you would typically be eating. Unfortunately, this is not always possible as everyone’s life runs on a different schedule. If the meal can’t be planned during your regular mealtime, consider having a snack at your usual mealtime.
5. Drink Wisely
Fluids are essential to maintain proper bodily functions. Water is always the best option as it hydrates the body very quickly. Still, when you’re at a restaurant, the other drinks are much more inviting! Many sodas have very high sugar contents, which can negatively impact blood glucose levels. If you are feeling like a fizzy refresher, try opting for a club soda or sparkling water. For those who drink alcohol, limit intake to one to two drinks while keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels. It is easy to be drawn to the prettiest-looking drinks. However, those usually have the most added-sugar and empty calories in them! An alcoholic beverage mixed with a club soda, seltzer, or sugar-free base is a much safer alternative!
6. Ask Questions
Overall, the best way to get complete nutritional information is to ask the server or chef about how the food is prepared. Then, alert the kitchen about your dietary needs to see what other options exist. Even if you don’t see something on the menu, always ask. Having diabetes should not make dining out stressful! Even though most restaurants are not geared to serve the healthiest options or even cater to those living with diabetes, adjustments can be made with what is already on the menu to best serve your needs.
If you are confused or want further information, the Ellerca Health team is here to help! Numerous health care professionals are trained to support you and put you in contact with other resources that can be of assistance. So don’t avoid eating out; it’s not as difficult as it may seem!
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Research to Practice Series No. 2: Portion Size. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.
Young, Lisa R., and Marion Nestle. “The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the Us Obesity Epidemic.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 92, no. 2, Feb. 2002, pp. 246–249., doi:10.2105/ajph.92.2.246.
“Eating Out.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Aug. 2021, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/eating-out.html.