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Have steak, skip cake: dining out with diabetes

Feeling trapped around the kitchen table? Stymied by the delicate balancing act between your blood sugar and food when eating out? Believe it or not, there are healthy choices when it comes to dining out. Through planning and mindful eating, you can enjoy dining out at restaurants that make your mouth water.

The good, the bad and the sugary

A discussion with your health care provider should reveal the specific balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that is best for your diabetes management plan. When venturing out to eat, it makes sense to have a general understanding of how calorie types--carbohydrates, proteins, and fats--affect blood glucose levels. The University of Michigan Health System has published a straightforward summary:

  1. Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar levels about one hour after eating
  2. Proteins. Proteins typically elevate blood sugar slowly, and glucose levels peak about three hours after protein consumption
  3. Fats. Fats and carbohydrates eaten together can lead to high blood sugar levels three to 12 hours later

The American Diabetes Association recommends a starting point of 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, and always including a source of protein and/or fat to balance the meal. In general, it is a good idea to restrict or eliminate the intake of refined, simple carbohydrates found in such foods as bread, corn chips, pasta and sweets.

At the restaurant

Indeed, it's not always easy to spot the healthiest options on the menu. Hone in on the low-calorie or heart-healthy section of the menu first. These selections will typically be low in fat and salt, making them good dietary choices for people with diabetes. If you are unsure whether a meal is low in fat or sugar, ask your server before placing the order.

Here are three tips for navigating the fat- and calorie-infested waters while dining out.

  1. Know where the fat hides. Fat is the master of hide-and-seek. Lurking around most corners, high-fat ingredients include cream, butter and sour cream. High-fat levels can also be found in foods such as bacon, potato chips, fries and cheese. Also, be wary of certain high-fat cooking methods, including deep-fat frying.
  2. Make healthy requests. Be bold about the Bearnaise: Whether you're out for Sunday brunch with friends, or at a Michelin, three-star restaurant with your spouse, request all sauces on the side. It is common for everything from consomme to roux to be rolling in fat, sugar and salt. Don't shy away from asking for substitutions, such as swapping out garlic bread for whole grain bread, or asking for steamed vegetables to replace the baked potato.
  3. Exercise portion control. Alas, when eating out, the eyes are usually bigger than the stomach. Because most restaurants are notorious for serving massive portions, consider splitting a meal with a companion or splitting the meal in half, taking a doggie bag and enjoying your meal twice.

Become an educated consumer

Before you go, be in the know. Arming yourself with background information about healthy eating, restaurants and their menus will better prepare you to keep your blood sugar in check when hitting the dining scene. First, you may want to start your research at the center of the event--the restaurant's menu. Many restaurants, such as Burger King and Outback Steakhouse, have made their menu's nutritional information publicly available. Next, you may want to turn to diabetes experts such as registered dietitian, Hope S. Warshaw. She has penned eight books about diabetes, including the American Diabetes Association Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating; the Complete Guide to Carb Counting; and the Guide to Healthy Fast Food Eating.

By being prepared and informed, you can make those hints of apprehension and despair disappear when eating out. An educated food consumer is a smart food consumer.

Article sources  expand

About Leah DiPlacido

Leah DiPlacido, PhD received her doctorate degree in Immunology at Yale University, and conducted postdoctoral research at University of Connecticut. She has authored research articles and editorials in journals such as "Arthritis and Rheumatism" and "Journal of Immunology." Leah now writes about topics in health for doctors, scientists, and the general public.

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