Eating out with Type 2 diabetes used to be like walking through a minefield. Navigating meatloaves packed with breadcrumbs and mashed potatoes filled with hidden sour cream and butter, along with sauces laced with unidentified sugars, made restaurant visits feel like a high stakes “adventure.” With every choice (guess) you made, you were putting your blood sugar at risk.
Those days are gone. With the diversity of today’s American diet – Type 2 diabetes, gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan to name a few – most kitchens are prepared to make reasonable substitutions. This applies not only to chefs, but also bartenders, who will gladly substitute sugary tonic with club soda. In addition, many states have laws requiring commercial eating places to note calorie counts, which can help if you’re trying to drop some pounds.
While it’s true that cooking at home can give you greater control over carb and calorie counts, everyone knows that restaurant eating has its pleasures. Gathering for a meal can introduce you to new cuisines and innovative preparations, while providing social time with friends and family.
And yet, some people with Type 2 remain fearful of eating out, fearing it will throw their sugars, or their weight, out of whack.
But by being prepared and speaking up, it doesn’t have to be that way, particularly if you follow a few simple tips that I’ve developed over the years. They include:
Pull up the menu online before you go. As the social secretary for friends and family, I often am the one to handle restaurant reservations. When I do, I always go to the restaurant’s website or Yelp listing to pull up a menu before I seal the deal. Scanning down the list of appetizers and entrees, I try to find something that fits my meal plan. If there’s nothing, I might find someplace else.
Scan the ingredients. Another way to look at the menu is to examine the ingredients. If nothing seems right – like, if everything is breaded or fried – then I think about ways that the ingredients of these dishes might be put together differently. At an Italian restaurant, for example, if they have pasta and broccoli rabe, I figure I can ask for half a dish of pasta, the rabe, and some grated Parmesean Reggiano. Voila! At my favorite breakfast place, I order poached eggs on spinach, onions and lox and hold the hollandaise and English muffin – saving fat and carbs.
Eyeball your portions. While many fine restaurants have gone to small plates, others still pile on the food. If you think the portion that arrives at your table is too big, it probably is. Consider sharing an entrée with your dining companion, or, halve what you’re eating and get the rest boxed. I rarely come out of a restaurant without a doggie bag for lunch.
Speak up. Don’t be embarrassed to make your requirements clear. Restaurants will often gladly substitute salad or sliced tomatoes for hash browns, in the same way they’ll put sauces and dressings on the side. Once I tell servers I have diabetes, they often let me make adjustments even on menus that read “No adjustments.”
And if servers say they don’t think a chef will agree to a change, tell them to go back and ask. Most times, with a little chutzpah, the answer turns out to be yes.
There will be times when you simply can’t pass up a chef’s special pasta or chocolate fudge cake. If you’ve been watching your diet and sugars, and it isn’t a daily habit, sometimes that’s ok. After all, eating with type 2 diabetes – whether at home or out – isn’t supposed to be a punishment but about making smart choices for your healthy lifestyle.
The treadmill will be waiting tomorrow.