Navigating a menu can be challenging when you have diabetes. Here are five ways to steer clear of foods that send blood sugar soaring
Do you cut back on carbohydrates during the day if you plan on dining out later? That’s actually not a good strategy for anyone, especially a person with diabetes.
“You want to keep your carbohydrate intake consistent throughout the day to avoid a spike in blood sugar,” says Kristen Smith, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of the blog 360FamilyNutrition. “Still, you have to remember that carbohydrates aren’t ‘free’ when you eat out. They’re still part of your overall intake for the day.”
Smith offers these tips—which work just as well for people who don’t have diabetes—for making better choices when you place your order.
Plan the whole day. “People who have the best success with eating in general—and dining out, specifically—are those who make meal planning part of their lifestyle,” says Smith. This doesn’t have to be time consuming. When you wake up, run through your day as you shower and dress. Have a hectic evening ahead? You can plan to grab something quick for dinner. But if you plan for it, you can make a better choice about what that “something quick” will be.
Look up menus online. The FDA requires that chain restaurants list nutritional information for their menu items. Menus (on paper as well as the overhead boards) list calories, and other information including carbohydrates and sugars are available on request. You can also often find detailed nutritional information on restaurants’ websites. It can help to plan ahead of time, Smith advises, rather than waiting to decide when you’re seated (and “hangry”).
Eyeball portion sizes. You could feed an elephant with many of the huge platters served these days. “At a restaurant, you’re probably not going to pull out your measuring cups,” says Smith. These visualizations, which are based on the size of an average woman’s hand, can help. (Hand size varies, so use measuring cups and spoons at home to figure out the size of your own fist, thumb, etc.)
* 1 teaspoon = thumb from tip to first joint
* 1 tablespoon = entire thumb
* 1/2 cup (fruit, veggies, grains) or 4 ounces (meat, fish) = the palm
* 1 cup = a closed fist
Watch for hidden sugars. Sure, the dessert case and soda fountain are basically big sugar bowls, save a few sugar-free choices. But did you know that those ketchup and barbecue-sauce bottles on the table contain added sugar, too? Smith advises asking for condiments on the side. (Using less of them usually lowers your sodium intake as well.) Even salad might sneak in a bit of the sweet stuff if it’s made with candied nuts and dried or fresh fruit, so pay attention to each ingredient.
Don’t drink your carbs. Soda, juice, and fruity drinks are sugar bombs. “I tell people to stay away from them because they are a carbohydrate source that won’t help you feel full,” says Smith. “Fortunately, there are lots of lower-calorie and calorie-free options.” Diet soda and unsweetened iced tea, hot tea, and coffee are available at most restaurants. If there’s a bar, you can also order a seltzer with a wedge of lemon, lime, or orange.
A few more quick tips:
* Ask for one piece of bread instead of a whole basket
* Order an appetizer, small plate, or half portion instead of a full entrée
* Ask for a to-go container. Box up half of your meal before you dig in.
* Split dessert or ask for something sugar-free. (Keep in mind that sugar-free doesn’t mean carb-free.)