Going out to eat is fraught with challenges for people who need to watch their blood sugar. There’s the giant portion size issue, the unknown ingredients, and the “special-occasion effect.” That’s the way we tell ourselves it’s ok to make unhealthy choices on special occasions. Our idea of what constitutes a special occasion is pretty subjective.
Here are some tips on making d-friendly choices in restaurants, by type of cuisine.
What to Order at Italian Restaurants
Italian restaurants can be full of high-carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, pizza, risotto, and gnocci. Many of these combine refined carbs with processed meats like sausage and pepperoni, and batters or breading (think eggplant Parmesan or fried mozzarella). Things you can do:
- Ask your server to skip the bread basket for your table.
- If you’re going to splurge and have pasta, ask for it as a side dish and don’t eat more than the size of your fist. That’s one cup of pasta, or about 45 grams of carbohydrate.
- Order unbreaded chicken or veal baked with sauces like piccata, marsala, puttanesca, francese, or cacciatore. Other good choices include: Caesar salad with grilled or baked fish, escarole and beans, and minestrone soup.
What to Order at Mexican Restaurants
Mexican food can be full of carbohydrates with large portions of rice, beans, and tortillas. Things you can do:
- At the very least, limit portion sizes. Ask to have half your plate wrapped to go before you even start eating.
- Skip the rice; ask for black beans or salad in its place.
- If you love chips and salsa, take a handful and then ask for the basket to be removed from the table.
- Order soft chicken or fish tacos and eat the fillings with a fork, skipping the tortillas; or chicken, beef, or shrimp fajitas, a taco salad (skip the fried shell), or broth-based soups.
- If you drink, ask for a “skinny” margarita; they’ll leave out the sugary, high-carb mix.
What to Order at Chinese Restaurants
Chinese food is notorious for raising blood sugar levels. Basic Chinese cuisine is healthy, full of fish and vegetables. But when you throw in white or fried rice, egg rolls, breaded and fried chicken, and sugar-laden sauces, it becomes unhealthy quickly. Be aware of these foods and opt for some better choices.
- Skip the rice or at least ask for brown rice and keep your portion small.
- Order hot and sour soup, wonton soup, chicken or beef chop suey, stir-fried chicken or shrimp with vegetables, or chicken chow mein.
- Ask for extra vegetables and less sauce.
What to Order at American Restaurants
The good news is that you’ll probably find a selection of salads along with the usual high carb sandwich, fries, and pasta regulars. The bad news is you have to be wary of the salads, too, as they can contain breaded chicken, dried fruit, sweet dressings, croutons, and candied nuts. Other tips:
- Ask your server to take away the dinner rolls or bread basket.
- Order grilled chicken or fish on top of simple salads with oil and vinegar or creamy dressings; or bunless burgers, and vegetable and bean soups.
- Avoid wraps that sound healthy, unless they’re labeled “low carb”—even spinach or whole wheat flatbread or tortillas are made with refined flour and will spike blood sugar. Worst case, unroll your wrap and eat the filling with a fork.