Expert Advice for Navigating Food Choices at Summer Barbecues and Picnics

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By : Suvarna Sheth

The July 4th holiday is around the corner, what better time to unwind and spend with friends and family? Most gatherings celebrating the red, white and blue weekend are not complete without its share of BBQs and picnics.

But how should someone with diabetes navigate their way around all the tempting choices at the next gathering?

dLife speaks with Amandeep Kalsi, MPH, a registered dietitian, and certified health education specialist to get some expert-advise to help you navigate your choices.

The key to healthy living with diabetes, according to Kalsi is being able to “make good choices as consistently as possible,” she says. “It is a known fact that the ideal diet for someone with diabetes is most often low in fat, sodium, added sugar and high in fiber.”

However, she emphasizes it is very possible to include some indulgent foods into any healthy diet.

“The key to doing this, for someone with diabetes, is to do it without raising blood sugar levels or adding too many extra calories,” she says.

This can be done by substituting high calorie, high fat and high sugar content foods for healthier choices that have similar tastes.

Also, she advises if you are planning on indulging in a treat, to consider removing 1-2 carbohydrate food items from the meal and substitute the desired treat.

Here are some of Kalsi’s key guidelines to keep in mind:

  • All carbohydrate-containing foods and not just sugars alone affect your blood sugar. (i.e. starches, fruit, milk, and sweets)
  • Keep a “carbohydrate budget” for each meal and snack or basic carbohydrate counting
  • Make smart food choices – i.e. look for protein options and ways to lessen the carbohydrate impact
  • Control your portion sizes

cheese and crackers

What are some healthy snack options for people to look for at parties?

Look for options that will give you variety and most importantly those that are high in fiber, low in sugar, high in protein, and low in sodium and keep portions in mind!  Some options to look for or bring to the party are listed below:

  • Cheese cubes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meatballs
  • Deviled eggs
  • Baked beans
  • Chilli
  • Vegetables, both raw and grilled with dips such as hummus or guacamole
  • Popcorn
  • Deli Meats

dFriendly Party Appetizers

We asked Kalsi some other common questions about making healthy choices around the table and here’s what she had to say:

 1. What should you do if there are unhealthy choices all around?

In a situation like this, it makes it even more imperative to follow my tips below because this is a very likely situation to be in.

When you come prepared, the advantage is that you are not walking into the event hungry but prepared and able to really take in what the choices are and how you can construct the food options available in a way that still meets your diabetic needs.


2. Which snacks tend to make people more hungry?

Foods or beverages with empty calories and minimal nutritional value will satisfy you only temporarily and in the end still leave you feeling hungry. These include items such as chips, sodas, baked goods (i.e. cakes, cookies, etc.), fruit punch drinks, and the like.


3. Any other tips or suggestions you can provide?

Some very simple yet crucial tips to keep in mind when preparing to attend any kind of event, party or celebration that will help you successfully manage your diabetes include the following:

Plan ahead — I cannot emphasize this enough, what you do leading up to the event will really ‘save’ you.

Exercise – engaging in some exercise leading up to the event results in lowering blood glucose levels and it may also help curb appetite.

Eat something before you go – This tip is simple and so effective! Have a healthy snack about an hour before you plan to head to the event so you are not going in hungry and read to attack the food table! This will make it much easier to avoid temptation.

Don’t be shy to ask the host if you can bring a dish to the event. This will ensure you have at least one item that is available to you that meets your needs. Make sure it is healthy, and this will only be perceived as helpful to the host!

Stay hydrated — Drink plenty of water throughout the day as thirst can mimic the feeling of hunger.