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Diabetes and dining out



Whether you are eating in a fancy restaurant or at the drive-thru, it is important to make healthy food choices when you have diabetes. Picking the right amount and type of food can help you manage blood glucose levels and maintain your weight.

Follow these four steps when dining out to make the healthiest choices possible.

1. Watch out for large portions

Restaurant portions have grown larger over the years. If you are served a big portion of food, you will probably eat more than you need to. This can affect your blood glucose level. Monitor your portion sizes! For balance, your plate should look like this:

  • Half the plate should be vegetables
  • One quarter of the plate should be grains (like pasta, rice or potato)
  • One quarter of the plate should be protein (like lean meat, poultry, fish or tofu)
  • Fruit and milk can be on the side

If you have been measuring foods at home, you should be able to compare your usual serving to the one on your plate. You can also use your hands as examples to understand what “one serving” looks like, so you don’t overeat:

Food

One portion is the size of:

Fruits, grains, beans

Your fist

Meat, chicken or fish

The palm of your hand

Milk or milk alternatives (soy beverages)

Your fist

Cheese

Your thumb

Fats and oils

The tip of your thumb

Vegetables

As much as you can hold in two handfuls

2. Choose healthy foods most often

Scan the menu for fibre-rich foods. Fibre slows the rise in blood glucose levels and helps you feel full. Choose items made with:

  • Whole grain bread, bulgur, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa or oats
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Legumes: Beans, chickpeas and lentils

Choose fewer high fat foods that are deep-fried, breaded or battered. Instead, choose items that are poached, baked, steamed, grilled or roasted. Try to have some protein with every meal. Choose lean meat, poultry, fish, tofu or legumes.

Here are some better-for-you restaurant meal choices. Be mindful of the portion sizes:

  • Grilled fish with vegetables and potatoes
  • Bean burrito in a whole grain tortilla with tomato and lettuce
  • Stir-fried vegetables with beef, tofu, shrimp or chicken on steamed noodles
  • Vegetarian pizza on whole grain thin crust
  • Grilled chicken kebab, salad, hummus and whole grain pita
  • Plain single hamburger with salad
  • Turkey and vegetable sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Sashimi, brown rice and seaweed salad

For more examples of healthy food choices in many different types of restaurants, click here.

3. Know what to ask for

Don’t be shy! Ask your server for information about ingredients and cooking methods. If you know how your food is prepared, you can make changes so your meal will meet your needs. You can also look on the restaurant’s website to see the nutrient content for some restaurant items.

Most restaurants will help with your special requests. You can make your food healthier by asking for:

  • Half-portions of large orders
  • Sauce or dressing on the side (then dip sparingly)
  • Salad or steamed vegetables instead of French fries
  • Brown instead of white rice
  • No added salt during cooking
  • Olive oil instead of butter
  • Whole wheat pasta or pizza dough
  • Tomato sauce instead of cream sauce
  • Less cheese
  • Baked instead of fried options
  • Leftovers in a to-go container (instead of eating the whole meal)
  • Low fat milk instead of cream for coffee

These options may not be on the menu. Ask your server anyway!

4. Limit drinks with extra calories

Many restaurants offer pop with free refills. Remember that regular pop, juice, iced tea and fruit drinks provide sugar and calories, which may make it difficult to control blood glucose levels. The more sugar you consume, the higher your blood glucose will be. Limit regular pop and fruit drinks. Enjoy water or sparkling water instead.

Alcohol drinks, such as beer, wine and liquor, are also high in calories and can affect blood glucose levels. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. If you do drink alcohol, follow these guidelines.

Bottom line 

Eating out is a nice change from having meals at home. However, it is important that you try to follow your meal plan closely. If your meal timing or portion size changes when you are out, talk to your dietitian about adjusting your diabetes medication or insulin. Ask your server questions and make special requests so your meal is prepared exactly how you want it.

You may also be interested in

How to manage diabetes

Diabetes menu plan for prevention and management

You can ask…for smaller portions

Top 10 tips for eating out

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.