The lazy days of summer can cause easy weight gain and elevated sugars, since many people like to stay out of the hot kitchen and either grab a quick meal or enjoy a full dining experience. Realize that dining out is all about choices, and it is up to you to make the best ones if you want to control your blood sugars. Let’s explore some easy ways to have fun, enjoy the meal and make good choices.
- Start by checking the menu options online. If you see what is available prior to even sitting down when you are already starving you may make more informed decisions. Making a plan before entering the restaurant can often provide ease of mind. Many restaurant chains now offer nutritional content (carbohydrate, fat, sugar, and sodium amounts – along with calories) online and at the restaurant. This seems to be more common with private eating places as well. Also find out what the evening specials are which tend to be the most fresh.
- Consider drinking two glasses of water prior to the meal which can take the edge off hunger. Do not do this if you are on fluid restrictions, have low sodium or are on water pills.
- When ordering, do not be shy. Whether it is a high-end restaurant or a fast food chain you still have choices, especially if you ask in a non-threatening way. Not all restaurants will accommodate you, but it is worth asking. Ask questions about the ingredients or food descriptions. Ask for it “your way”. You can ask for no added salt, MSG, butter, oil or cream sauces. You can request cooking or sautéing with olive oil in place of butter. More and more people are concerned about their health when dining out and restaurants know this.
- Look for restaurants that have farm to table ingredients. Many local small restaurants are trying to buy locally for freshness and healthy choices along with cheaper prices which will be passed on to you. Things which are grown in your area will be less expensive. Many restaurants are even planting their own vegetable and herb gardens, so take advantage of this fresh and delicious produce.
- Find diabetes friendly restaurants. Many places want to find a special niche. Some privately owned restaurants enjoy the challenge of cooking unique meals for their customers. They think of it as a privilege to prepare new dishes that are considered more healthful. Risotto made with pureed white beans can be as delicious as risotto made with cream, cheese and butter with a third of the calories and fat.
- Start your meal with a cup of soup or small salad (dressing on the side, or oil and vinegar) which will help fill you up and can usually be added for a nominal fee.
- Search the bread basket. Instead of grabbing the first thing look it over and choose the heavy grainy bread with seeds and nuts for added fiber. Skip the soft doughy white rolls. Eat the hard crackers or flat breads with seeds over white French bread. Forget the butter and ask for olive oil for dipping. Although high in calories, it is a healthier choice, so dip in moderation.
- Ask about substitutions. Many restaurants frown upon this but others are willing to make the changes. Ask for 2 green vegetables instead of the French fries especially if you plan to eat some bread or have a dessert. Look for vegetables that are steamed, baked or grilled.
- Order a baked or sweet potato instead of scalloped, creamed or Lyonnais’s potatoes. Get the cheese, bacon bits, butter and sour cream on the side and use sparingly. Think about using salsa and chives to replace all that fat for your potato. Substitute brown rice, cous-cous or Basmati rice over plain white rice if you have an option. Eat the parsley garnish.
- Look over the entire menu instead of ordering the usual Chicken Parmesan. Fried smothered chicken in cheese may not be the best option. Consider foods with wine, lemon or piccata sauce instead, as these sauces have less sugar and fat.
- Order 2 appetizers instead of a main course. Pick a shrimp appetizer as one.
- Share a main course after you eat an appetizer.
- Ask for a doggy bag and cut your main course in half before you dig in.
- Many beverages have calories and hidden sugars. House ice teas are often already sweetened so just skip them; at least ask if the tea is pre-sweetened. Stay away from the Lemonade or fruit punch. Skip all soda except diet soda. Ask for ice coffee which is a great summer refresher, or seltzer/club soda with a lemon, lime, or orange slice. Hot coffee with some low fat milk is a nice ending to a meal. You can splurge and have regular cream in your coffee in moderation (fat calories).
- Stick to the basics when ordering a cocktail. Stay away from the usual summer drinks including Rum Runners, Pina Coladas or Margaritas since they are full of sugar and high in calories. Order dry wine (if you drink and have permission from your MD), light beer, or hard liquor including scotch and water, vodka with diet soda, or gin and diet tonic. Even fresh fruit juice should be avoided in your cocktails. You can use diet cranberry juice or tomato juice.
- Socialize. Make the food an experience. Do not rush through your meal. Try to savor the flavors, the decor, and the fact that someone is serving you. Chew slowly and taste your food. Put your fork and knife down between bites. Tell stories during the meal. Use your non-dominant hand. Bring or ask for chop sticks to slow your eating down.
- Have dessert. If you decide you want dessert, try to factor this in at the start of the meal. Understand you can delete other carbohydrates such as bread, beans or potatoes and eat dessert. Order a protein like fish, chicken or a pork chop with 2 vegetables and then have dessert. It is more about the total amount of carbohydrates than the actual choices. Dessert should be a treat and a once in awhile thing, since other carbohydrate choices may have more nutritional value.
- Share a dessert or just take a taste.
- Keep dessert simple. Order plain cheese cake instead of gooey, syrupy, fruit covered cheese cake for better blood sugars. Order the fresh fruit plate instead of sorbet. Have some dark chocolate with nuts instead of a banana split. Look for desserts with whole grain crusts.
- Make sure to take your medications as prescribed. Rapid acting insulin including Novolog, Aphrida, or Humalog should be taken 10 minutes before eating your food. Do not take the insulin at home, in the car, or after the meal for convenience as you will not get the best results. You can excuse yourself when the meal comes or take your injection at the table depending on your level of comfort. Take your Glipizide 30 minutes before the meal and Metformin with the meal. Many other diabetes medications can be taken with or without food so check with your health care provider or pharmacist.
- Splurging. Understand if you decide to splurge be prepared for the possible consequences. Test your blood sugars 2 hours after the first bite of food to see how high your blood sugars rise. It is recommended that your blood sugar not exceed 180mg/dl two hours after a meal. You should check with your own health care provider for specific numbers.
- Get right back on track. We are all human and most of us enjoy a great meal. Do not wait for next Monday, the end of the weekend, or the end of the day to get back on track.
- Remember to keep up with your exercise. Even a simple walk after your feast will help lower your blood sugars.
Summer is the perfect time to stay far away from cooking. It does not matter if you grab a grilled chicken sandwich with mustard, lettuce, and tomato or a filet mignon with asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. Enjoy the experience. Order and eat what really appeals to you!
NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.