People with diabetes should be cautious with their diet,’ is a recommendation echoed by many for managing the condition. However, it doesn’t mean that they cannot go out and indulge in food occasionally. Experts explain that people with diabetes can enjoy eating outside at times by following healthy eating habits and being mindful of their food or drink choices. “If someone eats out often, they should watch what they eat. They can have simple and regular meals over junk or fast food, as it makes a difference,” says Dr Praveen Naidu, consultant endocrinologist, Manipal Hospital, Vijayawada.
Tips for dining out while managing diabetes
Experts list some points that people with diabetes should adhere to when they eat outside:
1. Time your meal right
“People with diabetes should have a fixed schedule for their meals, which they must follow while eating outside too,” says Dr Naidu. One can achieve this by ensuring they visit the restaurant at the same time as their scheduled meal to prevent blood sugar fluctuations.
2. Snack healthy before heading out
One way to avoid overeating at a restaurant is to have a light and healthy snack right before you go there. If you’re hungry when you arrive at a restaurant, you may end up eating too much. Pitchiah Kasinathan, clinical dietitian, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai, says having a healthy snack low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fiber before heading out for a meal can stop you from overindulging.
3. Order before everyone else
Experts say that when you go out with a group of people, you might end up ordering what they get. By ensuring that you order first, you can get something healthier before their decision influences you.
4. Start with a soup or salad
“If the restaurant serves a three-course meal, it is advisable to have a soup or salad first, as they provide satiety while being low in calories. As a result, you can have the rest of the meal in smaller portions,” says Dr Naidu. Soups for people with diabetes should include generous portions of fibrous vegetables, proteins and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Exercise portion control
People with diabetes need to be cautious about portion size. When going out for a meal, they may often end up overeating, especially if there is a buffet. Dr Naidu explains that one should look for options on the menu that have good calorie distribution. In addition, the quantity of food should align with their level of physical activity. Kasinathan says that portions for each individual should be based on their calorie requirements and the medications they’re on.
6. Be mindful of the ingredients
Enquire about the ingredients included in the dish before ordering. Kasinathan says that people with diabetes should have a mix of complex carbohydrates and proteins instead of just simple carbs. In addition, they should also avoid refined flour and maida-based foods like parotta and white bread. “If they want to have a sandwich, they can opt for multigrain bread with vegetables, paneer, egg or chicken fillings instead of cheese or butter,” he shares.
7. Avoid fried foods
Fried or oily foods are high in carbs and fat. They also contain a lot of calories, which can cause weight gain and increase the risk of heart complications. “Avoid fried foods like vada or poori, as they can raise your blood sugar levels,” says Kasinathan. He also emphasizes the importance of cooking techniques, suggesting that one should opt for boiled or steamed foods instead of fried ones.
8. Excess sugar and salt is a no-no
Laying off excess sugar and salt is paramount for those with diabetes. Dr Naidu explains that while sugary foods can cause sudden blood glucose fluctuations, people with diabetes should also limit their salt intake, as it can elevate their blood pressure and lead to heart complications and strokes.
9. Stay away from packaged and processed foods
“Avoid processed and packaged foods as they contain preservatives and taste emulsifiers,” says Kasinathan. Refined and packed foods served in restaurants often contain hidden ingredients like excess sugar. So, one must make sure to read the labels carefully. Sugar content on food labels can have healthy-sounding names like date sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, honey, jaggery, etc.
10. Opt for healthier drinks
It’s imperative for people with diabetes to avoid sugary, carbonated drinks and choose healthier beverages like buttermilk, pure and unsweetened cranberry juice or coconut water, as they have a low glycemic index and are packed with electrolytes and nutrients. “People with diabetes should also opt for whole fruits like apples, guavas, papayas and watermelon instead of having their juices,” says Kasinathan.
11. Drink alcohol, but in moderation
Experts state that people with diabetes should be extra cautious when it comes to alcohol consumption. Drinking too much can trigger sudden blood sugar fluctuations, with hypoglycemic episodes (a sudden drop in blood sugar levels) potentially having more serious consequences. One should not drink on an empty stomach. They should also stay hydrated, avoid mixing carbonated, sugary drinks to dilute the alcohol and inform their drinking partners about their condition.
12. Avoid fast food joints
Experts suggest opting for restaurants and hotels that offer regular or organic food rather than fast food joints and burger chains where healthy options are limited.
Dr Naidu explains that one’s plate should have as many greens as possible. Half the plate should consist of salads and vegetables, with the remaining two quarters including carbs and a mix of proteins and fats, respectively. Kasinathan adds that people with diabetes should consult with their dietician or doctor before eating out frequently, especially if they are on medications for the condition. Each individual should have a diet tailored to their socio-economic background, culture, etc., instead of just adhering to general recommendations.