But when you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, visiting a restaurant can feel suddenly fraught with peril. The temptation of the bread basket or the risk of waiting a ridiculously long time for your food might be enough to keep you at home. Fortunately, with a little preparation you can still do dinner at the latest Italian hot spot while sticking to your meal plan. Keep reading for eight tips to help you navigate — and thoroughly enjoy — your next night out.
1. Analyze the restaurant
While reviewing a restaurant’s menu online can certainly help you plan ahead, take your reconnaissance to the next level by checking out your destination’s Instagram, Facebook and more. “I recommend my clients look at the restaurant’s social media accounts beforehand,” says Lori Zanini, RD, a certified diabetes educator. “Pictures on social media will provide a great idea of how large portion sizes are and which dishes look like the best option for them. And it lets them plan in advance for portion control.
2. Bring your own snacks
Sure, making a reservation is always a good idea when you’re trying to stick to an eating schedule, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be seated on time — or that your food will show up promptly. To avoid a blood sugar low if your meal is delayed, Zanini recommends having a snack on hand. Try a quarter-cup of almonds with two tablespoons of unsweetened dried fruit like raisins. And, she adds, “If you are taking short-acting insulin, do not take your insulin until your meal has arrived.”
3. Read between the lines
“’Au gratin,’ ‘breaded,’ ‘bisque,’ ‘crunchy’ and ‘crispy’ all could be hints that the dish is going to be higher in carbs,” warns Zanini. Alternatively, she says, “Broiled, grilled and even stir-fried or sauteed can be good options, as long as you inquire about the base that was used to do so.” If you do opt for something stir-fried or sauteed, ask if the restaurant can prepare it using a plant-based oil.
4. Scrutinize the sauces
The carbohydrate content of food can vary widely, especially if there are any sauces or additives,” says Catherine Metzgar, Ph.D., RD, of diabetes clinic Virta Healthin San Francisco. The reason? Sauces — even ones that may seem innocuous like teriyaki or barbecue — are often loaded with sugar and other hidden carbs like cornstarch or flour, explains Metzgar. So either skip the sauce altogether or ask for it on the side so you can control how much you consume.
5. Opt for oil and vinegar
Starting off your meal with a salad is a good idea: Research has shown that it can reduce overall calorie intake at a meal by 11 percent. Just beware of the dressing. “Salad dressings are another one of the biggest culprits of added sugars and hidden carbs,” says Metzgar. The same goes for the low-fat or fat-free versions, which often contain just as much (if not more) added sugars to improve the flavor. Your safest bet? Oil and vinegar. Not only will you know exactly what’s in your dressing (just two tasty ingredients), research suggests that balsamic vinegar may help lower blood pressure and keep cholesterol in check.
6. Go easy on the bread
You don’t have to skip bread altogether. Ask that it be served with the meal and stick to one piece. “There is some research that shows the order in which we eat our food matters, so trying to eat either veggies or protein or both before you get to the bread will benefit your blood sugar,” says Lori Zanini, RD.
7. Opt for wine
Whether you’re out celebrating a special occasion or just catching up with old friends, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a little alcohol with your meal. Your best option? A glass of red wine. The results of a recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that a glass of red wine with dinner can improve the cardiovascular health of people with Type 2 diabetes. So order the vino — just wait till your food arrives to do so. “It’s recommended to never drink on an empty stomach, so if you are going to have one drink, be sure to eat first,” says Zanini.
8. Save carbs for dessert
Do you have a sweet tooth? Scale back on the carbs you have during dinner so you can enjoy a small dessert. Skip the cakes and pastries and consider chocolate ice cream instead. (Yes, really!) The University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center points out that a half-cup scoop of chocolate ice cream contains about 140 calories and 19 grams of carbs. Compare that to the more than 500 calories and 80 grams of carbs in a piece of pie.