Diabetes nutrition: Eating out when you have diabetes

Diabetes nutrition — Make restaurant meals a healthy part of your diabetes meal plan.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have diabetes, eating out while sticking to your nutrition plan has gotten easier. Many restaurants offer healthy alternatives. And you can plan what you want to order by looking at menus online, some of which provide nutrition information.

Using this resource, minding portion sizes and choosing food carefully can help you make restaurant meals part of your overall plan for diabetes nutrition.

Keep portion sizes in check

Restaurants tend to serve large portions, possibly double or more what you normally eat. Try to eat the same size portions you would if you were eating at home by:

  • Choosing the smallest meal size if the restaurant offers options: for example, a lunch-sized entree
  • Sharing meals with a dining partner or two
  • Requesting a take-home container
  • Making a meal out of a salad or soup and an appetizer

Avoid "all you can eat" buffets. It can be difficult to resist overeating with so many options. Even a small amount of many foods on your plate can add up to a lot of calories.

Make substitutions

Don't settle for what comes with your sandwich or meal.

  • Instead of French fries, choose a diabetes-friendly side salad or a double order of a vegetable.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat salad dressing, rather than the regular variety, or try a squeeze of lemon juice, flavored vinegar or salsa on your salad.
  • Ask for salsa or pico de gallo, an uncooked salsa, with your burrito instead of shredded cheese and sour cream.
  • On a sandwich, trade house dressings or creamy sauces for ketchup, mustard, horseradish or fresh tomato slices.

Watch the extras

Bacon bits, croutons, cheeses and other add-ons can sabotage diabetes nutrition goals by quickly increasing a meal's calories and carbohydrates.

Even lighter additions — including fat-free salad dressing, barbecue sauce and fat-free mayonnaise — have calories. But you can enjoy small servings of these without adjusting your meal plan. Ask for them on the side to further control how much of them you eat.

Ask for what you want

At some restaurants, the best way to get what you want is to phone ahead and ask if foods can be made with less salt, fat or sugar. Looking at the menu on the restaurant's website, if it's available, is a good way to prepare for ordering.

Consider how the food is prepared. Instead of breaded and fried, ask that your food be:

  • Broiled
  • Roasted
  • Grilled
  • Steamed

Ask your waiter not to bring bread or tortilla chips to the table if they don't fit into your meal plan.

Ask if the chef can use:

  • Egg whites or low-cholesterol egg substitutes
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Skinless chicken
  • Less oil, butter or cheese

If you're ordering pizza, request a thin crust covered with vegetables. If you're on a low-salt meal plan, ask that no salt or MSG be added to your food.

Don't feel self-conscious about requesting healthier options or substitutions. You're doing what it takes to stay committed to your meal plan, and most restaurants want to make customers happy.

Oct. 14, 2016 See more In-depth