Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to swear off your favorite restaurants forever. Our tips and tricks can help you navigate popular dishes at Italian, Mexican and Chinese restaurants. Slim down your favorite appetizers, sides and main courses, and steer clear of restaurant pitfalls to make smart—and tasty—choices. Enjoy!
Italian Restaurants: With menus full of high-carb pastas, meaty main courses—not to mention the signature loaf of bread—Italian-restaurant menus might look like a nightmare for a person with diabetes. Follow these tips to stick with your healthy-eating goals:
• Try ordering a lunch-size portion at any time of day. Many Italian restaurants also offer whole-grain pastas for a healthier option.
• Free bread can gobble up your carb allowance before your entree even arrives. Limit yourself to a single serving and go light on the olive oil for dipping.
• Slim down your garden salad by opting for low-fat dressing on the side.
• Sauces can quickly add calories and fat to an otherwise healthy dish. Pick tomato-based toppers filled with veggies instead of sauces loaded with high-fat ingredients, such as cheese, cream or bacon.
• No-added-sugar desserts can be deceiving. Before indulging in a piece of cake you think is guilt-free, ask for the nutrition information.
Mexican Restaurants: While the basics of Mexican fare—rice, corn, beans, tomatoes and peppers—are packed with nutrients, beware of entrees loaded with fatty cheeses, refried beans and sour cream. Keep the flavor without derailing your eating plan with these tips:
• When you order, ask your server to pack up half the entree to take home or order a la carte to enjoy your favorite foods in more controlled portions.
• Swap the dollop of sour cream for reduced-fat Greek yogurt (if available) and go easy on the cheese.
• Order assemble-it-yourself chicken fajitas and opt for corn or whole-wheat tortillas instead of flour. You’ll trim carbs, calories and fat.
• Skip the chips: if you save the salsa for your entree, you’ll add a pop of flavor and save a bundle of calories.
• Most refried beans are loaded with lard and full of fat. Ask for a half-serving of regular black beans and a side salad of shredded lettuce instead of rice.
Chinese Restaurants: The worst healthy-eating pitfall at Chinese restaurants is the buffet table in the corner. Better to find a restaurant that offers an option to order from the menu. Not only will you be able to ask how it’s prepared, you’ll also know that it’s been freshly made especially for you.
• Beware the special sauce: hidden sugars lurks in meat marinades and sauces, and can wreak havoc with blood glucose levels. Ask your server to leave sugar and cornstarch out of your meal and go easy on the soy sauce.
• Try splitting an entree with a friend or package half up to take home. A typical order of beef with broccoli has about half a pound of meat—more than twice the recommended serving.
• Swap white rice for brown rice and eat only half the portion to cut calories and carbs.
• Try using chopsticks: it’s a fun challenge, and you’ll slow your eating pace and cut your intake of high-sodium sauces.
• Skip a high-cal, high-carb dessert and have a fortune cookie—just 30 calories!—instead. You’ll save calories and carbs and score a fun peek into your (possible) future.