Top 10 Dining Out Strategies for Diabetics

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The waiter hands you a menu, a basket of warm bread magically appears on the table, and you sit back, unfold your napkin and prepare to savor a restaurant meal. But keep in mind that dining out can be dangerous to your health if you're not careful. Here's what you need to know before you place your order.

Problem #1: Portion sizes in restaurants are unrealistically large—and it's tempting to eat every bite.

"We tend to eat what is put in front of us," says Adee Rasabi, RD, CDN, CDE, senior dietitian of the Ambulatory Care Network at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "Some restaurant portions are large enough for two or three."

Solution: Plan ahead. Look up the menu online and decide in advance what you'll have. "Once you pick a healthier dish, your decision is made and it helps you not be so tempted once you get to the restaurant," Rasabi suggests.

Problem #2: You love filling up on French fries when you eat out.

Solution: Order one plate of fries for the table and share them, says Ileana Vargas, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist specializing in diabetes and obesity at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center. "No one needs to eat 400 calories worth of fries," she says.

Problem #3: You love high-calorie dishes like pizza and can polish off multiple slices.

Solution: "Trick" yourself by ordering the pizza with loads of extra vegetables, recommends Vargas. "Or instead of sitting down with the family with two pies, order one pie and a big salad," she says. "That way no one will eat three slices of pizza, and you'll feel fuller when you eat more vegetables and salad."

Problem #4: You can't decide what to order, so you order too much.

Solution: Instead of a main course and an appetizer, get two appetizers. Or share an appetizer and a main course with a friend. Ask the waiter to bring two plates. Or when you order your entrée, request that it be divided in half and that half be placed in a doggy bag for you before it ever gets to the table, Rasabi says.

Problem #5: All restaurants seem fattening, so you're not sure which to choose.

Solution: "Most cuisines can be heavy on the carbs, depending on how you order," Rasabi says. "Mediterranean is always good." Mexican cuisine can be a little tougher for those trying to limit carbohydrates since there are always tempting chips in the beginning and a lot of the entrees are based on carbohydrates. Among the recommended choices are sushi in a Japanese restaurant, salad, or a broth-based soup with whole wheat pasta in an Italian restaurant, and steamed chicken with sauce on the side in a Chinese restaurant.

Problem #6: You don't know the "red flags" to keep in mind when you order.

Solution: Steer clear of any dish that's described as creamy, cheesy, crispy, or fried. Zero in on lean meats, poultry, and seafood that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled. "And if you're not sure how something is made, don't be shy," Rasabi says. "Ask your waiter."

Problem #7: When you get into a restaurant, you can't keep yourself from overeating.

Solution: Eat a small, high-protein snack about an hour before you get to the restaurant. You won't be as tempted to binge as you would if you're famished.

Problem #8: You're a carb lover and your favorite carb is bread.

Solution: Take one small roll or slice of bread out of the bread basket and ask to have it removed from the table.

Problem #9: Dessert is your favorite course and there's no way you're going to pass it up.

Solution: Have fresh fruit for dessert, or share one less than healthy dessert with the table. If possible, order a fruit-based dessert.

Problem #10: You can't tell what's on top of the food.

Solution: Order everything—from the sauce on your fish to the dressing on your salad—on the side. Then dip the food into the sauce or dressing—you'll consume less than if it were poured over the top.

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