We both subscribe to the idea that tight control of blood glucose levels is the only way to control our diabetes. That requires a life-time commitment to eating right every day, day in, day out, whether we are at home or not. Sure, we sometimes “cheat” and have a taste of something that’s not on our meal plan, but we make up for that indiscretion the next time we eat or we exercise a little more to help burn off the extra calories, and most likely, carbohydrates and fat.
Since we both travel a lot, we’ve developed our own “bag of tricks” to help us whether we’re dining at a 3-star restaurant in the south of France, a quay-side trattoria on the Greek island of Mykonos, having breakfast at a diner in Sioux City, Iowa, attending a press party in New York City, or dining at the home of our Fort Worth friends.
- We don’t keep our diabetes a secret-you’d be amazed how many people think they mustn’t talk about their disease. These days, even when traveling, it’s rare that you tell a maitre d’, wait person, colleague, or hostess that you have diabetes and they don’t come back with a statement such as “Oh, my brother has diabetes.” or “One of my friends just found out that she has diabetes.” or perhaps, “I also have diabetes so I know what you’re going to say…”. If you’re abroad, learn how to say, “I’m diabetic, please help me order.” You’ll find it in most phrase books. Once that’s done, you get help with ordering (most likely in English). You don’t have to say anything if you’ve taken a look at the menu and see something that you can safely eat. My friends all know that I have diabetes and have taken the trouble to know what I can eat and what I can’t. If I’ve never dined at someone’s house before, I explain to the hostess when she calls with the invitation that I don’t have to be prepared anything different, but to not be upset if I don’t eat everything put in front of me. Being up front makes everyone feel better and you’ll enjoy having the near-normal or normal blood sugars a few hours later.
- Know your meal plan-and stick to it. Remember that restaurant servings will most likely be larger portions that you’re used to. In our August 2000 issue, we gave you some guidelines as to how to estimate portions. Click here and take a quick look to refresh your memory. Most restaurants these days offer a grilled beef filet of tenderloin, often available in an 8-ounce (480 g) portion. Order that without any sauce-I always order the sauce on the side so I can taste as much as adheres to the tines of the fork. Eat only half, of your steak and take the rest home in a “doggy bag.” If you know yourself enough to realize that you’ll be tempted to eat more, ask the wait person to start a take-away container for you in the kitchen, and only bring half of the filet to the table. Often we order an appetizer as our meal. For example, while dining at one of Dallas’ top restaurants last week, I shared a fabulous field green salad with my husband (the portion, I knew, would fill a dinner plate) with the chipotle chile vinaigrette on the side. The kitchen divided our salad so we each had plenty. My husband put the dressing on his salad, and I dipped my fork into the dressing first for every fifth bite. You see, I don’t want to ever feel deprived, and I’m truly not. My entree was an appetizer portion of grilled shrimp with grilled polenta. Nothing wrong there as again the sauce was sitting in a dish on the side, which I didn’t even taste. For dessert, I had a bowl of fresh raspberries, sans their offer of Chantilly Cream. I dined like a queen.
- Remember your rights-you’re the paying customer and the guest. It’s up to the other side to make you feel comfortable and satiated. It’s your right to ask for a dish to be prepared differently. We’ve worked with star chefs for dozens or years and they are only too willing to deviate from their recipe and prepared something grilled instead of fried. Your food can be prepared without added fat, butter, or mayonnaise. If you ask, sauces, gravies, and dressings can be served on the side. You can also ask for substitutions such as a dinner salad (dressing on the side) or steamed vegetables (no butter) instead of French fries or mashed potatoes. Order your baked potato or sweet potato dry and enjoy it’s earthy flavor. Just remember that 1 carbohydrate exchange (15 grams of carbohydrate) means a 3-ounce (90 g) potato, not the 8 to10-ounce (480 to 500 g) potatoes that are served in restaurants. Asking for cottage cheese instead of a starch used to be the sign of someone on a diet. That’s not an option for you as cottage cheese in a restaurant is not fat-free and it contains protein. Would you rather have your customary 4 ounces (240 g) in the form of beef, chicken, or fish or cottage cheese. I eat cottage cheese occasionally at home; I certainly don’t want to pay for it at a restaurant.
- Eating away from home quite often means eating at a time different from your mealtime at home. If you’re used to eating your evening meal in the 6 o-clock to 7 o’clock timeframe and you’re traveling or dining out, your dinner may come at 8 or 9 pm. The best thing for you to do is to plan ahead. Discuss with your doctor or diabetes educators as to what’s best for you-delay your taking or medication/insulin, have a light snack to tide you over until mealtime, and so forth.
- When traveling by cruise ship or airplanes, you have a whole different set of problems concerning your meal plan control. I know one woman who has diabetes who (lucky her) goes on cruises around the world, some of them extending in time up to a month or six weeks. When she first boards the ship, she asks for a meeting with the executive chef and they go over what she will be offered and what changes she’ll need in order to control her blood sugar levels. On an airplane, we usually order a diabetic meal, but if you read this month’s travel article, you’ll see that’s not always edible. Carry some food from home (or the hotel) with you to tide you over. On some airlines, we know that a heart-healthy meal will be tastier and offers something within our meal plan. Ask the airline for help, in advance. One airline advised me to order the vegetarian meal and as I was dining on grilled vegetables to tuck them into a pita bread with a bit of yogurt sauce, my seatmates were trying to chew a dry submarine-type sandwich with cold cuts. We both ended up with the same dessert-an apple.
Here are some alternatives to think about when eating away from home:
Order: clear soups, vegetable soup, salad with dressing on the side, a seafood cocktail, vegetable juice, raw vegetables, fresh fruit
Don’t Order: cream soups, chips, nuts, cheese, anything deep-fried, oil marinated foods
Order: grilled dishes-meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, as well as roasted, baked, poached, broiled, steamed, or barbecued without sauce
Don’t order: anything with these words, “fried,” “breaded,” “crispy,” “barbecued with our special sauce,” “creamy,” “thick” (soups or stews).
Order fresh fruits-without any whipped cream or dessert sauce, vanilla ice cream (a little won’t hurt you on occasion)
Don’t order: cakes, puddings, pies, dessert soufflés, sorbet, sherbet, cobblers
Here are some specifics on different types of restaurants:
Order: wonton soup, hot & sour soup or any other clear soup; anything steamed or boiled; steamed dumplings; dishes with only vegetables
Don’t Order: egg rolls or spring rolls, anything made with peanuts or cashews, fried rice or fried noodles, dishes made with lobster sauce, sweet & sour entrees where the food is deep-fried
Order: anything grilled or poached (with sauce on the side) and don’t sop up the oil that’s on the plate under the fish, grilled duck breast, clear soups, salad (again, the dressing on the side), bouillabaisse or other fish or seafood soups, anything provençal (it’s made with tomatoes and garlic), espresso
Don’t order: aïoli, pate de fois gras; vichyssoise; rib-eye steaks, dessert soufflés or sorbets (they’re full of sugar), anything with these words: “en coûte,” “au lard,” “caramel” or “caramelized,” “crème,” anything chocolate
Order the minestrone or other vegetable soup, pasta fagioli, pasta with tomato sauce or marinara sauce, cacciatore dishes (ask if the veal or chicken is breaded before cooking; if so, ask if they can do it without any breading), Caesar salad (ask for the dressing on the side and don’t eat the croutons), plain pasta, veal cooked in wine
Don’t Order: bruschetta or garlic bread (too much oil), pasta with cream sauce or Alfredo sauce, veal or chicken parmiagiana
Order: raita (it’s made with yogurt), tandoori dishes, lentil dishes (dal), basmati rice, biryanis, vegetables dishes that are not fried, naan
Don’t Order: samosas or pakoras, Korma (it’s meat with a rich sauce), anything made with ghee, pappadums (they are deep-fried)
Order: miso soup or any clear soup, seaweed salad, teriyaki dishes (they will be high in sodium, so beware), shabu shabu or sukiyaki, sushi and sashimi (make sure the restaurant has an excellent reputation for making these with sushi-quality fish), California roll, yakitori, plain white rice, hibachi is o.k.; but it will be high in fat and avoid the beef and order chicken, shrimp, or lobster, don’t indulge very often, and eat it without sauce
Don’t order: tempura anything-vegetable or shrimp, katsu (it’s been deep-fried), anything -age (it’s been deep-fried, too), and fried rice that often offered at hibachi grills
Order: gazpacho, black bean, or any clear soup such as albóndigas; fajitas; Mexican rice that is steamed, not fried; grilled fish, seviche (be careful outside of the United States-it pays to know the reputation of the restaurant before ordering this); soft or steamed flour or corn tortillas, salsa, enchiladas, guacamole (avocados are high in fat, but you can have some-2 tablespoons = 1fat exchange)
Don’t order: nachos, chips, chimichangas, refried beans, sour cream, cheese toppings, fried tacos
Order: fish soup or other clear soups, satay (go very easy on the peanut sauce), ginger or garlic dishes (again go easy, as they’re made with oil), vegetables and Thai sauce, seafood kebobs
Don’t Order: Thai rolls, anything made with coconut milk, anything with peanut or curry sauce
Alternative Food Places
Order: plain burger with tomato, pickle, lettuce, onion, and mustard, grilled chicken on a bun
Don’t order: burgers with cheese, special sauces or bacon, filet of fish (it’s been deep-fried), chicken nuggets or breaded chicken sandwiches, French fries
Order: vegetarian pizzas or shrimp pizza and ask for very little cheese
Don’t Order: bacon, sausage, or pepperoni pizza or pizzas with double cheese
Take: fresh fruits and vegetables, lettuce and cabbage, low-fat yogurt, hard-cooked eggs (limit yourself to 1), chick peas or kidney beans, low-fat or no-fat dressings (go easy on the former); and go easy on the sunflower seeds (1 tablespoon = 1 fat exchange), raisins or other dried fruit (2 tablespoons = 1 carbohydrate exchange)
Don’t take: mayonnaise-based salads such as pasta, potato, or seafood, marinated vegetables that are swimming in oil, bacon bits, croutons, coconut
Order: mini subs with turkey, beef, or seafood, and any of the fresh vegetables
Don’t order: deep-fried chicken or meatball sub, tuna fish sub (it’s full of mayonnaise), mayonnaise or special sub sauce
You really have a lot to chose from so enjoy eating away from home, and especially give yourself a good thought when you walk away satiated, with your blood sugars at a level that will soon return to your normal reading. Bon Appetit!