Welcome to 2017! I celebrated the New Year by deciding not to make any resolutions. Any new resolutions, at least. Instead, I am continuing to focus on eating foods that won’t throw my blood sugar levels out of whack.
When the holiday season hits in December, it can seem like an endless parade of celebrating with friends, family and coworkers. All of it involves food – and it often means eating in restaurants. I have friends who don’t go out to eat, because letting someone else cook for you means ceding control of the ingredients. If you don’t truly know what is in what you’re eating, you don’t know how your blood sugar will be affected.
Even seemingly good choices can be deceptive. For instance, a person with diabetes perusing the menu at IHOP would likely choose eggs, a classic safe-food that won’t cause your blood sugar levels to rise. However, take a bite of an omelet and you’ll be in for a surprise – IHOP uses pancakes batter to make their omelets fluffier! Not only would you not know that, but why would you even think to ask about that? Thankfully, many people are now aware of this, and have devised a work-around. While your family and friends eat pancakes and waffles, request scrambled eggs or ask for “fresh” eggs to be used in your omelet.
I have also become an expert at knowing which foods are easiest to transform into diabetes-friendly, satisfying options, and it has changed my dining-out experience. I have come to look at a restaurant as my “personal chef.” I have no qualms about being very specific about how I want my meals prepared. I am not shy about letting my server know I am a diabetic and that I cannot eat certain foods, including flour and sugar. The first time you ask a server to have your food prepared a particular way, it may be intimidating. But I have found that by asking for their help, and telling them why I need it, they become my ally. So if I ask if their soup contains flour, they will happily go and ask the chef.
Thanks to the internet, we can even check many restaurants’ menus even before crossing their threshold. I often peruse the menu in advance of suggesting a restaurant to friends. If there’s nothing for me, I can look for a good alternative.
Healthy Eating Ideas
No matter where I go, if they offer a hamburger or grilled chicken, I know I’m safe. Ordering them without the bun and fries is simple. How to dress it up so you don’t feel deprived? Have it prepared with your favorite toppings, such as cheese, bacon, avocado or salsa. Replace the fries with a fresh Caesar or garden salad, or opt for grilled veggies. The same goes for ordering sandwiches, which I ask for deconstructed. I pick out the filling I like best, then ask them to prepare it over a salad, or over broccoli with melted butter on top. A traditional club sandwich, which uses three slices of bread, is transformed into a beautiful salad platter. (see the image above)
I used to avoid Italian restaurants until I learned a few tricks. As a pasta lover, it was not easy to sit and watch others eating what I wished I could be eating. The longer I avoid pasta, the less I desire to have it. Now, when I go to an Italian restaurant, I can order my favorite dish, Chicken Francese, but with a few alterations. Instead of having it served with pasta, I ask for sautéed spinach with garlic. I also ask for the chicken not to be dredged in flour before being dipped into the egg mixture. Thanks to the egg, it still has a delicious coating. Finally, I ask them to not use flour to thicken the lemon sauce but, instead, use a pat of butter, which works perfectly. Now I look forward to eating at Italian restaurants, and I don’t feel deprived or wish I could eat the same thing as my friends or family. I get to eat a great meal and still have the post-dinner blood sugar levels I need to stay healthy.
Finally, eating at a Chinese restaurant can be a real challenge. Again, I’ve learned to specify how I want my meal prepared. Not all things can be changed, or are even worth asking to have changed. I avoid getting any dishes that are deep fried – that goes without saying.
Instead of getting won ton soup, I get broth with white meat chicken and plenty of bok choy and other veggies. A perennial favorite is Moo Shu Chicken, which uses hoisin sauce (which is mostly sugar) as well as cornstarch. I’ve learned to request it without either of those ingredients, which means I am getting another diabetes-friendly meal that is still full of flavor. Moo Shu can be ordered with chicken, pork, or shrimp, and is traditionally made with Napa cabbage, mushrooms, and eggs, in a relatively low-sugar sauce. Another tasty option is Egg Foo Yung without brown gravy. Asking for a traditional protein-and-vegetable dish like beef, chicken, or shrimp with broccoli (or any other veggies) to be made without cornstarch instantly transforms it into a diabetes-friendly meal.
Bottom line, do not be afraid to ask your server questions, or to be specific about how you need your food to be prepared. In the long run, your body will thank you, and you will be rewarded with blood sugar levels that will make you, and your doctor, proud!