Eating Out With Diabetes

Living a life with diabetes can seem to present new and increasingly difficult challenges, which can be a nightmare when trying to live a healthy life.

One of the most common battles is with eating out as you don’t have full control over what’s available.

Yet, this doesn’t mean that all is lost. There are a few helpful tips and tricks you can keep in mind when eating out to help keep you healthy, and also allow you to enjoy a regular, stress-free social life.

Today, we’re going to go over 5 key areas that are common issues. Eating out with diabetes shouldn’t take over your life; you just need to change up what you do. Here are our top tips for eating out.

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1) Plan ahead

Before going to a restaurant, plan your order. Many sites tend to have online menus available, and what’s more, even display nutritional information. This can be very useful when trying to make healthy food choices.

What’s more, it helps you to make a decision and stick to it. It can be all too easy to open up a menu and start eyeing up carb-heavy pasta dishes and decadent chocolate desserts.

If the menu is not available online, you can also call ahead and inquire into the available food choices. By doing so, you can also ask for meals to be prepared in a healthier way.

For example, instead of having restaurant meals breaded or fried, you can ask for them to be roasted, grilled, or steamed. You shouldn’t feel self-conscious enquiring. Taking steps to ensure that you are enjoying a well-balanced meal that won’t disrupt your blood sugar levels is an integral part of diabetes management.

2) Manage portion sizes

It’s worth bearing in mind that portion size and serving size aren’t always the same. A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time, while a serving is a specific amount of food.

Portions sizes in fast-food restaurants are significantly larger than what you may consume at home. A recent study has found fast food is even more unhealthy for you than it was 30 years ago.

An analysis of the offerings at 10 of the most popular US fast-food restaurants in 1986, 1991, and 2016, demonstrates that fast-food entrees, sides, and desserts increased significantly in calories and sodium and entrees and desserts in portion size over time.

This can make eating out a challenge for those attempting weight loss or trying to control blood sugar levels.

To avoid consuming large portions, you can try the following:

  • Order a salad (plain dressing) or vegetable soup as an appetizer.

  • Have half of your meal packaged to take home.

  • Share a meal or platter between friends.

  • Choosing the smallest meal size if the restaurant offers options.

  • Drinking water before you eat.

  • Eating slowly so that you’ll feel full before you’ve eaten too much.

3) Make substitutions

Restaurants and, to some extent, fast food joints are tailoring to increasingly health-conscious consumers. As a result, asking for substitutions and making healthy choices is considerably easier. For example, you can:

  • Swap refined carbs such as white pasta for whole-grain pastas.

  • Have a side of vegetables instead of chips or potatoes.

  • Substitute deep-fried foods for grilled meat or fish.

  • Enjoy a salad with healthy fats from avocado and a drizzle of olive oil instead of sugar-laden dressings and croutons.

  • Skip the sour cream and opt for fresh salsa.

  • Opt for a side of black beans instead of cheese-laden nachos.

4) Consider hidden sugar

Make sure to avoid any pesky hidden sugars that might be hiding in dressings, marinades, and sauces.

It can be easy to not consider these items because they don’t make up a large portion of the meal. However, even in small quantities, they can really add up, and most will contain far more sugar than you might expect.

Feel free to discuss with the server about any low-sugar alternatives or whether the chefs can change the meal to make it more suitable for you. A squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper can make for a great low-sugar alternative that keeps your food tasting good.

If you know that you’re going to eat a high-sugar or high-carb meal, then adjust the rest of your outing by lowering the carbs of other dishes by taking out any bread, potatoes, rice, or dairy products.

If you can, try to test your blood sugar levels both 2 and 4 hours after eating to get an understanding of how the meal has affected your body. Based on these readings, you can then adjust your insulin shots accordingly.

5) Drinks

One of the most susceptible sources of sugar is in drinks. Even if you ask for diet or sugar-free options, often, the server can make a mistake and give you the regular, sugar-laden soda. Always choose bottled or canned drinks so that you can make sure you are drinking the right drink or just stick to water.

Alcohol is another consideration that should be taken into account. If your diabetes is well managed, then an occasional drink is usually fine (though this should be discussed with your doctor).

However, it is important to remember that alcohol contains empty calories, which can add up. Furthermore, if you use insulin or medications that lower blood sugar, alcohol can cause a potentially dangerous low blood sugar level.

Good drink options include:

  • Water

  • Unsweetened iced tea

  • Unsweetened tea or coffee

  • Sparkling water

  • Mineral water

6) Timing

Many diabetics will have a specific eating schedule that they’ll stick to day to day, and eating out can put a bit of a spanner in the works. Insulin pumps and flexible injections can be easier to work with, but if you have a more precise routine, it can be tricky.

If this is you, then it can be useful to carry around carbohydrate snacks or ask for a carb centered starter upon arrival. Also, the people who you’re dining with will be more than happy to accommodate your needs if they understand how difficult it is.

Simply mention to whoever you’re going to eat with that you need to fit the meal around your schedule, and most people will be fine with that.

7) Dessert

The final hurdle. Dessert. Dessert isn’t necessarily off-limits because you have diabetes. Fresh fruit can be a good option to satisfy your sweet tooth, especially if accompanied by a drizzle of dark chocolate (aim for 85% cocoa).

But if that just won’t quite do it, you can enjoy dessert as part of your meal plan by reducing the number of other carbohydrates consumed throughout the day. Another useful alternative (if you have the strength) is sharing a dessert with someone.

8) Exercise

Being physically active can help promote weight loss, which can help improve insulin resistance and lower blood sugar in some people. This doesn’t have to be an intensive gym session after you eat, simply going for a long stroll after eating can be beneficial and help to regulate blood sugar.

One study published in the journal Nutrients found that the timing of light physical activity shortly after eating affects the time-course of postprandial blood glucose.


Remember, controlling blood glucose levels is vital for managing diabetes. Failure to do so can result in long-term complications, including loss of vision, kidney damage, and cardiovascular disease. However, that said, diabetes should not take over your life, and activities, such as eating out for friends and family, should still be enjoyed.

Just be sure to exercise caution and do not be afraid to ask for specific menus and dietary requirements.

By monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly and maintaining a healthy, diabetic diet, you can successfully control and maintain normal blood sugar levels.

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  2. Reynolds AN, Venn BJ. The Timing of Activity after Eating Affects the Glycaemic Response of Healthy Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1743. Published 2018 Nov 13. doi:10.3390/nu10111743
  5. Zong G, Eisenberg DM, Hu FB, Sun Q. Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Med. 2016;13(7):e1002052. Published 2016 Jul 5. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002052
  7. Kudo, A., Asahi, K., Satoh, H. et al. Fast eating is a strong risk factor for new-onset diabetes among the Japanese general population. Sci Rep 9, 8210 (2019).

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