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Eating out with diabetes

Whether you’re grabbing lunch on the go, enjoying a Friday night takeaway or celebrating a special occasion at a restaurant, it’s great to eat a meal that you haven’t cooked yourself – and diabetes is no barrier to that. With a little knowledge, you can enjoy eating out as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

In this section

This information could help you make healthier choices when you are out and about.

Lunch

  • Switch meal deals that include full fat crisps or sugary drinks for healthier options like fruit and bottled water.
  • Watch those ‘super-sized’ triple-decker sandwiches – they can contain as many as 700Kcal, which is around a third of your recommended daily intake.
  • Go for filling and healthy pre-packed salads with lean protein, and seeds.
  • Go for sandwiches made with wholegrain bread or wraps with lean ham, chicken, turkey or fish, and salad with low-fat mayonnaise or yogurt dressing.

Healthy snacks and sneaky smoothies

  • Vegetable crudités and fruit can help you meet your five-a-day target.
  • Low-fat yogurts are a good choice for kids, as they are an easy way to add bone-strengthening calcium.
  • Go for oven-baked or lower-fat crisps, or even air-popped, sugar- and salt-free popcorn.
  • A handful of nuts or a packet of raisins or other dried fruit is a great snack at break time.
  • Choose fruit loaf, crumpets or teacake instead of ‘skinny’ muffins, flapjack and ‘healthy’ cake bars, which can pack in more calories than a chocolate bar.
  • Check the label on juice drinks and smoothies – smoothies are often high in calories, not to mention fat and sugar, and many juice drinks contain added sugar.

Takeaways

Fish and chips

  • Order a smaller portion or remove the batter.
  • Go for thick-cut chips – the thicker the chip the less fat it absorbs during cooking.

Burger and chips

  • Try the lean or veggie option, and leave out the cheese and mayonnaise.
  • Or, go ‘bun-less’ to cut the calories and order more salad – but watch the dressing.
  • You can ask for extra lettuce or gherkins, too.

Pizza

  • Choose portion sizes and toppings carefully.
  • Thin bases, sharing a pizza with a friend and filling up on extra side salad can help cut back on fat and calories.

Indian

  • Go for tandoori and tikka options as these are baked and lower in fat.
  • Dhal is rich in fibre because of the lentils and pulses, but can still be quite oily. Try sharing a portion.
  • Choose boiled or steamed rice rather than pilau or fried rice. Fill your plate with lots of salad and yogurt, then add the rice to the remaining space on the plate. You will find there is less room for it, yet you’re still having a full plate of food.
  • Choose chapatti rather than naan bread.
  • Watch out for the extras you order, such as poppadoms and naan breads.
  • Share rich foods, such as kulfi, with a friend. Use a teaspoon, rather than a dessert spoon, so your bites are smaller and your pudding lasts longer.
  • If there is a choice of starters, think about which ones might be better for you. Soups, vegetable sticks with dips, olives, undressed salads, chicken tikka, grilled shish and seekh kebabs are generally healthier choices than spring rolls, samosas and pakoras. Naans are often very large; they’re made with low-fibre white flour and may be drenched in butter.
  • Go for roti instead, which is lower in fat and calories – but if you do choose naan bread, tear just a small piece off and place it flat on your plate rather than on top of other food.

Chinese, Thai and Malaysian

  • Go for broth-based soups, rather than spring rolls or satays.
  • Choose steamed or fragrant rice, or noodles.
  • Stir-fried vegetables are a filling and healthy side dish.

It’s party time!

Whether it’s a wedding, dinner or birthday party, food plays an important part in celebrations. If you are hosting the occasion, you can make sure there are plenty of healthy and tasty options on the table, whether it’s for adults or children.

  • Choose oven-baked crisps.
  • Substitute mayonnaise with low-fat yogurt in dressings.
  • Serve plenty of crunchy vegetables and an exotic fruit salad.
  • Cut smaller slices of birthday cake.
  • Pack party bags with a small toy or a colouring book, rather than sweets.
  • If the occasion is a buffet, look at what’s on offer before you choose. Then, make one trip, filling your plate with healthy options, before heading back for dessert. 
  • If it’s a cocktail party, with only nibbles, make sure you eat a small meal before you go.
  • If you have a child with diabetes and they are invited to a friend’s house, make sure that the parents know what to do if your child needs insulin or has a hypo, and what they can eat.
  • If you are confident with counting carbs, either for yourself or your child, and adjusting your insulin dose, it may be possible to change the amount injected to fit with the food eaten. To make it easier to estimate the amount of carbohydrate you or your child is eating, try the Carbs & Cals book or app.
  • Fill yourself up with those foods you know are lower in calories, such as fresh vegetables and salads, oil-free chutneys and pickles, yogurt and fruit.
  • Keep an eye on crispy fried snacks, like crisps, Bombay mix, gathia and sev. They are fried and give you very little nutritional benefit, but can clock up the calories.

The restaurant

  • Choose a starter that is light and refreshing, such as a fragrant Thai salad. Barbecued or grilled meat or fish starters are likely to be lower in fat than richer dishes, so opt for chicken satay, tikka, mixed grills or tandoori.
  • Scan the menu for steamed or boiled dishes like steamed rice, noodles with vegetables, grilled meat and fish dishes.
  • Get into the habit of ordering extra side dishes of salad and vegetables and ask for any dressings to be served on the side. Most places are happy to do this.
  • If you choose a dessert, keep an eye on your portion size. It’s fine to enjoy a sweet treat, but it can be easy to eat too much. Try a scoop of ice cream, some fresh fruit salad, a sorbet, or – if you treat yourself to a rich pudding – share with somebody and ask your waiter or waitress for two bowls and spoons.
  • If you can, plan a brisk walk before or after the meal – it will help keep your blood glucose stable and help you manage your weight.

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Insulin and eating out

A change in usual routine and diet when eating out needn’t have an effect on diabetes control. It can be balanced by adjusting the amount and/or timing of insulin that you take.

Talk to your healthcare team about how to adjust your dose.

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