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Dinner deftness: Navigating menus to keep diabetes in check

A group eating some chips and salsa at a table while they drink wine out of a wine glass
OSF Healthcare

Have a plan.

It’s something you’ll hear Jalinn Nobis-Wichman, RN, CDCES, a diabetes educator at OSF HealthCare, say often.

An example: if you’re going into a night out with friends with an eating plan in mind, you can keep the disease in check and enjoy yourself. Some tips to make that happen:

  • Browse the menu ahead of time and make a healthy choice. Stay away from items with crispy, fried or creamed in the name. Those foods may have more calories and carbohydrates. More carbs will make your blood sugar rise, Nobis-Wichman says.

Barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce and honey glazed are also red flags.
“A crazy amount of sugar,” Nobis-Wichman says of barbeque sauce.

Instead, look for grilled, baked, steamed or broiled on the menu. Grilled steak, grilled fish or barbeque with a dry rub (i.e. without the sauce) are options. At Chinese restaurants, give egg foo young a try.

  • Eat a little ahead of time if needed.

“Keep in mind when you last ate,” Nobis-Wichman advises. “You don’t want to get to the point [of low blood sugar.] So, if you know your dinner date is a little later than you normally eat, it’s a good idea to have a protein snack so we don’t cause a dangerous low.”

  • For appetizers, it’s tempting to get a salad. We know them to be healthy, right? Nobis-Wichman says salads are fine. Just choose ingredients wisely.

    “The salad can be loaded with bacon, eggs and cheese. You pour the dressing over top of it,” Nobis-Wichman says. “You would have probably been better off having one of the things that feels like a fattier, more indulgent meal. There’s a lot of hidden calories, fat and carbohydrates in salads.”

    So, start your salad with non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. Skip things like tortilla crisps and cranberries. Nobis-Wichman also advises to dip your fork in the salad dressing before you get a bite, rather than lather the dressing on the salad. This can reduce how much dressing you eat.

    Another tactic: right when you get seated, tell your server to skip the bread or chips. You may have to twist the arms of the people you’re with, but it’s one less temptation.

  • Good news for dessert. Nobis-Wichman says if you eat right, you can splurge a tiny amount.

“If I know a restaurant has a fantastic chocolate cake, I am going to have some,” Nobis-Wichman says with a smile. “But I will have very few carbohydrates on my plate prior. A lean cut of meat. A non-starchy vegetable. Think of it as a budget. I will spend my carb budget on that chocolate cake.”

  • Nobis-Wichman prefers to eat, not drink her carbs. That means being aware of how much sugar is in your drink. She says water, iced tea and club soda with a twist of lime are good options. For alcohol, avoid sugary, mixed drinks like margaritas. Nobis-Wichman says a beer or glass of wine is okay in moderation.
  • Watch how much you eat. Nobis-Wichman says portion sizes at restaurants have gone up, leading to overeating.

    A trick: ask for a to-go container when you order. Then, put half of your meal in the box before you start eating.

    Nobis-Wichman also says we typically savor the first couple bites. After that, it’s just finishing. So why not control your portion now and have a savory leftover lunch tomorrow?

  • Bring your blood sugar monitor. As advised by your health care provider, check your level and respond as needed. Nobis-Wichman says these days, it’s not taboo to do this in a restaurant.
OSF HealthCare, an integrated health system owned and operated by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, Peoria, Illinois. OSF HealthCare is a not-for-profit Catholic health care organization that operates a medical group, hospital system, and other health care facilities in Illinois and Michigan. Headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, OSF HealthCare is owned and operated by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
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