It comes as a big surprise to the people that I treat; that I’m a big foodie, love to eat out and try different cuisines. Everyone needs a break from eating the same food every day, right?
Sticking to a healthy diet doesn't mean you have to avoid dining out. Eating out is not impossible while aspiring to a healthy lifestyle, but making the right choices can be challenging.
(For the basics of making healthy food choices at home, visit my last few blogs where I talk about healthy carbs, proteins and fats).
For many people, eating healthy is a chore and a bore and this is why people give up. But once you understand your choices, all you need to do is to plan a little ahead to ensure that you can eat out guilt free. Most places are happy to customise your order. Try and find such restaurants and keep a list handy when you want to head out.
When possible, eat something healthy at home (or work) before heading out in order to avoid excessive eating there. For example: a fruit or salad or a cup of clear soup. This will help avoid binging as well.
When that’s not possible, order a salad or a soup first or start the meal with it in case of a buffet. Choose a clear soup with vegetables and / or chicken rather than a cream based one.
While ordering appetisers pick ones that are not deep-fried, like grilled vegetables or cottage cheese or grilled chicken or fish. Another great option is to try something that is steamed, like dumplings or steamed seafood.
Keep a check on portions – if the restaurant is serving large portions, order less at a time and share your meals with your companions. If you’re not sure about what is in a dish or the serving size, do ask your server. Many of the restaurants are happy to explain their recipes and portion sizes in details.
Avoid alcoholic drinks as far as possible, instead, order fresh lime water without sugar or honey. If you do want to order alcohol, go for a glass of red wine or 30 ml of any hard liquor. For your mains, make sure you order a low fat meal with 2 servings of carbs and 1 portion of protein. (details of calculating portion sizes in my earlier blogs)
When not having alcohol, make sure you include at least one portion of healthy carbs, equal portion of protein and have lots of fibre (greens and vegetables) on the side.
Choose healthy ingredients :
Whole wheat/ multi grain bread
Steamed brown rice
Meats and poultry
Avoid red meats and organ meats, pick grilled chicken or fish or a chicken steak
Mashed potatoes; grilled sweet potatoes
Multi grain tortilla
Clear soups (no crème)
Whole wheat pasta
For example, prefer wholemeal over white pasta and choose sauces with tomato and pesto base. Avoid the cheese filled creamy white sauces as they will make your meal very high in fat. Try and have a salad on the side or get two fistful of veggies added to your pasta and some cubes of grilled chicken, cottage cheese or tofu.
Same can be done while ordering pizza. Choose whole grain or multi grain pizza base, loaded with veggies and minimum cheese, a portion of grilled chicken, cottage cheese or tofu and a dash of olive oil.
While dinning at (or ordering from) Chinese restaurants specifically ask your server to not add Chinese salt or MSG to your dishes. If you rarely (once in 3 months) dine Chinese, don’t bother.
At coffee shops, pick wholemeal or multi grain bread in your sandwich and avoid cheese and mayonnaise. Avoid added cream in your drinks and say no to high sugar add-ons like chocolate or caramel.
Ok, so what about desserts? My dining out experience is incomplete without a dessert. Instead of the high fat ice creams and cakes that restaurants tend to serve, I usually pick a low fat ice cream (like a gelato) or a mixed fruit salad or ice candy. The next time you’re ordering dessert, try this - instead of having two portions of carbs in your main have only one and enjoy anyone one of the dessert options above, Guilt Free!
Try different combinations at different restaurants and always check your post meal blood sugar and update your food diary (if you’re a diabetic). If your blood sugar is well in control you know that you can indulge in that particular kind of meal and dessert confidently and more often.
While travelling, stock up healthy snacking options like nuts, nutrient dense fruits, nutri-bars (pick low sugar, low fat types). Diabetics should stick one portion of fruit as a between meal snack which is either one medium apple, pear, orange or guava or three slices of papaya, pineapple or melon or one medium bowl of pomegranate or any berries. High sugar fruits such as bananas, custard apples, grapes, Sapodilla (Sapota), mangoes should be consumed in half portions sizes (of above). The idea is to avoid high sugar fruits and get more nutrients in from other fruits to keep your blood sugar in control.
Oh! And by the way, Avoid Fruit Juices. Period!!
Travelling and eating out with friends and family can be an enjoyable experience even for a person with diabetes as long as they choose the right foods and eat moderate quantities.
Next blog- Reading food labels
Author Pariksha Rao is based in Bengaluru, India. She is a clinical nutritionist, IDF certified diabetes educator, sports nutritionist and a lactation expert, with more than a decade of experience across pharmaceuticals, hospitals and research sectors. Having trained over a 1000 paramedics on personalised patient/ consumer care and counselling, Pariksha believes counselling is a holistic approach to achieve long term behaviour modification by setting mutual, achievable, measurable and realistic short term goals.