Bitter, sweet truth of eating out

For a long time eating out seemed off-limits to diabetics. However, it isn’t entirely impossible. Macrobiotic expert, Shonali Sabherwal offers some respite with her tips

By Sonal Ved

Eating out is a part of our social life but given the condition of restaurant menus and eating options in the city, it can be a tough call for a diabetic. Even if they do manage to find a place that has food to suit their diet, there is often that guilt associated with not sticking to the doctor’s guidelines.

With so much to take care of macrobiotic expert, Shonali Sabherwal, charts out an eating out guide for you.

Choosing the right restaurant
The biggest challenge for a diabetic is finding the right restaurant. The most important factor to consider before you zero in on a place is to find out how much you will be able to influence what they serve you. Certain restaurants are reluctant about making changes to their menus. These range from fine dining to authentic cuisine restaurants that do not alter anything in a dish.

It is important that you guide the staff beforehand, if you require less sugar and spice with a meal. Always pick a place where you can comfortably request the hosts to make small changes in your food, like less butter, less oil, etc. You should ensure that they don’t serve you anything that is pre-packaged like sauces, chutneys, gravies etc.

Choosing the right cuisine
Another factor to consider is what cuisine you opt for when you decide on eating out. Certain cuisines such as regional Indian are convenient for a diabetic diet. Indian food is rich in wheat, lentils, vegetables and homemade gravies. It has less artificial flavours, spices and sugars that don’t threaten your insulin levels. On the other hand cuisines like Chinese or Thai use ample sauces and sugar and therefore should be avoided.

What to order?
The most important factor is to know what to order. Every restaurant has a mix of both healthy and unhealthy dishes that you can choose from. Depending on the cuisine you want to have, here are some healthy options:

At a coffee shop: The safest bet at a coffee shop would be coffee without sugar and whole wheat sandwiches. Avoid biscuits, pastries, cookies, coolers and white bread meals. These contain hidden and artificial sources of sugars that can alter your insulin level.

At a Pan Asian restaurant: Here you can munch on healthy vegetarian stir fries and soups, which come with an ample number of crunchy vegetables. Since these vegetables are cooked with little oil, they supply fibre to the body. You can also opt for wild rice or brown rice preparations. Dishes tossed with legumes, tofu and beans are also welcome. Stay away from food that is loaded with MSG and sugar.

At an Italian restaurant: Whole wheat pasta, fresh tomato-based sauce, salads and appetisers that are loaded with veggies work well with diabetics. Stay away from any kind of white cheese or milk-based sauces that are difficult for diabetics to assimilate.

At a Mediterranean restaurant: Couscous, vegetable stir fry, whole wheat wraps, grilled vegetables, hummus are all good for your body. Emphasis on dishes made using ingredients like kidney beans, black beans or lentils and fish.

Basic guidelines

  • Always opt for whole grain flour over processed flours and avoid intake of breads.
  • If you have a choice of asking for no butter in meals, do so by all means. Request the chef to prepare the dish with olive oil instead.
  • Stay away from dishes that use a lot of cheese and sauce.
  • Never go for a bargain meal as this will mostly compromise on quality ingredients. Instead put together for yourself a value meal based on what you should eat and avoid.
  • Don’t fall for the ‘sugar-free’ desserts drama. Most restaurants use artificial sweeteners that cause a whole new range of complications.
  • Tell your host to not add MSG (monosodium glutamate) in any of your food.
  • Avoid white rice, cookies, biscuits and desserts. You can opt for fresh fruits instead.
  • Stay away from dairy based products as much as possible. This helps avoid the saturated fats, sugars and casein from dairy.
  • Sip on as much water as you can throughout your meal.
  • Always consult your physician before eating out. Do not eat out unless you are permitted to.

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Dr Rishma Pai


She is a consultant gynaecologist at Jaslok and Lilavati Hospital.

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