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Diabetes

Learn about a host of diabetes-related topics such as how many Americans suffer from this disease to how to easily adjust to a new diet after diagnoses. This section will provide you with the information you need to make informed dietary decisions regarding diabetes.

Diabetic-Friendly Restaurant Tips: What to Order & More

Dining out is not “off limits” for those with diabetes. If managing blood sugars, find out how to eat fast food with health top of mind.

Diabetic-Friendly Restaurant Tips: What to Order & More


What to order, or what not to order? That is the question for many people with diabetes searching for diabetic-friendly restaurants. Finding fast food for diabetics is a lot more manageable with this ultimate guide. 

Read on to discover answers to questions like, "What can a diabetic eat for dinner at fast food?" and "Can diabetics eat pizza?" Also, learn what to order at common places, general eating out tips, and more!

How to Eat Out With Diabetes

Creative solutions, such as splitting a meal with a friend, can make eating out with diabetes much easier. Remember, one short-term choice will not ruin a long-term goal. Focus on healthful habits over time, and blood glucose levels will normalize. 

Find a Balance

For people with diabetes, it is important to find balance. When eating out, avoid supersized portions but be sure to eat enough. Restriction can be just as dangerous for blood sugar as overeating. 

Honor Hunger Cues

Listening to the body's hunger signals can be a great way to mindfully understand cravings. It is still possible to enjoy each bite while thinking of your health. Try to eat slowly, and stop when feeling full. 

Get Clear on Goals

Keeping motivating goals in mind can help when choosing fast food orders. For example, someone who is genetically prone to heart disease and has seen it affect their family members can remember the goal of successfully managing diabetes to prevent disease. 

Visualizing a happy and healthy future can be a powerful tool. Use this tactic to make healthy choices and decrease disease risk! 

Two common goals with diabetes management are as follows:

1. Control blood sugar
2. Maintain a healthy weight/weight loss as needed

Getting educated on smart fast food choices will not always be the quickest process. However, in the long-term, it is worth it. Investing time in growing knowledge now can improve quality of life for years to come.

Use User-Friendly Menus

By online menu or paper copy, browse the available options. Making a healthy choice first starts by being aware of all that is offered! 

Ask to Alter an Existing Item

Ditch the bun or add a side salad. Most employees do not mind making minor changes to existing items. 

Look Into Lurking Condiment Ingredients

The most dangerous ingredients are often found in condiments. Even dips like ketchup can be sugar-laden, high in sodium, or full of food dyes and other additives. 

Opt for vegetable-oil-based dressings as an appetizing and filling choice for food. When possible, choose "light" creams or butters to cut calories and carbs. 

Dining Out With Diabetes Meal Guide

Skip the blood sugar crash with these diabetic-friendly tips. As a rule of thumb, each meal should aim to contain healthy carbs or whole grains, a form of lean protein, and healthy fats. 

Healthy Carbs & Whole Grains

Restaurants like Chipotle offer cauliflower rice, brown, rice, and "lifestyle bowl" options. Choosing a nutrient-dense carbohydrate will provide energy without the blood sugar "spike".

Skip the chips and add some lettuce leaves to the meal for digestion-friendly fiber.

Lean Protein 

Lean forms of protein like grilled chicken contain fewer calories and carbohydrates than breaded or fried varieties. Protein sources that are lean provide satiating nutrients without the high levels of saturated fat. 

For example, ordering two fresco-style soft tacos with fire-grilled chicken from Taco Bell provides more nutrients than alternate options. Adding tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and pico de gallo makes it even more nutritious.

Another great option is to order two Fresco-Style Crunchy Beef Tacos. Instead of cheese, add lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo, and onion. This order has a whopping 13 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber. 

What Menu Options Should People With Diabetes Avoid?

Steer clear of items termed "extra-large" or "double-stack" when skimming the menu. These rarely fit healthfully into a balanced diet. 

Get meat skinless, baked, steamed, or broiled meat when you can. For example, at fried chicken restaurants, skinless grilled chicken is a good choice. It has reduced fat and calories and will be better on blood sugar than glazed or sticky options. 

Best Fast Food for Diabetes

Fast food restaurants tend to be convenient and consistent in their quality. People with diabetes can try the following options for healthy food on the go. 

If at Chipotle, ask for a…

• Salad or Burrito Bowl with chicken, fajita veggies, and a half portion of beans, rice, cauliflower rice, and veggie-based salsa and guacamole
• Veggie Bowl (a double portion of black beans instead of chicken)
• Half portion of any starchy carbs (i.e. rice or beans) if chips are part of the order
• Tomatillo Green-Chili Salsa
• Single crunchy taco shell instead of chips
• Smaller portion of chips from the kids' menu
• Side of seasonal fruit instead of chips
• A light portion of sour cream or cheese

If you are at Taco Bell, ask for a…

• Power Menu Bowl (Chicken, Steak, or Veggie)
• Vegetarian Double Tostada
• "Fresco style" meal 
• Side of pico de gallo with chips 
• Side of black beans 
• Guacamole instead of cheese or sour cream

If you are at Burger King, ask for a…

• Whopper Jr. with no cheese or mayo
• MorningStar Farms Veggie Burger (hold the mayo)
• Side Garden Salad
• Value Size fry or onion ring

If at Starbucks, ask for a(n)…

• Latte with almond milk
• Turkey Bacon Cheddar and Egg White Sandwich
• Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap
• Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal 
• Sous Vide Egg Bites
• Egg Bakes
• Sprouted Grain Bagel with light cream cheese
• Tomato & Mozzarella Panini, and a seasonal fruit blend cup
• Eggs + Cheese Protein box
• Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans (swap avocado spread for the dressing, or just use half the dressing)
• Option from the fresh food case instead of a packaged, sugary pastry
• Option from the "Health and Wellness Factsheet"

If you are at Mcdonald's, ask for (a)…

• Classic Cheeseburger with a small french fry and water
• Six-piece nuggets with a small french fry
• 3 piece chicken strip with a small french fry
• Spicy Buffalo or Creamy Ranch Sauce
• Side Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette or Honey Mustard Sauce
• Diet soda, lightly sweetened lemonade, unsweetened iced tea, or water
• Apple slices or another fresh fruit option

If at Panera, ask for a…

• Broth-based or tomato-based soups instead of cream soups (i.e. ten vegetable soup, chicken noodle soup)
• Regular bowl instead of a bread bowl
• Lentil quinoa broth bowl
• Salad dressing to be placed on the side
• Mediterranean egg-white wrap
• Pick Two: Half Sandwich + Half Salad

• Turkey on Whole Grain (Half Sandwich)
• Napa Almond Chicken Salad on Country Rustic (Half Sandwich)
• Steak & Arugula on Sourdough (Half Sandwich)
• Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough (Half Sandwich)
• Mediterannean veggie sandwich (Half Sandwich), remove top slice of bread to further reduce the carb count
• Asain Sesame with Chicken Salad (Half Salad)
• Seasonal Greens Salad (Half Salad)

• Dressings

• Asian Sesame Vinaigrette
• Chili Lime Rojo Ranch
• Green Goddess
• Thai Chili Vinaigrette

• Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken 
• Green Goddess Cobb with Chicken Salad
• Bowl of Turkey Chili with Beans

If at Wendy's, ask for a…

• Grilled Chicken Wrap with Apple Bites
• A Junior Size Frosty instead of the regular size
• Jr. Cheeseburger
• Six-piece chicken nuggets
• Asian Cashew Chicken Salad
• BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad
• Chicken GO Wrap 
• Crispy Chicken Sandwich
• Grilled Chicken Sandwich 
• Side of apple slices 
• Side salad

If at Subway, ask for a(n)…

• Option from the "Fresh Fit" menu
• Sandwich on 9-Grain Wheat, whole-grain bread, or Multigrain Flatbread
• 6-Inch Rotisserie-Style Chicken on 9-Grain Wheat
• Fat-Free Honey Mustard Sauce
• Avocado instead of cheese
• Apple slices instead of potato chips
• Baked Lay's instead of regular potato chips
• Sub with turkey, lean ham, or roast beef
• Vegetable topping, plus extra veggies
• Vinegar or mustard instead of non-vegetable oils or mayonnaise
• Caesar Chicken Bowl 
• Oven Roasted Chicken Bowl
• Meatball Marinara Salad
• Black Forest Ham Salad

If at Chick-fil-A, ask for a…

• Grilled chicken sandwich
• Grilled nuggets
• Chicken Cool Wrap
• Spicy Southwest Salad
• Market Salad with grilled chicken or chicken strips
• A small side of waffle fries
• A side salad or Kale Crunch Salad

If at a pizza place, ask for a…

• Garden or house salad
• Vegetable toppings
• Cheeseless or meatless option
• Thin crust

In Conclusion

Whether dining in at a Mexican restaurant or driving through fast food, knowing what to order is a breeze with this ultimate guide. Besides, eating out with diabetes should and can be enjoyable and healthy!

Overall, try to combine lean protein with nutrient-rich carbs and healthy fats to best manage hunger and blood sugars. Skip saturated fats, added sugar, and high sodium when possible. 

With these restaurant and fast food for diabetics ideas, never stress over eating on the go or out with loved ones!

References:

Buckingham C. The 14 Best Restaurant Meals For Diabetics. Eat This. Published August 29, 2017. https://www.eatthis.com/best-restaurant-meals-for-diabetics/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes - Eating Out. CDC. Published September 19, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/eating-out.html

Phipps ME. Top Diabetes-Friendly Fast Food Options. Milk and Honey Nutrition. Published 2021. https://www.milkandhoneynutrition.com/top-diabetes-friendly-fast-food-options/

Hughes S. 11 Tips for Eating Out With Diabetes. Verywell Health. Published November 25, 2019. https://www.verywellhealth.com/eating-out-with-diabetes-1087119

Mayo Clinic Staff. Diabetes nutrition: Eating out when you have diabetes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-nutrition/art-20047665

Rose K. Best Lunch Foods for Diabetes. EatingWell. Published January 8, 2021. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7882897/best-lunch-foods-for-diabetes/

Shields K. Top Fast-Food Picks for People with Diabetes. EatingWell. Published September 28, 2018. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/291097/top-fast-food-picks-for-people-with-diabetes/

Woolley E. Best Fast Food for Diabetes. Verywell Health. Published January 24, 2020. https://www.verywellhealth.com/diabetes-and-fast-food-choices-1087446.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on August 17, 2021. Updated on April 07, 2022.

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