How to check for hidden fats and carbs on menus
and not ruin a great dining experience with screaming bg's
Going out for dinner tonight? Here are a few random samples of what you might find hidden in the menu. (Note that 1800 calories, 60 grams of fat, and 225 grams of carbs would be a reasonable day's intake for many of us.)
- Lasagna ...............950 calories, 53 grams fat, 93 grams carbohydrate
- Caesar salad........660 calories, 46 grams fat, 30 grams carbohydrate
- Steak, baked potato, butter, vegetable and salad.........1860 calories, 125 grams fat, 68 grams carbohydrate
Over the last couple of decades, restaurant dining has, course by course, inched up on the charts of social and leisure activities. On the average, Americans eat out four times a week, with no signs of temperance on the horizon.
Food, glorious food is everywhere. From the smallest towns, the biggest cities and every place in between, signposts wave to woo us in for a bite. A staggering number of fast food joints feed our rushed and busy lifestyles, neighborhood cafes and bistros allow us to relax and enjoy the company of friends along with a comforting meal, and star-rated gourmet hot spots pander to those of us driven to keep up with the latest culinary miracles. How nice. But where, judging from the food analysis at the top of the page, does it leave the person with diabetes?
Good news---a person with diabetes, armed with a little carb counting arithmetic and a sense of discretion and doubt, also can revel in the joys of restaurant dining. Here are a few tricks I've uncovered (by sticking my finger in more than a few pies), to solve the enigma of the missing link between what you read on menus, and what you get on your plate.
In the course of this self imposed research on restaurant dining, there have been some dinners that made my tongue smile, as well as a few gastronomically rocky roads. In the end, the simple lessons to be learned are ....anticipate the unexpected and ....... Always think before you eat.
1. Eating is a very visual thing.
At home, where you have control of measurements, it is easy to know sizes and portions. But in many restaurants, plate size and portion size can play curious tricks on the eye. We Americans like big. Plates are sometimes so big they barely fit on snug restaurant tables. The food on these giant 11 or 12 inch plates is hefty.
Think real. When you order a baked potato, know that most restaurants have some magical hidden source, unknown to us home cooks, that supplies them with potatoes weighing a half pound or more, rather than the recommended diabetic exchange chart of a 3 ounce, 80 calorie, 15 carb gram spud.
By familiarizing yourself with carb values for the portions you eat in your good diet, you will have the edge on determining correct amounts to savor and enjoy in a restaurant. Remember to eat slowly and take home the rest of the plate that is too much for one meal. You can also share a main dish with a friend. Or, order appetizer portions, if you don't want to be seen carrying out the old doggy bag, or still have your grandmother's depression-days---"Clean your plate!"---stories lolling in your head.
2. As with all other major decisions in your life, think before you eat.
Think about whether you should tear into that bread basket the waiter has judiciously placed directly within your grasp. If you go for it, how will that play with the rest of your meal and your insulin doses? Think about how good you will feel after you have eaten within the limits that are good for you and your ever-moving bg's.
For example, contemplate the bagel. The days of the 3 ounce, 30 carb gram bagels are over. Bagels are now the size of bungalows. Proceed with caution. Go for half a bagel with the doughy center pulled out. Smooth on a nice little smear of low fat cream cheese or tofu spread, instead of lathering on a bucketful.
And when ordering one of our favorite and most popular foods, pasta, please put on the brakes. Memorize the fact that 1 cup of cooked pasta is 160 calories and 30 carb grams. Emblazon in your mental food rolodex exactly what that looks like. And always ask the kitchen to go lightly with the sauce. Choose red or clear sauces, as white sauce is made with flour or cream.....often, both. One of my very favorite dishes is pasta with broccoli di rabe (Italian bitter broccoli, readily found in markets). I ask for a double on the broccoli di rabe and half on the pasta. This is very satisfying because I get to savor the pasta without paying the high bg tab next morning.
3. Ordering tips
- Ask for dressing and sauces on the side. You can then pour on the reasonable amount of 1 or 2 tablespoons instead of the one fourth or one third cup they dose with in restaurant kitchens.
- Be aware of the many hidden fats chefs are prone to seduce us with. For example, in many restaurants, a fish entree portion is 8 ounces, at about 70 calories per ounce. Add butter or breading, and you're treading in deep water.
- Order fish baked, broiled or in papillote, with fresh herbs and plenty of lemon or lime wedges
- Choose fresh salsas as a good alternative to heavy or cooked sauces, as many sauces are laden with hidden sugars, cream, and an overabundance of salt. Salsas are classically a combination of diced vegetables or fruits, vinegar, herbs and citrus. They have a nice clean taste.
- Put rich sauces on your pay no mind list.
- When it comes to dessert, be cool. Ask to hear the dessert litany. Listening or reading a dessert menu should fill you to the point of not wanting to taste. However, if you'd like a little something sweet, make it a spoonful or two. Nobody, even non diabetics, needs a power slice of chocolate kamikaze cake!
4. Finally, don't be daunted by the prospect of restaurant dining.
Remember you are the customer who is paying the bill. Ask questions, stick to your food instincts, and be aware that what you eat today will effect your blood sugars tomorrow.
|Fish En Papillote|
1 lb. Fresh fish fillets, such as snapper, grouper or flounder
|Couscous is made from semolina, the same type of durum wheat flour used to make pasta. Whole wheat couscous lends a rich, nutty flavor and is available at most health food stores.
1 cup whole wheat couscous
12 fresh plump asparagus spears
|Spring is their season. Berries are sweet, juicy, plump and a beautiful red color. Display them in a pretty clear glass goblet, Italian style, with a few drops of good, aged balsamic vinegar and a crack of black pepper, or toss lightly with fresh mint leaves.
Nutritional Value: 1 serving (1 cup) = 45 calories, 10 grams of carbs, 245 mg potassium