The pitfalls for the diabetic who wants to go out and enjoy a fast food meal or snack are quite daunting. Not only is the focus of most fast food establishments on sweeter, fattier, more addicting type fare, but also the selection of ‘lighter-side’ options is usually geared more towards dieters than diabetics.
One of the big drawbacks that the diabetic has is that it is not simply sugar that’s the enemy when eating. It is balancing out carbohydrate intake to protein in order to upkeep the metabolism. Now, carbohydrates means bread, when you get down to fast food. Everything is served on a bun, a tortilla, in a pouch, on a crust, or breaded heavily. Breads abound in the fast food market. Your next option would be to focus maybe on Asian cuisine. Now you have rice and noodles as the base of your dishes, again a carbohydrate heavy set of selections.
Face it, modern cuisine is focused around the carbohydrate, especially in the fast food and fast casual restaurant environment. The key here then isn’t to try to avoid carbohydrates altogether. This isn’t practical or recommended anyway, as carbohydrates aren’t actually the enemy, rather it is the balance between those carbohydrates and the protein you take in.
The simplest tips for making the most of your selections at the fast food counter are as follows:
1. The glycemic index of food should be taken into account. Some carbohydrates are just simply better than others. Look for breads and pastas that are higher in fiber and lower in simple sugars. The higher the dietary fiber in a bread product, the better, and usually the lower the glycemic index is. Flat breads, whole grains, brown instead of white rice, and sweet potato instead of russet potato are all lower glycemic index carbohydrates that you can find at various places. A wrap store is better than a sub shop for a sandwich, or using the wrap/tortilla/flatbread option for the bread choice even in a chain, such as Subway or Quiznos will make your sandwich better for you.
2. Avoid the soda counter. Soda is all sugar and carbonated water, and most of your artificial sweeteners out there have some negative drawbacks associated with them. Not only that, but in general, the selection of low-sugar/carb choices in the beverage department are traditionally rather scarce at best. Choices like water, unsweetened ice tea, and coffee are generally a better direction to go than the unlimited refills of sugar you’ll receive by choosing sodas. Other good decisions that have more natural sugars involved include small size offerings of real fruit juice drinks, or milk, which are both usually available as healthier options for the kids, and can be ordered by the adults just as well. If everyone in the group is ordering milk shakes, and you don’t want to totally deprive yourself of the treat, go for the fruit smoothie, or a yogurt based drink instead.
3. Fill up on the foliage! This means vegetables. If you fill your meal with the vegetable portion of the menu, you’ll be more full, usually take in a lot less carbohydrate filler, and many of the vegetables at fast food can also be cheaper or free additions. Places like Subway don’t charge for extras of any of their vegetable selection, while on your average fast food sandwich your not looking at more than about ten cents to add extra lettuce or onion to your meal.
4. Avoid the fryer wherever possible. The majority of fried foods are also breaded, which adds more carbohydrates of the bad variety, without really adding any filler to your meal. Most carbohydrates at least make you feel full quicker, but breading fried in oil is like straight sugar, they are both appetite enhancers, making you crave more food sooner. Also, although fat isn’t the enemy of a diabetic as much as sugars can be, remember that fats turn into sugar first, after the carbohydrates in the body. Many people go on fad diets and try to cut out carbohydrates completely, replacing them with almost total fat/protein/ruffage diets instead, and although they often work in the short run for both weight loss and sugar control, these kinds of diets will break down the body’s natural ability to cope with carbohydrates, lowering the metabolism and eventually the body will just start immediately turning the fats taken into the body to sugar, bringing back the same problems you had before, but now with no metabolic rate to help deal with it.
5. Stay away from sauces like barbecue, ketchup and sweet glazes as they are typically all sugar, while remembering that mayonnaise and such are mostly oils. When it comes down to it, the safest condiment you can add to a food is mustard as regular table mustard is a free food and doesn’t contain either fats or sugars to any great degree.
Remember, as a diabetic, you have to be a little more conscious of the foods you are choosing, especially when the preparation of said foods are out of your immediate control, like at the fast food establishment of your choice. Take a little time to evaluate the menus at your favorite places. Ask them for their free nutritional guides and focus on carbohydrate content, and compare them to dietary fiber. A carbohydrate alone isn’t a bad thing, it is just how much of the carbohydrate content is fiber compared to sugar that really should matter to you.