Places Where Diabetics Can Safely Eat Out

Focus on Food at a Mediterranean Restaurant on a Rustic Wooden Table with a Group of Friends


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Focus on Food at a Mediterranean Restaurant on a Rustic Wooden Table with a Group of Friends

Diabetic-Friendly Restaurants

Diabetics know they should limit carbohydrates, fats, and sugar and up their intake of fiber. The Diabetes Plate Method created by the American Diabetes Association suggests that about a quarter of each meal consist of carbohydrates, and most of those should come from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, New York nutritionist Laurie Simon suggests limiting any one meal to 10 grams of sugar or less, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends about 200-225 grams of carbs a day. That's difficult enough eating at home. Sticking to the rules at restaurants is even harder — but it can be done at many popular chains.

Related: Famous People You Didn't Know Were Diabetic

Exterior of Applebee's in York, Pennsylvania with Cloudy Grey Skies in the Background
George Sheldon/shutterstock


Applebee's nutrition info

While Applebee's has tons of high-carb choices, the best options for diabetics are plain steaks, ribs with no sauce, a grilled chicken breast, or blackened cajun salmon, with steamed or grilled veggies. If salad sounds good, order plain chicken or shrimp caesar, strawberry balsamic chicken salad, or house salad. Limit alcohol to wine — the mixed drinks are loaded with sugar.

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Focus on the Drive-Thru of a Chick-fil-A Restaurant, Indianapolis, Indiana with Several Cars in a Line


Chick-fil-A nutrition info

The trick at Chick-fil-A (or anywhere for that matter) is to stay away from breaded and fried items. Any grilled chicken items, such as the chicken sandwich (preferably bun-less), chicken nuggets, or Cool Wrap are good choices. For sides, choose fruit cup, side salad, kale crunch side, or Buddy Fruits applesauce. The fast-food joint also offers relatively low-carb salads, including Cobb, spicy southwest, and market versions, but watch the dressings — many are high in carbs or sugar, particularly the low-fat ones.

Exterior of Chili's Restaurant in Victorville, California with an Empty Parking Lot


Chili's nutrition info

In addition to regular menu items such as fajitas, ribs, and burgers (sans the fries) that aren't loaded down with carbs, Chili's also has a Guiltless Grill menu section with more healthful, lighter fare. Items on this menu include grilled sirloin steak served with avocado, ancho salmon, a grilled chicken salad, and mango-chili chicken. Soups, chili, beans, veggies, and shrimp are good sides.

Related: 45 Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

Group of Happy Friends Eating at a Round Table in a Chinese Restaurant with Focus on White Plates of Chinese Food

Chinese Restaurants

Chinese food nutrition info (via MyFitnessPal; varies by restaurant)

It might seem like Chinese food is diabetic-friendly because of the lean meat and veg, but oily and sugary sauces, white rice, and egg rolls could send blood sugar rocketing. Stick to moo shu pork and chicken or shrimp with vegetables — with sauce on the side. Soups are fine, as is egg foo yung. If rice is a must, make it brown, and fortune cookies make a good treat.

Closeup of the Burrito Loading Zone Parking Signs Near the Entrance of a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Portland, Oregon

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle nutrition info

Most Mexican food is a diabetic disaster of fried tortillas, cheese, and sour cream. But Chipotle has salads and burrito bowls that are good choices, and a nutrition calculator that lets users select ingredients to see how they add up. Of course, skip the chips (and, when eating at Mexican restaurants, the margaritas).

Exterior of a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Victorville, California with an Empty Parking Lot

Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel nutrition info

Surprisingly, as long as you avoid the biscuits, fried food, and desserts, there are plenty of diabetic-friendly choices at Cracker Barrel. Even grits, since they are made from whole ground corn, are not off limits.

Denny's Restaurant Sign Against a Clear, Blue Sky in West Pam Beach, Florida


Denny's nutrition info

The menu at Denny's has egg, steak, and fish choices that work well for diabetics. Its omelettes are a good option for diabetics, as are build-your-own Grand Slams that forgo the pancakes and toast. Denny's also has a number of salads that are light on carbs, and a bunless burger or wild Alaskan salmon makes a good lunch and/or dinner option.

Couple Eating Lunch with Fresh Salad and Appetizers at a Greek Restaurant, Closeup of Food
Dreamer Company/istockphoto

Greek & Middle Eastern Restaurants

Greek and Middle Eastern food nutrition info (via MyFitnessPal; varies by restaurant)

Most Middle Eastern food is diabetic friendly: heavy on vegetables and legumes and low in sugary sauces. Just skip the white rice, spanakopita, and, of course, baklava. Salads are a mainstay, and foods such as tabouleh, baba ganoush, and hummus are keepers as long as the pita is axed in favor of veggies. Kebabs and souvlaki also fit the plan.

Exterior of an In-N-Out Burger Restaurant in Orange County, California
James R. Martin/shutterstock
Closeup of Curry in a Metal Serving Dish at an Indian Restaurant with Another Curry in a Metal Serving Dish and Naan

Indian Restaurants

Indian fare nutrition info (via MyFitnessPal; varies by restaurant)

With an emphasis on vegetarian fare, legumes, and healthy sauces, Indian food is great for a diabetic lifestyle as long as diners don't order rice and go light on potatoes. Vindaloo prepared in a tomato sauce, and tandoori, roasted with spices, are good ways to enjoy Indian fare. The pappadam appetizer is made from lentils, so it is very low in carbs.

Exterior of a Jason's Deli in Hickory, North Carolina with Two People Walking Toward It
J. Michael Jones/istockphoto

Jason's Deli

Jason's Deli nutrition info

On Jason's Deli's website, diners can enter their ZIP code from its Nutrition Calculator section (linked above), then set preferences such as restrictions, lifestyle options, and nutritional goals. The latter includes a slider function that shows available options based on a carb count. With a max count of 50 grams, diabetics' best bets are the Texacado Toast and the Carmela. 

McDonald's Restaurant Sign in Juno Beach, Florida Against a Blue and White Cloud Sky


McDonald's nutrition info

McDonald's food is notoriously high in sugar and fat, but it's possible to find diabetic-friendly foods there — just start with the nutrition calculator. The best selections are the grilled chicken salads (bacon ranch or southwest), the sausage burrito, and the burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches minus the bun.

Exterior of Noodles & Company Restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia

Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company nutrition info

Yes, it's got "noodles" in the name, but that doesn't mean you can find a diabetic-friendly meal here. For starters, the chain's MyMenu function (linked above) lets diners choose menu items based on carb count (and other data). It also has certain meals listed as "carb-conscious," such as the Lemon Parmesan Leanguini, and keep in mind that you can order some menu items with zucchini noodles, or "zoodles."

Closeup of Sign on Exterior of Olive Garden Italian Restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana
Jonathan Weiss/shutterstock

Olive Garden

Olive Garden nutrition info

Of course Olive Garden's pastas are going to be carb heavy, especially at these portions, but diabetic customers can opt for whole grain linguine and get a to-go bag. And there are other good choices — portions of the Gluten-Sensitive menu are on the lighter side, and grilled fish, meat, or chicken entrees shy away from fat- and sugar-laden sauces. Diabetics can also grab a bowl of minestrone soup with the OG's Famous House Salad.

Panera Bread Restaurant in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina with Sidewalk Seating
J. Michael Jones/istockphoto

Panera Bread

Panera Bread nutrition info

Even with "bread" in the name, Panera has good choices for diabetics. Most sandwiches fall within the acceptable range on whole grain bread, and any of the salads — except those with sugary barbecue sauce — will do. Soups, too, as long as they're not in a bread bowl.

Closeup of a Row of Fresh Italian Pizzas in a New York City Pizzeria Window
Sign of a Red Lobster Seafood Restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
George Sheldon/shutterstock

Red Lobster

Red Lobster nutrition info

Seafood is a diabetic's friend since it's naturally low in fat and carb-free. (Deep-frying or drenching in butter or creamy sauces is another story.) Red Lobster has a "Lighthouse" menu where fresh-caught fish items are carb- and sugar-free. The chain also has an interactive nutrition tool that sorts menu options by data such as carb count. Based on that, top low-carb options include the bacon-wrapped sea scallops appetizer, signature jumbo shrimp cocktail, and the seafood-stuffed mushrooms.

Exterior of a Red Robin Restaurant in San Jose, California with People Eating Outside in a Seating Area

Red Robin

Red Robin nutrition info

If you're diabetic and find yourself sitting down to a meal at Red Robin, you won't find a ton of low-carb options. But that doesn't mean there's nothing. Pretty much all the options on the salads and soups portion of the menu are low-carb (just stay away from the Crispy Chicken Tender Salad), and most if not all burgers can be ordered with a lettuce wrap, too. Sub out bottomless steak fries and sodas for a house salad and water or unsweetened tea, and you're good to go.

Focus on a Hot Cup of Starbucks Coffee While a Man Is Reading in a Starbucks in Pike Place Market, Seattle


Starbucks nutrition info

Starbucks has a few options that go beyond muffins and croissants. Some of its protein boxes are good choices for diabetics. The spinach, feta, and egg white wrap and strawberry overnight grains are further best bets for a diabetic meal plan. (Stick to plain coffee or tea, too.)

Exterior and Outdoor Eating Area of a Subway Restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with People Eating Outside


Subway nutrition info

Yes, they're big sandwiches, but just about everything on Subway's menu is low in fat, sugar, and carbs, and fairly high in fiber. Keep in mind: Wraps are higher in carbs than sandwiches, and sandwiches and fresh melts have about the same number of carbs. Salads and protein bowls are even lower-carb options.

TGI Fridays, Miami Beach, Florida
Roman Tiraspolsky/istockphoto

TGI Fridays

TGI Fridays nutrition info

A lot of TGI Fridays food choices are glazed, which means sugar, or buttered, which means fat. But the burgers can be ordered "green style" — no bun — and for sides there are a few veggie choices, and most soups and salads are cool, too. Wings are another option for diabetics and the chain offers both Caesar and cobb salad options that are also low in carbs — just be mindful of sauces and salad dressings.