Diabetics know they should limit carbohydrates, fats, and sugar and up their intake of fiber. Meal plans created by the American Diabetes Association suggest that 45 percent of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, with 45 to 60 grams per meal, and most of those from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, New York nutritionist Laurie Simon suggests limiting any one meal to 10 grams of sugar or less. That's difficult enough eating at home; sticking to the rules at restaurants can be even harder -- but it can be done.
Related: 15 Foods Diabetics Should Avoid
While Applebee's has a "lighter fare" menu, its choices are high-carb. The best choices are plain steaks, ribs with no sauce, and shrimp skewers, with steamed or grilled veggies. If salad sounds good, order plain chicken caesar, house Thai shrimp, or house salad. Limit alcohol to wine -- the mixed drinks are loaded with sugar.
Most of the burgers and chicken sandwiches here are fine without the bun. Skip the mayo and cheese to keep fat levels down. The best bet is the grilled chicken salad, with only 16 grams of carbs, and unsweetened tea, coffee, or water. If dessert is a must, get a kids' applesauce.
The trick is to stay away from breaded and fried items. Any salad or grilled chicken items, such as the chicken sandwich (preferably bun-less), chicken nuggets, or Cool Wrap are good choices. As sides, choose the Superfood Side, soup, or side salad. Watch the dressings -- many are high in carbs or sugar, particularly the low-fat ones.
Chili's has a "lighter choices" menu, although many items may be light on calories but high in sugar or carbs. Sirloin with avocado or ancho salmon are best bets, and there are burgers of beef, black beans, or turkey without buns. Also good are fajitas with any kind of filling -- just skip the toppings except onion, peppers, and pico de gallo -- and grilled classic steaks. Soups, chili, beans, veggies and shrimp are good sides.
Related: 50 Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free
It might seem like Chinese food is diabetes-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.
CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL
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).
Surprisingly, as long as the biscuits, fried food, and desserts are avoided, there are plenty of diabetic-friendly choices at Cracker Barrel. Even grits, since they are made from whole ground corn, are not off limits.
GREEK/MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANTS
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.
The Not-So-Secret Menu at In-N-Out Burger contains favorite burgers in "protein style," wrapped in lettuce leaves rather than buns, and therefore totally carb friendly.
With an emphasis on vegetarian fare, legumes, and healthy sauces, Indian food is great for a diabetic lifestyle as long diners don't order rice and go light on potato. 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 very low in carbs.
McDonald's food is notoriously high in sugar and fat, but it's possible to find diabetic friendly foods there -- 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.
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 -- the Taste of the Mediterranean menu is on the lighter side, and grilled fish, meat, or chicken entrees shy away from fat- and sugar-laden sauces.
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.
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 calculator.
Starbucks has a few options that go beyond muffins and croissants. The Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box, gluten-free Canadian bacon and egg sandwich, egg salad sandwich, and Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad Bowl are high in fiber and fit well within the diabetic meal plan. (Stick to plain coffee or tea, too.)
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. "Fresh Fit" choices are even lower in fat and feature more veggies. Skip the mayo and you're golden.
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 -- there are a few side veggie choices, and most soups and salads are cool. Diabetics coming here to drink need to stick to wine.