The Skinny on Diabetes and Fat
Eating out healthfully is no easy task. From the oversized portions of food to the use of large quantities of fats, oils, sugar and salt for added taste, fast food restaurants can spell trouble, especially for people who struggle with excess weight, diabetes or heart disease.
Fats can make most food taste good and stay moist. So it's no surprise that restaurants love fat-laden foods that can tempt the taste buds and keep you coming back for more. But there's no reason you can't find (or request) healthier options by mastering the craft of being a fat sleuth, according to Hope S. Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, author of the 2nd edition of the American Diabetes Association's ADA Guide to Healthy Fast-Food Restaurant Eating.
Fat Recommendations for People with Diabetes:
- Keep total fat to 20-35% of your total calorie intake
- Keep saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories
- Keep trans fat consumption as low as possible
- Keep cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg
- Eat two or more servings of fish each week, staying away from fried options
As always, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for help understanding these numbers and tailoring goals that are right for you.
- Read more about fat and diabetes
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Not all fats are created equal — Whether you're at your favorite fast food restaurant or cooking at home, you need to know how much and what types of fats are in the foods you eat. Foods have a combination of different fats and cholesterol, including unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fats.
A general rule is to limit or avoid the so-called "bad" fats, which include saturated and trans fats, that are known to carry health risks. Over time, these fats can partially or totally block blood vessels to your heart. This is especially concerning for people with diabetes who have a higher-than-average risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Trans fats, which use artificial ingredients and have long been used as a substitute for saturated fats in baked goods and snacks, fried foods, salad dressings, margarine and other foods, have received a lot of attention lately. New York City became the first large U.S. city to strictly limit trans fats in restaurants, and other states and towns are quickly following suit.
Bottom line: Although your body needs fat to survive, not all fats are created equal. When you can, stick with "good" fats — the unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids — that offer a great source of energizing fuel.
- Know where fat hides in fast food restaurants.
Remember, harmful fats lurk in:
- high-fat ingredients like butter, sour cream, cream and lard
- high-fat foods such as cheese, bacon or potato chip
- high-fat cooking methods, such as deep-fat frying and breading and frying
It's also found on the table in the form of Chinese noodles, tortilla chips and butter or oils for breads.
- Make healthy requests that cut the fat.
When you order food, don't be shy about asking them to hold the potato chips, put the salad dressing on the side, substitute mustard for mayonnaise or swap the usual croissant for whole grain bread instead. Opt for healthier side options like fruits and vegetables. The good news is that some fast food restaurants are now using hearts or other notations to indicate which menu items offer healthier selections.
- Know when your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
Fast food portions are often enough to feed two adults. Try to order less, go for the side dish and learn to leave your "clean-plate club" membership behind.
Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you can't venture into your favorite fast food spot, but you need to plan ahead and know how to choose healthfully. The Association's ADA Guide to Healthy Fast-Food Restaurant Eating. provides everything you need to know for food on the go. Along with nutrition information, this compact, easy-to-use guide gives the skills and strategies you need to find healthy meals in the most popular fast-food restaurants in America.
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