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Life with T1D

The Best Fast Food Options for Type 1 Diabetes

When trying to minimize the amount of carbs on your plate when eating out, you don't have to be on a diabetes diet. Here are some ways to incorporate healthier fast food options into your daily life because, let's face it - sometimes eating on the go is quick, accessible and inexpensive.

The Best Fast Food Options for Type 1 Diabetes

Eating fast foods, whether at a restaurant or driving through a drive-through, can be a thoughtful process when you or another family member has type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Before a meal, T1Ds and their caretakers must check their blood sugar level and gauge if it's going up or heading down. Then, they must calculate carbohydrates and the units of insulin needed.

If the blood sugar levels are high, delaying the meal is essential to minimize how quickly the blood sugar spikes and continues rising. In addition, finding friendly options like a great salad or other low-carbohydrate choice can help reduce the chance of skyrocketing blood sugar. Sometimes, smart choices like switching menu items from fries to fresh fruit or a side salad can make a big difference.

One tricky thing about eating at fast food restaurants is that minimal errors in judgment, repeated consistently, can add to significant health risks over time. It can be challenging to see these at the moment, and often, we need to realize how far off target we are in our food choices.

After searching for healthier alternatives like low or moderate-carb options, some variations come out on top (while others fall short).

Remember, friendly options and smart choices can be customized, and virtually any nutrition information you're seeking can be found online. Tiny adjustments like less or no cheese, additional veggies, or brown rice instead of white, grilled chicken instead of fried - all help create a slightly healthier meal.

Healthier Fast-Food Options for T1Ds

Here are a few selections for healthier living when eating out:

Pizza

Thin-crust pizzas have fewer carbohydrates and calories, often making you feel better after the meal. Topping your pizza with veggies adds additional benefits by lowering the amount of fat and calories.

Subway®

Subway is an excellent choice for ordering a healthier sandwich made with what you like! You can choose between a wrap or seven various bread choices. Because Subway sandwiches are fresh and made to order, customers can add or eliminate ingredients based on their own dietary needs. Also, Subway offers an option to turn any sandwich into a "bowl" or salad that can cut the carb amounts significantly. A fast food breakfast option is its Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich on three-inch flatbread. The egg white choice has only 220 calories, 22 g of carbs and 9 g of protein.

When looking for healthier choices when dining out, eating establishments are expanding menu items to include healthier, diet-friendly choices. Adding knowledge to food choices is an excellent way to assist you in keeping your blood sugar in check and starving off weight gain. With various apps that help with carbohydrate amounts, you can generally learn more about the best options for you. Check out these Top 10 Diabetes Management Apps when dining out.  

With type 1 diabetes and insulin, you can eat anything on a menu, although BS numbers can fluctuate. Having knowledge of carbs and a current blood sugar level, you are the brains behind calculating insulin dosing.

Noodles & Company

With selections like zucchini noodles on the menu, Noodles & Company offers a lower-carb choice than the classic high-carb pasta. In addition, the menu includes lower-calorie salad options and a variety of other alternatives. Also included is a nutritional calculator that gives a foundation for building a more personalized choice for lunch, dinner, or snack. With a wide variety of selections on the menu, it appears there is something for everyone.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill offers NO artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, along with NO freezers, can openers, or shortcuts. You will also find a nutrition tab that shows calorie, fat, protein, and carb amounts, which means you can calculate what you eat. Additionally, you can customize what you want and how you want it.

CoreLife Eatery

CoreLife Eatery was created to bring clean, healthy, and great-tasting foods to everyone every day. They feature hearty bowls that are complete meals, featuring greens, grains, and bone broths. All ingredients are free of GMOs, trans fats, artificial colors, sweeteners, and other artificial additives. The menu also includes an interactive nutrition and allergy guide.

Pro Tip: A high blood sugar issue I ran into is that portion sizes can be challenging! Portion sizes are often difficult to guess when eating out, so I focused on what a cup of food looks like by measuring several things at home. When eating out, I was way off when looking at the actual serving size.

Panera Bread®

Panera Bread has unique menu options, including lower-carb selections and a great variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Moreover, they also maintain a lower carbon footprint, certified by World Institute Resources. One fast food breakfast item on Panera's menu is its Greek yogurt parfait with mixed berries.

Olive Garden Italian Kitchen®

Olive Garden offers various dinner and lunch items, including salmon, salad, soup and many other healthy options. You can skip the pasta and fill up on the endless salad bowl!

Red Robin

Red Robin has various healthier options, including wraps, salads, and sandwiches. The Ensenada Chicken Platter is one of the well-known health options on the menu, with salsa and greens included. Red Robin's nutritional guide can lead you to several low-carbohydrate options.

I am famously known for taking "just a bite" of someone's higher carbohydrate desserts. But, finding favorite dessert options in the fruit section has become a great way to find sweet options with lower carbs and nutritional value!

Adding dark chocolate poured over or on the side of strawberries, raspberries, oranges, and other fruits is a top choice. Adding zero-sugar whipped cream on top is another great option! This  lower g carb selection is a much friendlier, fresher and healthier choice to finish a meal with.

Pro Tip: Following the American Diabetes Association's diabetes plate method can be an easy way to create healthy meals to achieve ideal blood sugar control. The goal is to fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies, one quarter with lean proteins, and one-quarter with smart carbs like starchy veggies, fruits, whole grains or low-fat dairy.

Fast Food Breakfast Options

I've found some of the best fast food breakfast options can be found at McDonalds and Burger King. You don't have to be a registered dietitian to know that a Whopper may not be the best choice. However, Burger King's basic bacon, egg and cheese biscuit offers a nice balance with 28 g of carbs and 12 g of protein. While McDonald's sausage burrito is low in calories and only has 26 g carb and 12 g of protein.

Healthier Eating Takes Work

Some simple guidelines worth following when you look forward to better health:

How Water Helps

Ask any registered dietitian worth their salt what is the best drink of choice besides diet soda is when you have T1D, and they'll will tell you H2O.  Drinking water helps flush out sugar from the kidneys while helping lower the blood sugar level. A study showed that those drinking one liter of water daily had a 28 percent lower risk of developing hyperglycemia. Unsweetened tea for an iced tea option is also a good idea.

Portion size

Please pay attention to the portion size, as it often varies greatly, as well as the amount of carbohydrates in each meal. Ask your server to split the meal in half and put it in a takeaway container before it makes it to the table. You can enjoy it for lunch the next day or share an entree with someone else.

When dining out at your favorite fast food restaurants, overly generous portions are often served, which can result in overly high blood sugar readings. Also eating lean protein in smaller portions can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Carb Counting Made Easy

Carb counting when eating out can often be more complicated. Before going out, see if the restaurant has any nutritional guidelines online. You can also check out apps that help with a diabetes diet or ask your server for nutritional information. With many people becoming more health-conscious, restaurants generally have this material available or inside where you pick up your food.

Unknown Ingredients

With T1D, we need to be aware of certain items when making food choices because of possible blood sugar spikes and their effect on our overall health. Blood glucose, the number of carbs in the food we consume, affects how many units of insulin will be needed to cover all the factors.  

A lot of unknown ingredients often go into a meal. Ask a server if they know or can find out from the kitchen staff what the carbohydrate count is if you need help finding it online. Some meals have additional added sugar as an ingredient in the food without us realizing it.

On occasion, when believing I had reasonable estimates on carb amounts, I found myself needing much more insulin an hour later. My guesstimate was often incredibly FAR off. By far, asking or finding something on an app is much easier and more accurate than guesswork.

Substitutions

You can always ask for healthy trades on foods when eating out. More nutritious carbohydrates such as salad and other veggies can be substituted at most restaurants. Choosing a more beneficial meal prep method – changing out fried coated chicken or other meats for baked or grilled—equals less fat and carbs.

By eliminating the extra fat of breading and frying calories, you will have a smarter, more carb-friendly, leaner protein source. I have never had an issue when asking for a substitution of veggies or no dressing on the side instead of on my salad. It's easier not to miss what you don't see.

Also, finding new spices to add to a meal can help negate some extra calories. Trying new, different flavors adds a great, simple change to a meal.

Timing is Everything

It's often not just what to eat but when to eat. Timing is often everything when you have type 1 diabetes. And though eating fast foods can be enticing, the timing of the meal's arrival is vital, as is the timing of injecting your insulin. Sometimes, when restaurants are bustling, I estimate the timing by watching nearby tables' ordering and plate arrival times.

Making "carb goal" meals to help me not have so many fluctuations with my blood sugars has helped immensely. I aim to stick to somewhere between 20 to 40 carbohydrates per meal. Between an app or label, it is less complicated to figure out how many carbohydrates you consume. Watch serving sizes as well. You may be handed a foot-long, but the "serving size" for carbs might only be for half of that.

My Experience

Keeping tight blood sugar control can be challenging. Avoiding junk food, processed foods, and unhealthy fats takes effort. I always look at nutritional information and labels since they have valuable information. The first thing I look for on a box is the amount of carbohydrates and trans fats, which can be why many items get quickly returned to the shelf! Many of those numbers become scary when you realize how much sugar is in most junk food items.

Since I was a kid, I was addicted to sugar, which was readily available. After many years, I finally began realizing how large amounts of sugar were hurting my body (including cancer). I decided I needed to make a change after my cancer diagnosis. I went to the library and checked out SEVERAL books on how to improve my health. Many of these include information on how a raw food diet (mainly nuts, seeds, and organic, raw vegetables) helps immensely with your healing, energy, and health levels. I am still here after 20-plus years!

Do your research and get help from a registered dietitian for healthier alternatives. Healthy, well-balanced meals can assist you in managing blood sugar levels and the overall quality of life. The ADA's diabetes plate method can help with blood sugar control.

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