World Diabetes Day takes place on 14 November and aims to increase awareness of the condition. This year, the theme for World Diabetes Day is ‘Women and diabetes – our right to a healthy future’. Sadly, 1 in 10 women live with diabetes, yet many do not have access to education, treatment and care. Therefore, this year’s campaign aims to improve women’s accessibility to diabetes care and help them to manage the condition.

Here at You and Sugar, we want to contribute to this campaign by giving the facts about diabetes and practical advice on managing it. Managing diabetes can be exceptionally tricky when it comes to eating out or hosting dinner parties, so we want to give you some advice on how to stay healthy in these situations. Then, all you have to do is enjoy yourself!

What is diabetes and how is it caused?

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrate foods into glucose (otherwise known as ‘blood sugar’). Insulin then carries the glucose in the blood to all the cells in your body, where it is used for energy. However, when you have diabetes, your body struggles to use the glucose properly, either because your body doesn’t make enough insulin or it doesn’t use the insulin it has correctly. In both scenarios, the glucose in your blood can’t move into your cells, which causes a build-up in the bloodstream. This is called hyperglycaemia, or high blood glucose.

While this year’s diabetes day is drawing our attention to the 1 in 10 women that live with diabetes, it’s important to remember that diabetes can affect anyone. Diabetes is a complex disease related to a number of genetic and lifestyle factors. Scientists believe that having a healthy eating plan and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Diet and diabetes

Eating a healthy, high-in-fibre, low-in-fat diet is one way of effectively managing diabetes. And, contrary to popular belief, a healthy eating plan for those with diabetes doesn’t involve cutting out sugar. Some people incorrectly believe that sugar causes diabetes but research has shown that eating sugar does not cause diabetes. In fact, diabetes is not caused by eating too much of any type of food. But, if you eat too much in general and become overweight or obese then you do increase your risk of developing diabetes.

See article on Sugar and Diabetes” by International Consultant Nutritionist, Carol Browne.

Top tips for entertaining and eating out when you have diabetes

Everyone should follow a healthy and balanced eating plan but if you have diabetes this is particularly important. We’ve collated some top tips to help you remain healthy, even in the hardest of situations:

  1. Eat at the same time every day
    Day-to-day you may have dinner at 7pm but when it comes to eating out or entertaining guests at home, this time can deviate, and by the time you sit down to eat it could be 8pm, 9pm or even later. For good blood glucose control, eat at the same time every day and space your meals out evenly throughout the day. If you’re eating at friends or a restaurant, you may not have complete control over the food, but you can suggest an eating time or make a reservation for a particular time beforehand. So, take charge and pick a time that fits in with your usual eating schedule.
  2. Don’t starve yourself during the day
    If you know you’re eating a big meal in the evening it can be tempting to ‘make the most of it’ by not eating during the day. Avoid this. Again, for good blood glucose control, have meals spaced evenly throughout the day.
  3. Be balanced and prep
    A healthy eating plan for diabetes include:

    • Carbohydrates like bread, rice, potatoes, legumes, vegetables, fruit or sugar
    • Fibre like fruit, oats or legumes
    • Protein like legumes, eggs or low-fat meat

    When eating out, opt for meals that include carbs, fibre and protein. If you’re hosting a big dinner party, it can be hard to cook a meal that includes lots of different ingredients like we’re suggesting! But, food preparation can make it a lot easier.

    Before your guests arrive, cook as much as you can so you only have to re-heat the food. If certain foods require cooking from fresh, wash, chop and put the ingredients in saucepans or plastic containers in the fridge so it’s ready to go at the flick of a switch.

  4. Ease off the fat
    If you’re cooking at home choose low-fat alternatives for cooking and eating. The better types of fat are small amounts of vegetable oil, margarine, oily fish, unsalted nuts and avocado. If you’re out, it’s not easy to avoid cooking fats but avoid foods like sausage, viennas, polony, fried fish or chicken. And, cut off the fat from meat or the skin from chicken.
  5. Swap salt for herbs and spices
    Salt can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease or a stroke so it’s advised to use it sparingly whether you have diabetes or not. When you’re hosting, be experimental and opt for fresh herbs and non-salted spices for flavour instead of turning to salt. If you’re out, it’s harder to avoid salt but you can ensure you don’t add anymore by moving the salt away from your side of the table so you don’t automatically add it without thinking!
  6. Ask for water
    When eating in or out with friends, alcohol and sugary drinks can be tempting. It is usually better to drink water or diet cold drinks rather than sweetened cold drinks or pure fruit juice. This is because cold drinks and fruit juice contain a lot of carbohydrate. Six to eight glasses of clean, safe water a day is recommended for every adult but if you’re at risk of diabetes because you’re overweight, drinking enough water will prevent the urge to overeat when you’re actually thirsty. Wherever you are get a jug of water on the table.

Your common questions about managing diabetes when eating out

Because we know that managing diabetes can be particularly difficult when you’re eating out, we’ve answered some of your most common questions:

  • What are healthier alternatives to peanuts and chips before a meal?
    Try eating vegetable crudités, cocktail onions, gherkins and olives as alternatives before a meal.
  • What are good starter ideas?
    Vegetable based soups, light salads and fish are all good starter ideas. You may even wish to have a starter as your main meal as there are often the same items on the starter menu as the main meal just in smaller portions.
  • Can I eat Chinese, Indian, Thai or Italian?
    You can enjoy a meal at these restaurants but as meals from these types of restaurants are often high in carbohydrate, you may need to watch your portion sizes more carefully and blood glucose monitoring is very important.
  • What should I choose for my main meal?
    It is best to focus on meat, fish or chicken that is grilled, roasted or baked rather than fried, battered or creamy. Don’t hesitate to ask your waitron how your food will be prepared when ordering. If the portion size is too big, ask your waitron to decant the rest into a take-away container before going home. Or otherwise – simply share!
  • What are good sauce ideas?
    Try tomato or vegetable based sauces rather than cheese or creamy based sauces.
  • What happens if meals are served with a lot of sauce?
    You can always ask for sauce to be served separately so you can control how much you have. The same can be done for salad dressings.
  • What are the best types of vegetables to have?
    It is best to have salads and / or any type of unbuttered vegetables. Try and avoid dressings, mayonnaise and creamy dips and sauces with your vegetables.
  • What are good dessert options?
    Fruit based desserts or sorbets are the more preferable desserts rather than cake, pastries, cream cheese or biscuits.

Entertaining and eating out with friends and family shouldn’t be avoided because you have diabetes. We hope these tips and FAQs provide some helpful ways of managing diabetes, even when it’s not always possible to control exactly what you eat. If you’re entertaining at home or simply want some day-to-day meal inspiration, then take a look at our recipe section for healthy and delicious meal ideas.