Carbohydrate Counting with Diabetes: Practical Pointers for Precision When you Eat Restaurant Foods

Posted by hope on Wed, 08/06/2014 - 08:00 in

In the near future, more nutrition information should appear on menus and menu boards. Here’s the lowdown. A section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), AKA Obamacare, will require chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets and offering substantially the same menu to provide specific nutrition information. The focus is squarely on calories. You may have already noticed these in some Starbucks and McDonalds.

In addition, a statement must be posted on menus or menu boards stating that additional nutrition information for standard menu items is available on request. The restaurant must have the ability to provide you with the information, which includes nutrients like total carbohydrate and fiber on site. Word is the final regulations are due out from the U.S. FDA in the near future and restaurants will have in range of a year to meet the regulations.1 So, yes, still a while.

It’s easy for your healthcare providers to say, “Count your carbs precisely for accurate bolus dosing.” It’s quite another to do it day in, day out across the myriad restaurant foods and meals you eat.

The good news is today there’s more nutrition information, including carbohydrate counts for restaurant foods, than ever before. Most large national and regional restaurant chains, particularly walk-up-and-order-get-your-food-fast types, reveal their nutrition information on their websites. Plus, you’ll find some of this data integrated into large databases in books, on websites or in apps where information is available at your fingertips. The restaurants that still don’t have or offer nutrient numbers are usually the independent, single-location restaurants.

Tips for Eating Restaurant Foods with Diabetes

Check out these practical pointers to help you precisely count carbohydrates when you eat restaurant foods:

  • Use measuring equipment at home on occasion to keep your restaurant portion control tools (your eyes and hands - see below) honest. Then use your honest eyes and hands as you estimate servings and carb counts.
  • Consider these “handy” hand guides:
    -    Tip of the thumb (to first knuckle)=1 teaspoon
    -    Whole thumb=1 tablespoon
    -    Palm of your hand=3 ounces (a portion of cooked meat/protein)
    -    Loose fist or open handful=1 cup
    -    Tight fist=1/2 cup
    (Note: These guidelines represent estimates because of variation in the sizes of people’s hands. They hold true for most women’s hands, but some men’s hands are much larger.)
  • If there’s no nutrition information for restaurants you frequent, gather information that is available from restaurants serving a similar menu. Pizza from your local pizza shop is a good example. Speaking of pizza, scope out the piece or pieces that look most equal to the carb count provided by the restaurant or consider if the piece is smaller or larger.
  • Check out the Nutrition Facts labels of similar restaurant foods in the frozen or packaged convenience food area of your supermarket.
  • If you regularly eat certain ethnic foods and you can’t find carb counts, look for the nutrition information in recipes for similar dishes online. Look at a couple of recipes. Take an average.
  • Build your personal database of common restaurant foods and meals you eat. You likely frequent the same restaurants and order similar menu items. Once you have this figured out, keep it accessible.
  • When you eat Asian cuisines, from Chinese to Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese, consider upping your meal’s carb count total by 5-10 grams. Many of the sauces, particularly the thicker ones, may contain sugar, corn starch and/or flour. Plus the meats may have typically been marinated in ingredients like sugar or other sweeteners.
  • Practice defensive counting. Even the most accurate nutrition information from very large chains is obtained from several samples of the foods prepared according to corporate specifications or based on the various ingredients. But, on any given day, the portions of foods and ingredients served may be slightly more or less than what’s noted in their nutrition information. That’s true even for fast food hamburgers. Some days there might be more or less ketchup, pickles and/or special sauce used.

The Omnipod insulin pump lets you create and name up to 36 carb or bolus presets in your PDM, so you can keep your carb count totals right at your fingertips. Click here to learn more about the Omnipod and try a free demo for yourself.

 1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Menus & vending machines labeling requirements: