Eating Out and Managing Carb Counting

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • Counting carbs becomes rote for nearly all of those managing diabetes. Eating every meal, every snack starts first and foremost with measuring the portion, determining the number of carbohydrates in the allotted amount and then bolusing insulin to compensate for the intake.

    At our house, Calorie King, a guide to nutritional information in most foods, is the holy grail of counting carbs. This pocket guide offers values for many nutritional aspects of food, from calories to fat grams to sodium to carbohydrates.

    When cooking at home, determining carbohydrate counts typically is not too much of a problem. Keeping all labels for the ingredients used when making a dish can be the tool for determining the carbohydrate value for each portion. Better yet, using prepackaged snacks are ideal - they are a mainstay in our pantry because they ensure portion size and keep fairly true to carb count.

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    Counting carbs becomes a little -- and sometimes a lot -- more difficult when we're out to eat. We often run aground as far as carb counting goes when we eat out, particularly at small local restaurants that are not franchised.  It is these restaurants that typically don't have the information available or even at all. 

    We recently ate at the Winchester location of a locally founded restaurant, Glory Days, that is expanding rapidly in the MidAtlantic area. When we asked the server if we could have the nutritional values for the meals because our son managed Type 1 Diabetes, we were told that the restaurant could offer us gluten menu selections, but considered itself too small to have the nutritional information for each of its meals. We even tried the chain's web site, but the nutritional value was not available online (however, at this writing three weeks later from the restaurant visit, Glory Days has added a nutritional calculator to its site - probably because federal law mandated it). 

    Calorie King is one of the several online applications that are easily accessible via iphones, ipod Touches and Blackberries as well as other smart phones. As Ann Bartlett wrote in her recent post, Calorie King has partnered with Sanofi-Aventis to create the GoMeals application (available via Twitter and for the i-apps).  These may be great solution some of the time, but someone doesn't always have their smart phone with them (or may not have a smart phone at all) - or more likely yet, can't always get access to a wireless network (even 3G). What then?

    The good news is that posting nutritional information for meals was included in the recent healthcare reform legislation passed earlier this year. As soon as 2011, food chain across the country will be required to post calorie counts for their offerings. Many outlets already visibly post this information, including Dairy Queen, Burger King and McDonalds. While shopping one stifling hot day early this month, I stumbled upon a sandwich franchise, Sandellas, in our nearby mall, and the shop actually posted - for all to see -- the nutritional information (from calories to carbs to protein to sodium) in its easy-to-read board. I had to refrain from hugging my server with joy. 

  • The new federal law is following what New York City required of its restaurants in 2008, which was to make at least the calorie counts available for menu items.

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    Last year, the state of California passed legislation requiring chains with more than 20 locations to provide, in a brochure, standard nutritional information on its offerings, including calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates. More formal, "sit-down" establishments must provide the information tableside.  

    The recent focus on diet and eating well has benefited those with diabetes: more nutritional information is available for more food, particularly for that once elusive information regarding restaurant menus. Yet there'll still be those times that we'll be in a small restaurant that can't offer us the nutritional information that we need, and what do to? Like many managing diabetes for years before, we'll wing it, sometimes with great results and other times with not very good results at all.

Published On: July 16, 2010