Heading out for Chinese food? If you have diabetes, the condition doesn't mean you can't enjoy the sweet and sour (and salty) tastes of Chinese food. It does mean that you should plan your Chinese diabetes meal plan carefully.
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For people with diabetes, carbs aren’t always the only nemesis. According to the Mayo Clinic, secondary conditions of diabetes include heart disease and kidney damage, making it more important than ever to work with your doctor to create an individualized meal plan.
Planning by the Plate
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Diabetes Education Program suggests that you survey the choices first, before actually adding anything to your plate from the buffet or menu selections. That way, you can fill your plate with the right balance of nutrients.
Aim for filling half of a standard-size dinner plate with nonstarchy vegetables. On the other side, plan for one-quarter of the plate to be taken up with a lean protein. The remaining one-quarter can hold a starchy vegetable or grain, preferably a complex carbohydrate like brown rice, buckwheat noodles or corn.
Of course, many classic Chinese restaurant meals mix proteins with vegetables and starches. If that's the case, you can still estimate your ideal proportions. Chicken and broccoli could take up three-quarters of your plate, for example, while a scoop of rice would round out the meal. Or fill half your plate with a shrimp and rice dish and the other side with veggie combos like Chinese spinach and mushrooms, snow peas and water chestnuts, or choy sum.
A Chinese Diabetes Meal Plan
In general, chicken, seafood, lean steak and tofu-based entrees are better choices than ones featuring pork, duck or beef, according to the American Diabetes Association eating recommendations for Asian dining. Breaded and fried proteins should be avoided, in favor of steamed or stir-fried dishes. In addition, entrees that are drenched in sweet sauces, lobster sauce or soy sauce should be avoided.
Complex carbs are the best choice for your starchy side dish or main dish starch ingredient, whenever possible. Look for brown rice, buckwheat noodles, sweet potatoes, beans or corn, keeping the portions small. Opt for sides that were steamed, boiled or baked, such as steamed rice, rather than those that are deep-fried or sauteed in heavy oil.
Extra sides of vegetables are often a secret weapon for people with diabetes when dining out, notes Harvard Health Publishing. They're often tastier than expected, and they satisfy your hunger pangs, which in turn prevents overindulging in rich, sweet or salty foods.
Read more: A List for Foods With MSG
Editing Your Extras
Fat and sodium risks lurk in many of the classic starters on Chinese menus. The American Heart Association (AHA) lists suggestions for healthy dining at Chinese restaurants that are helpful for people with a range of conditions, including diabetes. The AHA suggests choosing hot-and-sour soup instead of high-sodium egg drop soup.
Ordering wonton soup is another smart choice. You can also skip the soup, of course. However, staring your meal off with a bowl of light soup is a useful way of calming your appetite so that you make wiser dining choices for the rest of the meal.
Fried nibbles are a classic temptation at Chinese restaurants, from eggrolls to complimentary bowls of crispy fried wontons and sweet dipping sauce. None of these salty, high-carb dishes fit with a Chinese diabetes meal plan. Instead, choose a dish like steamed dumplings if you just can't wait for the main course.
Avoid tropical cocktails, which are often made with fruity syrups and coconut milk. Opt for water, diet soda or, at least, an unsweetened cocktail.
Desserts can also blow your glucose control out of the water, even if you've been careful with your main dishes. Fried ice cream is a poor choice, as are the sweet rice and sweet bun style desserts you'll find in many Chinese restaurants. If you do have dessert, opt for fresh fruit. You can usually find seasonal fruit options at Chinese restaurants, prepared simply and arranged attractively.
- American Heart Association: "Tips for Eating Chinese Food"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diabetes-Complications"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Diabetes Education Program: "Tips for Chinese Americans With Diabetes"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Cutting Calories to Control Diabetes"
- American Diabetes Association: "The Diabetes Placemat: Asian"