Exploring new foods is one of the best parts of traveling abroad. But with diabetes, eating a lot of unknown foods while trying to manage your blood sugar is challenging. However, preparation helps. Here are five tips to remember before you sit down to eat in foreign countries.
Tip #1 – Do Your Research
Start by researching the local cuisine in a country. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with it. Take note of what ingredients are commonly used in their popular dishes. You may even want to talk to your dietitian, doctor, or a diabetes educator to get some dietary advice. They can also help you determine any adjustments you may need to make in your diabetes care routine while traveling abroad.
Tip #2 – Remember Local Customs
Other countries don’t just serve different foods. They often have customs when it comes to mealtimes. One good example is Spain. Generally, Spanish people eat a late dinner — around 9 pm or 10 pm at night. It may be difficult going from lunch to that late dinner without eating. By preparing for these customs, you can be sure to have snacks on hand to keep blood sugar levels stable between meals.
Tip #3 – Practice Portion Sizes at Home
Even if you’re familiar with the local foods, it’s important to know serving sizes differ. Knowing serving sizes is especially important if you’re headed to a country that eats a lot of carbs — like rice or pasta. Before traveling, practice measuring portion sizes at home. The repetition will help you eyeball portions more accurately. This makes it easier to estimate the carbs you’re eating. Comparing portions to common items you’ll have with you — like a smartphone — helps you estimate portion sizes on the go.
Tip #4 – Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
When eating new foods, don’t assume about the ingredients. Unfamiliar dishes may include spices or sauces that are high in fat or sugar. It’s best to ask questions. This can be tough if you don’t speak the local language. So, learning a few food-related words and phrases before you travel can help. Good ones to learn include: “no sauce,” “no sugar, please,” and “more veggies.”
Another option is to let the restaurant staff know that you’re diabetic. If you’re able to communicate that, a good server may be able to help you find healthier menu items.
Tip #5 – Fall Back on the Plate Method
No matter where you’ll be traveling, one great fallback is the plate method. Start with your plate and make sure it’s half full of veggies — raw or cooked. Just avoid vegetables with added sugar. Or veggies that are deep-fried. Have another section of your plate for protein. Finally, have a small section for high-carb foods like bread, rice, or pasta. The plate method makes it easier for you to control calories and carbs. But, it allows you to still enjoy tasting delicious, foreign meals.