Picture this: You're at a restaurant for dinner. You check the menu for something that's diabetes-friendly but there's not much to choose from. While your special and strictly nutritionist-prescribed diet for diabetes management doesn't restrict you from enjoying your favorite paneer butter masala or the Hunan chicken from time to time, if you're diabetic, eating right is vital to maintain the healthy glucose levels. And that includes eating right when you are eating out too – at corporate meetings, while socializing on the go, and even while getting rewarded for a job well done!
With between 30-40 million diabetics in India in 2015 and the crude prevalence rate (CPR) of diabetes in urban India being around 9 percent, statistics now reveal that diabetes is appearing much earlier in life, here. Your eating habits largely determine how you manage diabetes.
Such skyrocketing numbers of diabetics have made the hospitality industry, for one, sit up and take note. Not only has a certain change in attitde set in but the hospitality industry is slowly doing its bit to help manage this lifestyle condition with a separate menu for diabetics. Such instances, though few and far between, must be appreciated.
Says one of the owners of the Mahua Mistanna Bhandar, an extremely popular sweet shop in northern Kolkata that specializes in innovative, new age sweets, "We, and several other sweet shops in the city, had started offering specially made items for our diabetic clientele decades back. In our workshops, we initially experimented with various sugar alternatives – honey, for example. Since it affected the taste that many customers didn't want to compromise with, we opted for the sugar-free alternatives available in the market. Frankly speaking, diabetics don't at all like those although they put up with it. Realizing this, we keep working on new and varied items that use cane sugar, gur, and dried fruits – not only do these cut down on the glycemic index, these are tasty and nutritious."
Look Out for the Blue Dot
On 7 April 2016, World Health Day, the concept of the Blue Dot was launched in Mumbai. The Blue Dot on the packaging of a food item indicates that the item is diabetes-friendly. The concept was developed by United Diabetes Forum together with McCann Health, after detailed deliberations by a panel of expert diabetologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, psychologists, and statisticians. When chefs, restaurant associations, food technicians, food inspectors, government bodies, FMCG organizations, lawyers, and pharmaceutical companies were informed of the concept, they welcomed the idea whole-heartedly and soon consented to use and promote the Blue Dot. For the customers, it makes the buying of packaged foods and eating at restaurants largely hassle free. All one has to do is simply check if the item has a blue dot beside it or on its packaging, and pick it.
The Diabetic Food Trail
While the Blue dot is yet to become a national phenomenon, the Diabetic Food Trail (DFT), an initiative to provide diabetic-friendly culinary experiences for people in need of special diet for diabetes and healthy glucose levels, has done huge work to make people aware and empathize. In November 2015 and the following year, it ran the event in five cities in collaboration with over 200 restaurants to offer diabetics specially designed menus that clearly explained the nutritional value and calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein contents in a particular dish. The DFT has rolled out its third episode this November, with even more stakeholders and patrons.
Says Chef Irfan Pabaney of the Sassy Spoon in Mumbai, which has collaborated with the event this year as well, "Diners today want to eat healthy and tasty food. Our specially curated menu for The Diabetic Food Trail comprises of dishes with low glycemic index and without the heavy use of carbs or fats." He adds that in the last few years, the sugar-free desserts have been widely appreciated.
Things to Remember When Eating Out
Raheela Hasan, Health & Nutrition Specialist and Founder of Fitrition and a consultant with DFT concurs that eating well is one of life's greatest pleasures and having diabetes shouldn't keep you from enjoying a wide variety of foods including some of your favorites. "People with diabetes have the same nutritional needs as anyone else," she says. She acknowledges that it is important to keep your blood sugar levels as steady as possible throughout the day and for this, irrespective of whether you are eating out or not, she recommends eating a combination of lean protein - skinless chicken, fish, beans, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt and healthy fat - olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, with healthy carbohydrates with every meal or snack.
Raheela also advises that when you are eating out, "make sure to choose healthy, low-sugar, antioxidant-rich carbohydrates like whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, crackers, quinoa, barley), whole fruit (not juice or dried fruit) and vegetables." These types of carbohydrates are generally low-glycemic, which means they increase blood sugar less rapidly than highly processed, refined, sugar-filled carbohydrates, she explains. The DFT ensures that the restaurants it is working with use these healthier and diabetes-friendly ingredients in their spread. The restaurants not only have to follow the guidelines laid down by the nutritionists at DFT; they also have to get their food validated by their in-house nutritionists. Also, "most chefs are well informed and have considerable knowledge in how to use every day, easily available and local ingredients to make tasty, gourmet food," says Seema Pinto, Founder of DFT.
So when you're eating out the next time, select high-fiber foods that help in improving your blood sugar control, select whole grains and less processed items, and look out for the blue dot. Select one of the increasingly visible restaurants and food chains to indulge, such as the Barbeque Nation, Little Italy, Hyatt, Punjab Grill, Bercos, Smoke House Delhi, Jonah's Bistro, The Tapas Bar, as these tend to be more aware and in collaboration with the knowledge bank that is DFT.
Healthy and diabetes-friendly meals are not really a far-cry anymore. Your eating out joints are learning to care for you. If you pick the right place to go, and pick the right dish, eating out will not sabotage your efforts in managing diabetes. Not any more.
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