How to Count Carbs at Restaurants

Do Your Research Before Dining Out



Let’s say you want to go out to eat—but you don’t want to mess up your carb counting plan. It’s true: Eating at restaurants when you have diabetes can be tricky because you have little control over the portion sizes, and you don’t know all the ingredients in a dish. But of course this doesn’t mean you need to stay away from restaurants—you’ll just need to do some planning.

Fortunately, many restaurants these days will make special accommodations for people with diabetes or other meal planning needs, so don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. The restaurant wants to make sure you have a good meal, and you do too. A little communication can make sure you actually have a good meal that fits into your meal plan.

Before You Go, Know How Many Carbs You Can Have
With the help of your registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and other members of your health care team, you’ll already have a good idea of how many carbs you should have at each meal—which will depend on how active you are and whether you take insulin or other diabetes medications. Your diabetes team will also help you figure out how to incorporate restaurant meals into your meal plan.

Keep in mind that you should try to limit eating out to no more than 2 times a week, which is what the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends.1

To help you with your planning, there are 2 important things you’ll need to pay attention to when dining out: knowing approximately how many carbs are in the food you’re eating and what a healthy serving size looks like.

Our in-depth article on carb counting can help you estimate how many carbs are in your restaurant meal. We also have an article on how to estimate portion sizes. Many restaurants serve meals large enough to feed a few people, so you may want to split a meal with someone at the table, or you can ask the server to package half of your meal before you even get it.

Tools to Help You Decide What to Eat When Dining Out
Many restaurants are becoming more conscious of people’s meal planning needs—including people who count carbs. You can get the nutrition information for many restaurants online and in books; this can help you pick out what you want to order before you even leave the house.

Here are some references that can help you decide what to eat at a restaurant when you’re carb counting:

  • CalorieKing: This site lists nutrition info for thousands of options—from appetizers to desserts—at many popular restaurants.
  • The ADA’s Complete Guide to Carb Counting

What Should You Order?
Whatever you decide to order, keep it within your carb ranges: Carb counting means you have some freedom of choice—as long as your choices fit into your range.

As mentioned above, you may have an idea of the number of carbs in meals at certain restaurants before you go. Some restaurants post this info on their menus. If you’re somewhere that doesn’t have that info, ask your server, and don’t be shy about asking for substitutions. For example, if you want to order a broccoli and pasta dish, just ask to substitute whole grain pasta for white pasta.

Can You Have Dessert?
Yes, you can have dessert! As long as you take it into consideration when planning how to spend your carbs for the meal, dessert is definitely allowed.

But stick to a portion size. Just as with a main meal, you can share your dessert with the other people at the table, or take a few bites and take the rest home.

Make Carb Counting at Restaurants Easy
Going out to eat is something we all like to do, and you can definitely do it when you have diabetes and you’re carb counting. All you need is a little planning and some practice to make carb counting at restaurants super easy.

Updated on: July 11, 2016
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