Eating on the Go When You Have Type 2 Diabetes

Since you have type 2 diabetes, you’ve probably got your carb counting down at home and a good idea of what to eat to keep your blood sugar steady. Eating on the go can be trickier. Here, some healthy options for every situation.


At the drive-thru:

“The average fast-food meal can run as high as 1,000 calories -- over half of what you may need for the day -- and also run up your blood sugar,” says Toby Smithson, RD, author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies.

“Menu items described as ‘jumbo,’ ‘giant,’ ‘or ‘deluxe’ probably indicate an item that’s as high in sugar and fat as it is in calories.”

Your best bet: “A kids’ burger, no cheese, provides a reasonable meal with lower carbs, protein, and fat,” Smithson says. Skip the fries, and sub out salad, baby carrots, or apple slices.


In a sandwich shop:

When sandwiches are made to order, you’re able to specify what items to add on (like veggies) and what to leave off, such as fattening mayonnaise or high-sugar barbecue sauce. Plus, many delis offer a combo of half a sandwich with half a soup or salad, which can be a great option to keep carbs in check, Smithson says.

Your best bet: Choose freshly sliced lean meats over deli meats, which tend to be higher in sodium. Turkey and chicken tend to be lower in fat and sodium, so they’re good bets as long as you don’t have them in a heavy mayonnaise-based salad.

Choose whole-grain breads and wraps, since they have more nutrients than white bread. But be aware: “That doesn’t always equate to higher fiber or lower carbohydrate,” Smithson says.

Generally speaking, a 6-inch tortilla or half a sandwich bun offers 15 grams, or 1 serving, of carbs. You'll need 2-5 servings per meal. Consider putting your protein on a salad, and getting carbs from milk or fruit instead.


At the vending machine:

Most vending machines are minefields of sodium and sugar. The standard package of crackers with peanut butter or cheese would seem like a safe option, but “they have so little protein that they end up just being carbs,” Smithson says.

Your best bet: Nuts. “They’re low in carbs, contain protein, and are a healthy source of ‘good’ mono- or polyunsaturated fats,” Smithson says. Careful, though: Many vending machines will carry a large package, when 1 ounce -- about 18 cashews or 28 peanuts -- is all you need.


Inside the convenience store:

While they don’t have the array of options that a grocery store does, convenience stores do offer some healthy choices -- especially in the refrigerated section.

Your best bet: “Try a pack of veggies and dip,” says Alison Massey, RD, director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Most veggies are low in calories but also low in carbs, so they’ll cause a minimal rise in blood sugar. Plus they’re a great way to get vitamins and minerals in your diet.”

Other options: a tennis-ball-size piece of fruit or a small container of plain yogurt.


At the coffee shop:

Need a midmorning (or late afternoon) pick-me-up? So long as you skip the specialty coffee drinks that can be loaded with sugar, it’s OK to indulge.

Your best bet: Keep your drink order simple: “unsweetened tea, caffé Americano, or a ‘skinny’ flavored latte that uses sugar-free syrup and low-fat milk,” Massey says. “The calories and carbs are often much lower than the original version; but check the nutrition facts to be sure.”


At your desk:

The biggest challenge of eating away from home? “Realizing that healthy eating requires planning ahead,” says Lori Zanini, RD, certified diabetes educator for HealthCare Partners in Los Angeles. Keep a stash of healthy fixings in your desk at work.

Your best bet: “If you’re more than 5 hours out from your previous meal, aim for a snack that pairs one serving of carbohydrate (15 grams) with a serving of protein,” Zanini says. Try a small apple with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter; 2 tablespoons of raisins and 1/4 cup of almonds; 3 cups of air-popped popcorn and a handful of roasted pecans; or a natural peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread.