Eating Out with Diabetes: 7 Tips for Japanese Restaurants

There’s more on that menu than just sushi rolls.

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Got a love-hate relationship with carbs? We get it: They comprise some of our favorite foods, but they’re not always diet-friendly—especially if you have diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association recommends counting carbs as one of the best ways to manage blood glucose levels. This is especially important when eating out at carb-heavy restaurants, where the bulk of the meal is rice, pasta, or bread.

Exhibit A: sushi. Rice, rice, and more rice—right? Well, not necessarily. Nutritionist Sharon Richter, RD, offers the following tips for eating out with diabetes at Japanese restaurants.

  • Slow down. Yeah, that salmon avocado roll is delicious, but if you throw it back in six quick bites, you’re likely going to end up overeating. Use your chopsticks—even if it’s a struggle—because it will help you eat more slowly. The wasabi and ginger can also help slow you down; having a bite of pickled ginger in between each roll is meant to be palate cleanser and can really make you savor the roll.

  • Choose low-sodium soy sauce. Let’s be honest: can you really taste the difference? Diabetes is strongly linked with heart problems, and keeping your salt intake in check is healthy for your blood pressure. (Watch out for these other sneaky sodium bombs in your diet.)

  • Avoid anything with the word “tempura.” That means it’s breaded and fried.

  • Look for sashimi. You’ll get the fish without the rice, which is a huge carb savings.

  • When ordering appetizers, look for miso soup, edamame, or salad (e.g. green salad, seaweed salad, or hijiki salad). These are all healthy low-carb choices.

  • For sushi, stick to one or two rolls, and choose brown rice when possible. (It’s not always written on the menu, so just ask the server if you can get your rolls with brown rice.)  If you want more than that, switch to nigiri or sashimi, which have less or no rice and will help you keep your carb total down.

  • If you’re ordering an entree instead of sushi, look for grilled chicken or fish options. Avoid entrees with teriyaki or miso sauce, which are typically high in sugar. Make sure to load up on vegetables, either by choosing veggie side dishes or having a veggie-heavy appetizer.

As long as you hold back on your rice intake, Japanese restaurants can actually be a very healthy dinner. The fish options are a great lean protein for diabetics and a wonderful dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids.