Low Carb Asian Food: My Top Tips for Dining Out

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I absolutely love this place in Providence called Den Den Café Asiana. They serve up the best Korean and Japanese eats in the city. Possibly the entire northeast.

But obviously, those are two cuisines that can be tough to tackle for anyone with diabetes.

The last time I was in Den Den, I had their killer bibimbap (it’s a known dish around these parts). It’s a classic Korean dish of steamed rice served with ground meat, an assortment of veggies, and a fried egg on top. It is awesome.

But did you notice the spoiler?

Yep, that rice. 🍚

It’s such an easy fix, though! And totally worth it. I just asked the waitress to replace the rice with more veggies.

And for that matter, there are a multitude of Asian dishes out there that can easily be turned low carb.

From Japanese to Korean to Chinese to Thai, here are my top hacks for eating out at my favorite Asian joints.

1) If you're going to get an appetizer (you don't have to!), make it low carb.

Edamame is my appetizer of choice. This Japanese dish is high in protein, filling, and blood sugar-friendly. It’s low carb, relative to its protein and fat count.

Simple broth-based soups like miso are also relatively safe choices. If you’re ordering a soup, look for one that’s clear and thin rather than thick and loaded with noodles.

2) Avoid fried, breaded, and crispy.

Even if the main part of the dish itself is protein-packed (like crispy fish), it's still not low carb. Anything with a bread-like connotation to it should be avoided at all costs. It just complicates things.

3) Limit portions. And know how to to dose. 

If you don’t feel complete without fried gyoza (and let's face it, sometimes I have to give in!), keep the portions small. That's all there is to it. And when you do decide it's one of those nights, you'll need to know how to dose correctly. 

The extra fat and carbs delay absorption, which leads to high blood sugars later, so use a timed-out bolus.

If you have an insulin pump, you can use the extended bolus feature.

So let’s say you’re eating something that's higher in fat and carbs. It’ll result in blood glucose spikes a few hours later. 

With an insulin pump, you can give x% of your bolus before you eat, and the other remaining x% will be given over the course of a few hours (you'll deicide on all those numbers) to better match the absorption of the food.

For example, for my gyoza night out on the town, I usually do 40% upfront and 60% over the course of 3 hours. 

If you’re not on a pump (you’re on insulin pens or needles), this can be trickier (especially if at night), but it can be done. You’ll just need to set alarms on your phone and give yourself that remaining portion of insulin manually.

4) Choose rice OR noodles, not both.

Your best bet? Neither.

I don’t find a difference between brown or white rice on my blood glucose levels. Sure, brown rice is the “healthier” version, but they both have carbs at the end of the day.

They both spike my blood glucose levels, so I generally just skip it and don’t miss it.

If I do have rice, I will choose brown since it’s the “healthier” option. But bottom line, my pancreas doesn’t care -- rice is rice. It’s still a carbohydrate, and a very carby one at that.

5) Watch sauces.

Things like hot sauce are good (that natural spice is great for metabolism!).

But teriyaki, soy, brown sauce, tamarind, and honey glaze (all of them, really) generally have added sugar. You can ask for further clarification from your waiter, but it’s safe to assume it does. So be picky about your sauce consumption.

6) Always ask for extra veggies!

It’s a great way to supplement any saucy dishes. Or any dishes, for that matter! I mix steamed veggies in with everything else I’m eating.

It’s healthy, filling, has that super satisfying crunch, and balances out the other stuff.

For me, it’s not always realistic to just order steamed dishes, especially when eating out with other people. So you'll still get the family-style chicken teriyaki (with all those carb-loaded sides), but it'll be “diluted” with broccoli, peppers, and all the other veggie add-ons.

7) Chopsticks. Always opt for the chopsticks.

You’ll typically have this option at any Thai, Korean, Japanese, or Chinese restaurant. Using chopsticks to eat forces me to eat slowly, which allows my insulin to fully kick in.

Can't operate chopsticks? Even better! Your eating rate will be that much slower, and insulin absorption rate that much better. 

There are plenty of workarounds to ensure you enjoy your favorite dishes the low carb way. Let me know what tricks you use!

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Heather Lampert
Jul 26, 2019

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