Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Special Diets >
Jul 26, 2014 06:38 AM

Low carber avoiding restaurants

Since I started eating low carb to control diabetes I find myself not wanting to go the restaurants much anymore. Now, before this dietary change nobody liked eating out more than I did. My favorite thing was getting together with friends for an extended cocktail hour then sharing a meal @ a restaurant. Now, I’d rather eat @ home because I have the components to make low carb meals available. I know I can eat low carb at most restaurants if I choose wisely and I do but I feel “cheated” that I can’t eat what I want there be it bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice, starchy vegetables, dessert etc. The restaurant experience doesn’t seem worth it now if I’m only having a steak or a piece of fish and a salad. I can cook that easily @ home for a fraction of the cost. I’m surprised that more good restaurants don’t offer low carbers options like baked goods both sweet & savory made with wheat flour alternatives like nut flours or lower carb sides and tout these on the menu. Waiters are generally clueless when you ask questions about ingredients/preparation of items on their menu. I thought there are millions of people eating low carb in the US, like the Atkins Diet adherents? Do fellow low carbers avoid restaurants too? For me the thrill is gone!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. We eat out a lot less not due to low carb (both of us, husband has no health issues, but feels better, stays slim and not hungry on lc) but since I've become more concerned about the quality and sources of our food environmentally and health and humane wise.

    We love eating out, make sure to pick a menu that has plenty of veg and proteins on it, and can pretty much always sub, whether it's lobster salad atop greens instead of a roll, or veg subbed for spuds, or pasta at Italian. Thai is the one thing I avoid, so much of it has too much sugar in it for my taste or health, Korean is tough, too. Last night I made Banh mi and we ate them on low carb flat breads. Next time I'll probably skip the bread and use more cuke and herbs and pickled stuff.

    If you're hungry, it's hard to resist good breads brought to table while you wait, but if it's never brought to the table, we find we don't miss it at all.

    Restaurants are really accommodating about veg subs, they're very used to that. Desserts are another matter. We rarely have room or desire (it would have to be extra wonderful and unusual), but if ordered, it's always split two ways, and flourless choc cake (one chef makes it with almond flour) dark chocolate molten chocolate cake or mousse are occasionally OK. Someetimes we'll come home and make some coffee and have a dessert I've made.

    We're at very different points in our journeys with lc for diabetes; it's been many years for me, and I can't say the cravings went away in the earlier years. But the lower carb I went, the less I wanted sweets to where even stuff I have in the house can sit around uneaten and I am rarely moved to bake any desserts. I find myself tossing out dark chocolate chips, carbalose flour and carbquik due to their age and lack of use. Took years of adjustments, though.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mcf

      Hopefully, I'll evolve like you have but now I do feel cheated.

      1. re: zackly

        I can only tell you from hindsight what I (and many others I know of online and personally) learned over time. When you first start low carbing, you really miss all the stuff you ate that got you into trouble, and put a lot of energy into making lower carb versions of those. The problem for *some* is that seems to keep the cravings alive, even if those sweet or starchy things don't raise glucose a lot.

        And it was years and years of gradual changes in response to my continual documentation of what I was eating and what worked best for me.

        That doesn't mean it will go the same way for you or another person, but I just lost my taste for sweets almost all the time, or have them seldom enough that they aren't triggering me to want more. It's not will power or virtue, it happened over a long time. In fact, when I first bought lower carb noodles, it was a couple of months before I even bothered to try them (DH likes them now and then). Just an anecdote. In the first years, I tried all sorts of low carb, ersatz versions of carby foods.

        If staying out of restaurants is helping you keep all your parts attached and working, congrats for making that choice to change.

        This is a marathon, not a sprint, so whatever you do to stay on course now may not be what you feel you need to do down the road a piece. Pay attention to what works for *you* and adjust when it feels like it makes sense.

        1. re: mcf

          I agree, after being low carb for most of my life the carb food literally does not exist in my mind so it's not about willpower I just don't eat it.

          1. re: mcf

            whether it's carbs or calories or anything else, for the most part my friend's admonition to me has been accurate:

            "You crave what you eat."

            the longer i go without eating a particular food or a particular category of food, the less i crave it.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Not equally, across macronutrients.

              In studies, anyway. YMMV.

      2. I know what you mean. I've been mostly avoiding restaurants too. I am OK avoiding the obvious starches for the most part but the hidden sugar is problematic. Last week we took my mother in law out for lunch and my salad had a raspberry vinigarette that must have added sweetener. I had a few pieces of calamari even though I know that was a no go. Desserts have never been very appealing to me so I can easily skip them.

        1. "I know I can eat low carb at most restaurants if I choose wisely and I do but I feel “cheated” that I can’t eat what I want there be it bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice, starchy vegetables, dessert etc. The restaurant experience doesn’t seem worth it now if I’m only having a steak or a piece of fish and a salad. I can cook that easily @ home for a fraction of the cost."

          But can't you cook bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice, starchy veg and dessert at home for a fraction of the cost? It's not making sense to me why not eating the bread ruins the experience for you. Is it just the temptation and feeling limited instead of being able to enjoy the entire menu? I guess you have to embrace the experience and service and enjoy not having to cook or clean.

          I'm sure there are some restaurants - vegetarian, vegan, or otherwise catering to special diets that might feature low carb sides and desserts, but otherwise, most chefs aren't that interested in whether you prefer cauliflower to rice. Order off the menu and make substitutions if they are allowed, and have cheese for dessert. Pastry chefs are there to make splurge-worthy desserts. A good dessert menu should have options - I always tried to have something on the less sweet side, and something gluten free or dairy free, but those are still going to have some sugar and probably fruit. What low carb dessert can you think of that would have enough mass appeal to stay on the menu? Slow sellers are the ones to get replaced, it's not worth making something that you sell 1 or 2 of a night.

          I understand that you're frustrated by having to cut out all these foods from your diet, but I think it is unfair to blame restaurants just because you feel limited.

          6 Replies
          1. re: babette feasts

            Those are really good points, but as for the last, I didn't see any blaming of restaurants, just a wish for more choices.

            It takes a while to stop pining for the carbs and to start thinking of them as a waste of time and taste buds, at least a long time for me, but it happened.

            If I know I'm going somewhere with a pastry chef and excellent desserts, I plan for it, don't eat carbs that day or at dinner except for veg, and I share the dessert.

            One of the most lauded places around here makes an almond meal based flourless chocolate cake, always a menu staple, and a really different twist on the item.

            1. re: mcf

              You're right, it's not blame, just wishing.

            2. re: babette feasts

              I'm not blaming restaurants at all. They should make what sells. I just wondered out loud why they don't cater more to low carbers if in fact there are so many of us. I think that many people who low carb for weight maintenance vs people with metabolic disorders "cheat" when the dine out which is fine. As far as low carb desserts I made this last weekend for friends and it got rave reviews:
              I also make fruit cobblers and chocolate or coconut cake with almond flour & coconut flour and artificial sweeteners that are fairly low carb. Because restaurants don't cater more to my eating habits I'm choosing to stay away.

              1. re: zackly

                As a pastry chef, I would NEVER use artificial sweeteners. To me, they are not food. Maybe you know more about them than I do, but I'm in the 'less of something real rather than more of something fake' camp. But I don't have diabetes (yet), and I'm pretty sure I could live with a cheese plate for dessert.

                Maybe restaurants focusing more on small plates rather than traditional entrees would be more satisfying for you? Tapas style, where you have more selection and don't have to try to make substitutions.

                Here is the menu from a good local (to me) tapas restaurant. Would you be able to find a meal in all of this?

                1. re: babette feasts

                  I should have written sugar alternatives like erythritol or xylitol which are considered "natural", whatever that means. Being diabetic I have the choice of sugar or one of these. Sugar, I know, will kill me the alternatives maybe not. As far as the menu which is very low carb friendly by the way, I know what to order, that's not my problem. My problem is I want what I can't have.

                2. re: zackly

                  They don't offer it in part because they get a better profit on the cr@ppy fake food made from non-nutritious, high-carb fillers.

                  If it doesn't come naturally to one to ignore empty taste and value foods, then the real work is in re-wiring one's mindset to perceive foods more accurately.

                  Break the association correlating mom's teat and instant gratification to healthy and appropriate eating habits as an adult.

                  Teaching oneself effective self-soothing habits to fill unmet emotional needs goes a long way towards repairing that leaking dike.

                  It's harder work for some than others, but the potential is real and the rewards are well-worth it.

              2. I'm not a low carber but I generally avoid restaurants because I can usually make the same thing at home for a lot cheaper. Usually we only go out to places where it would be too time intensive or complex to make the dishes which, in my Midwestern city, doesn't leave a lot of options! We usually invite friends over or they us. However, I do think that restaurants should offer more low carb friendly options. Considering it's a diet movement that's been here for over a decade at least, you'd think they would. Gluten-free seems to be getting all the buzz these days, with a least 10 dishes touted as gluten free at a recent restaurant we visited. SMH.

                5 Replies
                1. re: BostonLover

                  That and food quality are pretty much the only reasons we go out to eat any more, too. Unless it's just a night we want to sit in a pub over Very Good Burgers (we have local grass fed, house ground ones nearby) with a brew or wine.

                  One of the best ways to go gluten free is low carb, minus any non starch components that might have traces of it, too, like some soy sauces, etc.

                  I think gluten and peanut sensitivities are getting so much play because the consequences are so dire when folks eat them, and a lot of non celiac folks seem to feel better avoiding wheat, especially, too, so big bandwagon.

                  Honestly, except for the amount of sugar in Thai and Korean foods, I can eat very well pretty much anywhere while low carbing. Even vegan places (*shudder*) have tempeh and other soy foods I could have with veggies.

                  1. re: BostonLover

                    It is odd that gluten free gets all the options, I think mcf has a good point about more dire consequences. It is also a lot easier for restaurants to offer a few gluten free things than to count grams of carbohydrate. Potatoes, rice, polenta - all gluten free and all cheap enough to round out an entree without raising the price. Gluten free desserts are easy too - custards, ice cream, crisps, mousses, flourless cakes - but low carb desserts without resorting to artificial sweeteners? Those would be harder. Restaurants also have to consider the ingredient and labor costs. You can't please everyone all of the time, but I think most good restaurants do try to offer some options for various diets. And you can always call ahead and ask the chef about low carb options. Talking to the people who actually make the food may get you farther than the 'generally clueless' waitstaff.

                    1. re: babette feasts

                      Yes, and while there are serious consequences for diabetics, they are not acute, immediate and gut wrenching, as a rule, damage is more cumulative over time.

                      Sugar alcohols are considered natural, though risky for restaurants where some folks may have gastric issues and can also produce an unwanted cooling effect, stevia is a taste not for all, agave has some serious potential for metabolic harm, inulin the gut thing again... mixing a few together usually produces superior sweetening with less or none of the icky stuff.

                      My defualt for quality and low carb is not all natural; I blend granular xylitol with liquid sucralose drops to lower the carbs in the former and avoid the bad taste and mouth feel I get from the latter. But I generally avoid making stuff that requires sweeteners, just not that interested or wanting it much any more.

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        This is a good site for low carb baking recipes.
                        As a pastry chef is there much buzz in the industry regarding low carb desserts? I recently took a family cruise on Royal Caribbean and took a tour of the kitchen I asked the pastry chef about low carb desserts and he clearly did not know what I was asking. His reply was "sure, we offer many sugar free options". Like you said, gluten free is all over the place but low carb isn't.

                        1. re: zackly

                          No, no buzz about low carb. Sorry! There may be more low-carbers, but the gluten-free-ers are louder :( I think low carb seems 'over', because nobody talks about Atkins anymore, a lot of people don't take paleo seriously, and the GF, vegan, and allergic contingents have been louder & more demanding.

                    2. I empathize since as a vegetarian (who can't have much dairy) going out to eat can be difficult and/or frustrating.

                      I've found that ethnic restaurants are more accomodating- i'm not sure where you live but japanese restaurants often have a large selection of interesting vegetable preparations that are simply grilled, or pickled, and of course seaweed salad, as well as proteins that are often made with just miso or are plain with a flavorful soy sesame dipping sauce.
                      No tempting bread basket there!
                      Greek restaurants will have grilled fish, great vegetable sides and salads. Indian for kebobs and tandoori vegetable preparations. Peruvian for ceviche and roasted chicken, salads with avocado.....
                      Anyways. My point is that maybe you should look beyond the same restaurants you patronized before adapting this lifestyle for unique ethnic foods that still offer options that work for you yet are not what you prepare at home.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Seaweed salad has sugar; that's why it tastes so good. A lot of restaurants get it pre-made and frozen, by the pound, and simply defrost.

                        Miso cod or other fish with miso is often marinated with sugar as well. Same for the soy-sesame dipping sauce.

                        You should also watch out for imitation crab/crab stick, which has hidden carbs and sugar.

                        1. re: kathryn

                          Japanese restaurant food is highly sweetened, much of it, from anything with teriyaki to pickled ginger, salad dressings, crab stick as you say and especially seaweed salad. Anything with teriyaki, too.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Didn't realize that about the seaweed salad- i buy it often from whole foods and they just list seaweeds, sesame oil, sesame seeds, rice wine vinegar and chili flakes.....

                          2. re: Ttrockwood

                            Finding something to eat at restaurants is not my problem, finding something I want is:
                            I'll list by cuisines:

                            Most restaurants: Breadbasket, potatoes/French fries & sweet desserts

                            Chinese: Fried noodles, egg rolls, fried dumplings, batter dipped fried items

                            Mexican Chips for salsa, tortillas, rice

                            Italian Pasta, pizza, polenta, risotto, arancini, cannoli

                            Middle Eastern Pita

                            Indian Samosas, Nan & many carb rich dishes

                            I'm a big boy and I know what I have to do to stay healthy and I also count my blessings because they are many. I just love to cook and eat & I sorely miss many things that are not good for me.

                            1. re: zackly

                              Exactly, that's what some here are pointing out, albeit a little indirectly: It's a grief process (emotional and psychological), not a nutritional one (physiological).

                              Unless someone wants to quibble that the body can develop a physical addiction to foods... And addiction still leads back to emotional and psychological.

                              It's a tough nut to crack, that's for sure!

                              1. re: Enso

                                Food cravings are biochemical, not emotional. Driven by hormones.

                            2. re: Ttrockwood

                              Try being a ~low-fiber~ vegetarian. Hah!

                              All I can say is that it is great way to lose weight and save $$$, since super-limited/restrictive diets tend not to be catered to at commercial restaurants. It can leave one feeling like the lonely little alien on a strange planet.

                              That is pretty much what I am taking from this thread and from the OP. After a few weeks/months of trying to eat dawned on me that it was soooo much easier just to cook for myself.

                              Luckily most Chowhounds seem to be fairly adept in the kitchen.

                              I tend to save restaurants for "social occasions". And I eat beforehand if need be. I can order sparkling water with a twist and push food around on the plate with the best of them.