Blood Pressure - Dining Out Guidelines

Restaurants often serve meals prepared and frozen in central kitchens, salt gets added to many items, and sauces often come from institutional-size cans.

In general, the amount of sodium and potassium in restaurant food is simply not known. Nonetheless, you can pick your way through the uncharted minefields of restaurants and cafeteria food without your own personal dietician.

My primary rule of thumb for dining out at any time is eat natural. And that’s not easy in most restaurants. The following are some generally foolproof guidelines:

  • Broiled fish, meat, and fowl with no sauce in natural juices is usually safe. Explain to the waiter. Better still, bring a note for the chef explaining that you are following a strict low-sodium diet; she will work with you.
  • Sautéed vegetables are generally safe as long as you emphasize that they need to be low sodium. Many chefs salt frying pans or woks to prevent hot oil from spattering.
  • Steamed vegetables, such as broccoli or asparagus, are safe. Avoid accompanying sauces; order dishes without them or have them on the side.
  • Potatoes and pasta without a sauce are usually the best complex carbohydrates. Season with olive oil, garlic, spices, or lemon. Purchase non-sodium seasonings such as Mrs. Dash or Vegit and always carry them with you.
  • Rice is out; restaurants always add salt to rice so forget it.
  • Appetizers are difficult because they usually have sauces. Try shrimp with horseradish, not cocktail sauce. Smoked salmon or trout with plain horseradish is generally safe.

Request either a small salad with an oil and vinegar dressing or mushrooms sautéed without salt. Avocado or artichoke is also fine; artichokes go well with oil and vinegar, and avocados can be eaten without any sauce.

  • Try fruit for dessert. It would be a rare restaurant, indeed, that did not have a piece of fresh fruit or some berries. They make a fine dessert, and a little whipped cream is okay.

But you can take a risk and enjoy a fruit mousse or fruit pie without the crust. The salt is in the crust; the fruit mousse part might be high in calories, but it’s usually low in sodium.

  • Restaurant bread and rolls simply cannot be eaten because of their salt content. You can learn to get along without them; you’ll be thinner for doing so and your blood pressure will be lower.


  • Order fish, chicken, or meat broiled without breading. This includes hamburgers (no cheese) without extenders.
  • Eat chicken without skin and do not use any sauces.
  • Eat steamed, boiled, or even fried vegetables if they are not canned and salt is not added in the cooking.
  • Always eat a salad and two fresh vegetables with lunch. An excellent selection is an un-garnished baked potato. You can enhance it with sour cream, unsalted (sweet) butter, or unsalted margarine. Better yet, use lemon juice.
  • Use avocado for an appetizer or get an artichoke and eat it with oil and vinegar.
  • Use vinegar and oil on your salad; no substitutes.
  • Eat fresh or canned fruit for dessert if fresh is not available.


  • Avoid bread or rolls, not even one slice.
  • Avoid cheese, cheese sauces, or cheese on any foods, including salad.
  • Don’t order sauces or gravy on any foods or foods requiring sauce.
  • Don’t order foods fried in a batter, such as breaded veal, squid, chicken, or fish.
  • Don’t order fried foods unless they are fried in oil with no salt added either before or after.
  • Avoid pies, cakes, chiffons, mousse, or puddings for dessert.
  • Don’t use enhancers such as Worcestershire sauce or A-1 sauce.
  • Avoid rice; it’s always salted.
  • Avoid soup.

You must learn to ask questions in a restaurant. Don’t ever be intimidated; it’s your health and your money. Most chefs do not mind the extra request of broiled fish or chicken with no salt.

And, if things need spicing and you didn’t bring your own, ask for Tabasco sauce; remember, a few drops go a long way.

  • May I have the salad with oil and vinegar on the side?
  • Can my vegetables be prepared without salt?
  • May I have some unsalted french fries?
  • Will you make my salad without cheese?
  • Can the chef fry or sauté my fish (or mushrooms, and so on) without using salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG)?
  • May I have a plain hamburger on the plate without fries if they are salted?
  • Do you have any fresh fruit for dessert?

Seriously limit alcohol consumption; drink sociably but not excessively. It is best not to take an alcoholic beverage at lunch, but if you must, wine spritzers (wine with soda) are good because a little wine goes a long way.

I strongly urge you to restrict yourself to one alcoholic beverage daily—a glass of wine, one mixed drink, or a can of beer. The best drinks are mineral water with a twist of lemon and iced tea with lemon.

Fruit juice is also excellent. Tea or coffee is acceptable. Soft drinks are generally fine, but only in moderation; consuming too many will significantly contribute to your daily sodium intake.

All domestic and major foreign airlines offer low-sodium meals, but you’ve got to give them plenty of notice. Call your airline at least twenty-four hours before your flight and explain that you require a low-sodium meal; give them your travel time and flight number.

Be cautious, however; there may be pitfalls in your “low-sodium” meal. For example, you might be served a roll or salad dressing that isn’t packaged or a breakfast might contain sausage.

Even if you request a low-sodium meal, still apply the do’s and don’ts given here. One option, which people rarely use on airlines or any commercial travel, is to prepare your own food.

The sandwiches I have described are easy to prepare; they’re filling and nutritional power-houses. All they require is the extra effort of purchasing or making low-sodium bread, and every one is better than any airline will serve!

In addition, pack an apple or other easily eaten fruit. And you’ll still be able to partake of the airline beverage service.