Selecting Healthful Foods at Dining Out

Eating out is an American passion. In fact, Americans spend almost half their food dollars in restaurants. With the wide array of restaurants that are available in most communities, dining out should be a pleasure rather than a threat to your resolve to eat well. Listed here are five points to remember when you eat out. Think of these as five tips for eating well when eating out.

Choose restaurants that offer a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. Look for fruit and vegetable selections in the appetizer, entrée, and dessert menus which are prepared without added fat. Choose ethnic and vegetarian restaurants that feature grain- and vegetable-based meals.

When ordering, consider these four methods to lower the amount of fat in your meals:

  • Cooking method—If the menu item is described as fried or sautéed, ask that it be baked or broiled. This simple request can save 10 to 30 grams of fat and about 100 to 300 unwanted calories.
  • “On the side”—Ask for the sauce, condiment, salad dressing, or topping to be put “on the side.” If a dish is prepared with a high-fat sauce (such as Alfredo, cream sauce, cheese, or gravy), request that it be placed on the side or ask for a lower-fat alternative such as a marinara sauce. Other high-fat condiments and toppings (such as butter or sour cream) should also be on the side so you can control how much you use.
  • Serving size—Bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to calories, fat, and your health. Terms such as “mammoth,” “deluxe,” and “hearty” are your tip-offs. Order smaller portions. Ask for a “take-home” container, or plan to share your meal with your dinner companion so you do not feel obligated to eat it all.
  • Substitute lower-fat choices—Make sure that your meal has plenty of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Take meat away from center stage by starting with a tossed salad. Ask for extra steamed vegetables. The bread basket generally offers a whole-grain choice. Don’t forget to finish the meal with fresh fruit, sherbet, or sorbet and a glass of low-fat milk. Try to avoid the high-fat, calorie-rich desserts that you will later wish you had not eaten.

Health experts agree that Americans eat too much meat (including poultry and fish), especially in light of the fact that our bodies need only a relatively small amount of protein.

Large portions of meat almost invariably contribute excess calories, fat, and cholesterol to the meal. A 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards. Whenever you eat meat, poultry, or fish, try to be sure that you eat a total of only 6 ounces per day.

Most authorities suggest that alcohol be limited to 2 drinks per day if you are a man, 1 drink per day if you are a woman. All alcohol-containing drinks contain calories.

Restaurants are in the business of satisfying their customers. Ask your server to recommend the most healthful foods the kitchen can prepare. Do not rely on “heart-healthy” symbols on the menu. These foods may be low in cholesterol, but they still may be high in total fat, saturated fat, and calories.

Feel free to request low-fat foods or that more vegetables and fruits be added to your meal. Ask your server to clarify unfamiliar terms and to answer any of your questions.

Ethnic restaurants and grocery stores offer a wide variety of culinary alternatives. Often, ethnic cuisines are plantbased, and thus many people assume they are healthful. However, that is not always the case.

Some guidelines below, in addition to the suggestions previously mentioned, will help you to savor the exotic flavors while keeping calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium under control. Asian cuisine features rice, noodles, and vegetables with little or no meat.

However, it may not be as healthful as one believes. For example, fried rice is just what it says—fried. Therefore, white rice or, even better, brown rice would be a healthier option. If you are dining at an Asian restaurant, make sure to request that little oil be used in preparation, and if your portion is large, split it with someone.

Stirfry, grilled meat, or chicken skewers are healthful choices. To decrease sodium, limit foods with soy sauce, salt, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many staples of the Middle Eastern, Indian, and Pakistani cuisines are low-fat, low-sodium items such as pita bread, rice, couscous, and lentils.

However, keep in mind that these foods often are combined with large amounts of butter, coconut oil, or palm oil. Request foods without the added fats and that sauces be put on the side. Healthful selections include kabobs or fish that is grilled, rice, couscous, or orzo.

Greek and Mediterranean food is based on pasta, bread, and rice. It is often the sauce that accompanies the grain that adds calories and fat. Sauces to watch out for include pesto and cream-based sauces. Red sauces are usually quite low in calories and fat.

If ordering a pizza, remember that the meat and cheese are the culprits for calories and fat. Order a pizza with one meat item at the most, request half the cheese, and load on the vegetables. Finally, Caribbean, Mexican, and Central and South American cuisine includes whole grains, corn, rice, flour tortillas, beans (pinto, red, black), and salsa.

Condiments are an issue, so be sure to request less cheese, and have sour cream and guacamole on the side. Grilled fish and chicken are best bets as main courses. Fresh vegetables and fruits accompany most meals.