Diet and Nutrition
Making Healthy Restaurant Choices
by Ann Fittante, MS, RD - author
The Sugar Solution
At a popular pizza chain, the
personal pan pizza with sausage packs 740 calories and 39 grams of fat. And at
one major fast-food joint, a triple cheeseburger with everything has 810
calories and 47 grams of fat -- two meals' worth of calories and more fat than
most of us should scarf down in an entire day.
The bright spots in this
grease-spattered scenario? First, you. Your power as a restaurant patron lies
in your order. The waiter, cook, and manager want you to leave happy -- just
tell them what you want. Second, more and more fast-food spots, casual dining
eateries, and even upscale restaurants offer healthier alternatives on their
We believe that a meal away from
home should be delicious and enjoyable -- there's no need to order dry chicken
breast, have only a glass of water . . . and sulk. The trick? A little
preparation so that you can outwit the menu, sidestep temptation, withstand the
siren song of enormous portions, and leave the table happy.
Have it Your Way
Eating out is, in a sense, eating
blind. You don't usually have access to nutrition labels, so you don't realize
how the cheese, butter, oil, sugar, and oversize portions are adding up. (That
focaccia club sandwich? It packs 1,222 calories and 65 grams of fat!) The
veggies may arrive dripping with butter and cream. The bread's heavenly, but
it's white. That salad that seemed so healthy may have more calories and fat
than a cheeseburger, thanks to fried chicken strips and an ocean of dressing.
And then there are the portions.
When a pair of New York
nutrition experts weighed and measured the everyday foods served up in
delis, bakeries, and sit-down restaurants, their results were amazing:
Compared with government-recommended portion sizes, pasta servings were five
times heftier, cookies were seven times larger, and muffins weighed three times
more. Why you might not notice: Portions have slowly, slowly increased in size
over the past 30 to 50 years. "What I found was appalling," says study author
Lisa Young in her book Portion Teller:
Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss. "The foods we buy today
are often two or three times, even five times, larger than when they were first
introduced into the marketplace."
If you suspect that restaurant
eating is a minefield, you're not alone. Even chefs have food issues when faced
with a yummy menu -- or the temptations cooking in their own kitchens. (If you
were constantly surrounded by chocolate lava cake, fettuccine Alfredo, raisin
nut bread, and bacon-wrapped filet mignon, what would you do?) "Having lunch at
a restaurant is where I can get into trouble," confesses chef Sara Moulton,
host of Cooking Live with Sara Moulton and Sara's Secrets on the Food Network,
cookbook author, and executive chef at Gourmet magazine. Who wouldn't find it
hard to resist the extras (like foie gras or a six-dessert sampler) that chefs
often send to her table?
Yet Moulton stays slim -- and even
dropped a few pounds when she was about to start hosting a live television show
several years ago. ("The camera really does add 10 pounds," she says.) Her
strategy? Don't let yourself get too hungry, especially before a dinner out.
"When you're hungry, your resistance to snack on tempting foods plummets," she
says. She does splurge a little on weekly dinner dates with her husband.
"Knowing I can have some cheese on Friday night helps keep me disciplined the
rest of the week," she says. At lunch, Moulton sometimes can't resist eating an
entire 714-calorie mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich. And yet, she
believes in not letting a diet detour derail her successful efforts to maintain
a svelte figure. She gets right back on the horse: "On those days, my dinner is
a 300-calorie Lean Cuisine."
How can you achieve -- and
maintain -- a lean silhouette while still enjoying a night out at a bistro?
These strategies will help.
Step 1: Prepare Your Plan of Attack
It's amazing how much trouble you
can get in even before your meal arrives. Take a proactive stance against the
unhealthful food assault catapulting in from all sides.
Spoil your appetite. Before you
leave for dinner, eat something substantial like a bowl of soup, a piece of
leftover chicken, a piece of toast with low-fat cheese and leftover vegetables,
yogurt with fruit and nuts, a hard-cooked egg, or apple slices sprinkled with
cinnamon. Any healthy minimeal will be lower in calories and fat than an
over-the-top restaurant appetizer.
Know where you're going.
Become familiar with the dining guidelines for different kinds of restaurants,
and try to picture what you're going to eat before you even walk in the door.
Don't let the menu sway you! If you've been to the restaurant before and can
resist the temptation, keep the menu closed. Order what you'd like, and let the
waiter sort it out. It's your meal -- have it your way.
Avoid the bread basket. It's one of
the leading causes of overeating at restaurants. Send the basket back -- out of
sight is out of mind. If that's unthinkable, take one slice of bread to enjoy
with your meal. Bread can tack on an additional 500 calories to your meal's
total -- not even including the butter or olive oil that usually accompanies
Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink.
Alcohol, whether in the form of a cocktail, wine, or beer, can weaken your
resolve for exercising thoughtful moderation with your food. Plus, it
dehydrates you and offers no nutritional benefit. When you go out, limit
yourself to just one drink -- or order a bottle of fancy water instead.
Because the body will use the
alcohol for energy first (followed by carbohydrates, protein, and fat), when
you drink and eat, the excess calories are often stored as fat. To keep
the pounds from piling on, skip higher-fat entrÃ©es (such as duck
and filet mignon) in favor of lower-fat fare (including white fish, pork,
poultry, and venison) when having wine with dinner.
Drink water. You've heard
this before, but we'll say it again: Drink water before, during, and after
every meal, whether you're at a restaurant, at home, or anywhere else.
Step 2: Place Your Order With
If you feel intimidated by
servers, stop right now. Don't worry that you're holding them up with your
questions and requests. Don't feel shy. Running interference between the
kitchen and your table is a server's job, and he or she wants to please you.
(There's a tip at stake here . . .)
Be constantly aware of portion sizes.
Trust us: You likely won't need an appetizer and an entrÃ©e. Some
restaurants have been known to serve up to seven times the normal portion for a
Plan to leave food on your plate
-- or request that half of your meal be wrapped before it even comes to the
table. Why you want to keep the extra food out of sight: In a Pennsylvania
State University study, researchers found that all the volunteers who were
given extra food on their plates ate it -- without reporting feeling any fuller
Appetizers are generally more
realistic portion sizes. Order your favorite as a meal with a side salad, or
order two appetizers -- one that is more vegetable-based.
Ask, ask, ask. Is it fried?
What kind of sauce comes with it? What sides are served with each dish? Can I
get brown rice instead of white?
Always request sauces and dressings on the
side. You'll realize how little sauce
and dressing you really need.
Don't order something new when you're very hungry.
If you do, you'll likely order too
much food, overeat, and regret it later. If you're starving, order a standby
that you know is good for you.
Order plenty of vegetables. Get a large
mixed salad, or order vegetables sautÃ©ed in a bit of olive oil or
steamed with sauce on the side (so you can lightly dip them in the sauce).
Sip some broth. Soup is a
good high-volume food that will fill you up. Look for vegetable, broth-based,
and bean soups. Avoid cream-based soups and chowders.
Step 3: Finish With a Flourish
Don't let down your guard after
the server scurries off to the kitchen with your order. You'll still need to
exercise some caution when your perfectly ordered meal arrives.
Stay alert. It's easy to
get caught up in an engaging conversation and eat everything on your plate
without even thinking about it. After you've finished your allotted amount,
have the server wrap up your leftovers. The bonus is that you have tomorrow's
lunch (or dinner) already prepared.
End your meal with refreshing green or herbal
tea. Ginger tea can help with
digestion, and green tea is good for your overall health. Many restaurants now
offer a variety of exotic teas, so treat yourself to some! Some teas are so
fruity that they're a perfect replacement for dessert.
Order a dessert for the table.
Three bites of the chef's signature chocolate bread pudding with butterscotch
sauce won't hurt -- just make sure someone else will finish the rest.
Prevention's The Sugar Solution:
Weight Gain? Memory Lapse? Mood Swings? Fatigue? Your Symptoms Are Real -- And
Your Solution is Here by the Editors of Prevention magazine with Ann
Fittante, MS, RD (September 2006;$24.95US/$33.95CAN; 1-57954-913-6)
Â© 2006 Rodale, Inc. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA
18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by
calling at (800) 848-4735.
Ann Fittante, MS, RD, is a registered
dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Joslin
Center affiliate at
where she resides. She also is an adjunct faculty member for
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Sugar Solution: Your Symptoms Are Real - And Your Solution is Here