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Secrets of Restaurant Nutrition

What you need to know about nutrition and food safety in your favorite restaurants.

Watch the Seafood

Be picky about seafood. Chef and author Anthony Bourdain clued foodies in to an unwritten restaurant secret -- never eat seafood on Mondays -- in Kitchen Confidential. That's because many restaurants, except a select group that specialize in fresh seafood, don't get deliveries over the weekend. And seafood deteriorates much more rapidly than meat and poultry.

Carvel Grant Gould, executive chef at Atlanta's Canoe, adds another warning. "I reject stuff all day long, and then they sell it to somebody else," she says. "You ought to eat your seafood in a place that's very reputable."

You can't check out a cooked piece of fish as you would a raw filet in the supermarket, but you can still evaluate it for freshness. When the plate comes to your table, smell the seafood. If it smells fishy, or of ammonia, it's not fresh.

Foods High in Sodium

Foods prepared in restaurants as well as packaged foods are often high in sodium, even those that seem healthier. A McDonald's Premium Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken and Newman's Own Creamy Southwest Dressing has more sodium (1,300 milligrams) than a Big Mac (1,040 milligrams).  

Sodium counts can be higher at dinner-house chains, where the portions are often large. An order of grilled pork chops at Romano's Macaroni Grill contains 3,540 milligrams of sodium, more than double the amount most adults should eat in a day. A child's portion of macaroni and cheese comes in at 1,980, according to the restaurant's web site.

Check nutrition information if it's available. Some restaurants provide sodium information or suggest lower-sodium options, even if they don't disclose complete nutritional data. Outback Steakhouse suggests that guests who want to cut sodium order salads without croutons or dressings, and get burgers and sandwiches without cheese, sauces, bacon, and dressings.

If you are trying to control how much sodium you consume while dining out, the American Heart Association recommends asking that your food be prepared without salt. It also advises using pepper or fresh lemon juice instead of salt to season your food. But if the food is prepared in a central facility rather than in the restaurant's kitchen, you may not be able to get a meal prepared without added sodium.

Reviewed on February 25, 2009

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