Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on February 22, 2022
Don't Abandon Your Diet

Don't Abandon Your Diet


Americans love eating out -- and there's no reason why it can't be healthy eating. But you can't always find out the amount of calories, fat, or salt in a restaurant's menu items. So follow these ordering tips to make sure you stay within your healthy diet.

Some Fats Are Good for You

Some Fats Are Good for You


Monounsaturated fats: Substituted for saturated fats in your diet, they help lower bad LDL cholesterol and don't reduce good HDL cholesterol. Found in canola oil, olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and nut butters.

Polyunsaturated fats: Help lower cholesterol. Found in fatty fish, vegetable oils, and nuts and sunflower seeds.

Fish Is Good for Your Heart

Fish Is Good for Your Heart


Fish is a healthy choice when dining out. Ordering seafood such as salmon and tuna adds omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. They are a type of polyunsaturated fat that helps lower your heart disease risk. You’ll also find a different type of omega-3 in walnuts and edamame (soybeans).

Avoid Fried Foods and Added Cheese

Avoid Fried Foods and Added Cheese


Eating out often means getting too much saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories.

How can you spot the dangers? Saturated fats come mostly from meat and whole-fat dairy foods. Tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil, and butter are also saturated fats. Cholesterol is found in animal fats. Primarily the saturated fat and the cholesterol in the foods you eat increase your cholesterol levels.

Spotting High-Sodium Foods

Spotting High-Sodium Foods


Restaurant foods can be very high in sodium, or salt. If you are watching your sodium as many Americans need to, watch for:

  • Foods that are pickled, smoked, in broth or au jus
  • Cocktail sauce, soy, or teriyaki sauce
  • MSG

Look for low-sodium soy sauce. And ask that your food be prepared without added salt or MSG.

Have a Heart

Have a Heart


Some restaurants have tuned into heart-healthy eating. They offer low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol menu items, designated with a heart icon.

Don't confuse this with the favorites icon. That can be a flag for popular, fatty choices. One delicious heart-healthy option: A grilled fish filet, a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Don't Be Afraid to Ask


In restaurants where food is cooked to order, you can make special requests for lighter fare.

If you're counting calories -- or keeping an eye on saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium -- tell your server.

Ask what's in a dish. Find out how it's cooked. A chef can often prepare food using less oil, no butter, or no added salt. If there is sauce, salad dressing, or gravy, get it on the side. Then you can dip -- or skip -- and use less.

Clues to Unhealthy Dishes

Clues to Unhealthy Dishes


Concerned about high cholesterol, diabetes, or losing weight? Read menus carefully.

Thumbs Down:

  • Fried, au gratin, braised, buttered, creamed, escalloped
  • Hollandaise, cheese, or cream sauce
  • In gravy, pan-fried or -roasted, rich, in butter sauce.
Clues to Healthy Nutrition

Clues to Healthy Nutrition


Grilled chicken vs. fried chicken. Broiled fish vs. fried fish. When dining out, look for possible code words to healthier food with less saturated fat.

Thumbs Up:

  • Baked, broiled, grilled
  • Poached, roasted, steamed
  • In its own juice, garden fresh
Cutting Fat Can Help Weight Loss

Cutting Fat Can Help Weight Loss


Ask your server about healthy substitutions:

  • A vegetable or fruit instead of French fries
  • Skinless chicken that's broiled instead of fried
  • Low-fat milk for your coffee, instead of cream
No Substitutions? No Problem

No Substitutions? No Problem


What if your server says, "Absolutely no substitutions"? Try these 4 tips:

  • Ask that fries be left off your plate.
  • Peel the skin off fried chicken.
  • Skip the butter.
  • Drink tea instead of coffee with cream.
Don't Eat It All

Don't Eat It All


Restaurants serve huge portions. If you're counting calories -- or monitoring blood glucose – don't eat it all yourself. Try this instead:

  • Restrain yourself, and take a box home.
  • Share with others at your table.
  • Ask your server to box up half before bringing the meal out.
Lean Choices

Lean Choices


If you're counting calories and saturated fat, hamburgers, rib eye, porterhouse, or T-bone steaks don't score well.

Thumbs Up:

  • Barbeque or grilled chicken, lean pot roast, lean meat loaf
  • London broil, filet mignon, flank steak, sirloin tip, tenderloin
  • Seafood, boiled shrimp, oysters on the half shell


Spicing Up Your Diet

Spicing Up Your Diet


Crave Cajun food? It can be packed with saturated fat and salt. Here's how to order healthy:

Thumbs Down: Hush puppies, fried seafood, gumbos, etouffee sauces, blackened fish, and dirty rice.

Thumbs Up: Heart-healthy creoles and jambalayas, boiled crawfish or shrimp, and white rice.

Healthy Chinese Food

Healthy Chinese Food


Thumbs Down: Egg rolls, egg drop soup, fried wontons, Lo Mein, Moo Shu, General Tso's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, and fried rice. They are prepared with lots of oil, sodium, and MSG.

Thumbs Up: Steamed or stir-fried seafood, chicken, bean curd, or vegetable dishes -- plus steamed rice -- for heart health. If possible, ask the cook to use less oil, soy sauce, and MSG.

Greek Food to Savor

Greek Food to Savor


Thumbs Down: Moussaka, gyros, and baklava. If you're counting calories and saturated fat, get real about high-fat meats (like lamb and beef), cheese, and butter in these dishes.

Thumbs Up: Appetizers with chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes, grains -- like hummus, baba ganouj, tabouli, dolmas. Also, shish kabob, chicken with pita, fish cooked in tomatoes.

Healthy Choices for Indian Food

Healthy Choices for Indian Food


Thumbs Down: Samosas and creamy curries. Many Indian dishes are full of high-fat ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil and milk. When you're eating out on a diet, read the menu closely.

Thumbs Up: Tandoori meats, vegetable or dal curries, and shish kabobs. South Indian food offers spicy vegetarian dishes -- with cauliflower, peas, tomatoes, eggplant, lentils, rice, and chutney.

Mexican Food Fiesta

Mexican Food Fiesta


At Mexican eateries, dining out is a party. But beware the lard and cheese.

Thumbs Down: Chips, fried tacos, refried beans, quesadillas, and chimichangas. They're loaded with saturated fat and sodium.

Thumbs Up: Start with black bean soup or grilled shrimp. Share chicken or shrimp fajitas. Try grilled shrimp or fish, with fresh salsa; chili verde (pork); or arroz con pollo (chicken).

Healthy Italian Food

Healthy Italian Food


Pasta is the essence of Italian dining. But it can be a saturated fat-and-calorie disaster!

Thumbs Down: Creamy, cheesy sauces (like Alfredo). Fried calamari, pastas stuffed with cheese.

Thumbs Up: Light sauces, like primavera (vegetables); marsala (wine, mushrooms, beef stock); marinara (tomatoes, onions, garlic); or clam sauce. Have minestrone for starters, plus a heart-healthy glass of red wine.

How Pizza Can Be on Your Diet

How Pizza Can Be on Your Diet


Follow these healthy eating tips:

  • Order a thin crust.
  • Pile on vegetable toppings, and skip the meat.
  • Ask for extra sauce -- and half the cheese.
  • Start with a salad.
  • Stop after one or two slices, and take the rest home.
Watch for Hidden Fat

Watch for Hidden Fat


Thai food offers heart-healthy sauces and fresh vegetables. But saturated fat hides in foods fried in lard and coconut oil.

Thumbs Down: Fried spring rolls, coconut chicken soup (tom ka gai), duck.

Thumbs Up: Steamed spring rolls, hot-and-sour soup, pad thai (stir-fried noodles), vegetable stir fries, sticky rice.

Healthy Fast Food

Healthy Fast Food


Thumbs Up: Grilled chicken, chicken fajita pitas, turkey sandwiches, baked chips, or frozen yogurt.

Thumbs Down: Jumbo burgers, fried fish sandwiches, fried chicken, tacos, French fries, potato chips, milk shakes, cheese, mayonnaise, bacon.

Show Sources


(1)    Stewart Cohen / Blend Images / Photolibrary
(2)    Getty Images
(3)    Creatas / Photolibrary
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(5)    Monkey Business Images Ltd / Photolibrary
(6)    Jutta Klee / Taxi / Getty Images
(7)    Richard Ross / Photographer’s Choice / Getty Images
(8)    Fogstock RFE / Photolibrary
(9)    Getty Images
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(11)    FoodCollection / Photolibrary
(12)    Greg Ceo / Stone / Getty Images
(13)    Carlos Davila / Photographer's Choice / Photolibrary
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(15)    Rita Maas / The Image Bank / Getty Images
(16)    Hauke Dressler / Getty Images
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(18)    Sally Ullman / StockFood Creative / Getty Images
(19)    FoodCollection / Photolibrary
(20)    Purestock / Photolibrary
(21)    Jeff Shaffer - Dawn Smith / StockFood Creative / Getty Images
(22)    Purestock / Photolibrary


The New York Times: "Calorie Data to be Posted at Most Chains."
American Diabetes Association: "Your Guide to Eating Out."
American Heart Association: "Eating Out."
American Heart Association: "Tips for Eating Out."
National Cholesterol Education Program: "High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know."
USDA, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010." "South Indian Food."