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
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 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
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
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
Look for low-sodium soy sauce. And ask that your food be prepared without added salt or MSG.
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
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
Concerned about high cholesterol, diabetes, or losing weight? Read menus carefully.
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
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.
Baked, broiled, grilled
Poached, roasted, steamed
In its own juice, garden fresh
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
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
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.
If you're counting calories and saturated fat, hamburgers, rib eye, porterhouse, or T-bone steaks don't score well.
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
Crave Cajun food? It can be packed with saturated fat and salt. Here's how to order healthy:
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
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
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.
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."
CulturalIndia.net: "South Indian Food."