Eating Out On The Plan

the typical American eats out four times a week. Think that sounds too high? If you include everything from the muffin and coffee you grab on your way to work to the lunch you eat in the company cafeteria to stops at drive-through Joints, you can see how quickly it adds up. The problem with eating out is that, with the ironic exception of fast-food restaurants, there’s rarely any nutritional information available on menus. And most restaurant food isn’t as healthful as what you’d prepare at home. Nutnition researchers at the University of Memphis found that women who ate out 6 to 13 times a week consumed about 300 more calories, 19 more grams of fat, and 400 more milligrams of sodium than women who ate out five times a week on verage. Another survey found that those who dined out ate up to 25 percent fewer fruits and vegetables than those who ate at home,

That doesn’t have to happen to you. The eating strategy translates easily enough to dining out. But you’ll need to navigate the menu carefully.

Conquering the Chains

From Applebee’s to Red Lobster, the chaining of American eateries has taken hold across the country. The advantage: You can plan ahead in terms of what you’ll order. That’s a good thing, since many of these restaurants seem to specialize in fried foods. Even a seemingly innocuous Chinese chicken salad often comes with chunks of fried chicken. Considering a patty melt? Assuming it comes with a side of fries, you could

be getting an astounding 2,000 calories along with more than 50 grams of fat, more than 25 of them saturated. Andyo know those trendy blooming onions served at many steakhouses these days? The CSPI found they contain an astounding 2,100 calories and 18 grams of trans fats. Another major minefield is portion size. A CSPI survey found that restaurants

A survey found that people who dined out often ate up to 25 percent fewer fruits and vegetables.

Here are the top five points to keep in mind if you want make it through your dining-out meal with your arteries intact:

  1. Ask for a doggie bag when you place your order. Put half in the box, close it up, and dine happily on the rest with the knowledge that you’ve now got lunch or dinner for tomorrow. Or split an entrée.
  2. Read between the lines. Any menu description that uses the words fried, creamy, breaded, crisp, or stuffed is likely loaded with hidden fats—much of it saturated or hydrogenated. Also skip anything sautéed in butter or served with a cream or cheese sauce (au gratin). And stay away from anything fried, Chances are it’s fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which translates to trans fats. Choose items that are baked or grilled instead.
  3. Practice safe salads. Salads are a great way to get your vegetables at a restaurant, but many are loaded with hidden hazards: creamy dressings, bacon bits, fried noodles, etc. The typical Caesar salad in most restaurants (the one topped with chicken or shrimp as well as fried croutons and plenty of cheese and mayo in the dressing) contains 36 grams of fat. The solution? Ask for a salad with an oil based dressing on the side, then spoon the dressing on yourself. Better yet, dip your fork in the dressing, then spear a piece of lettuce.
  4. Change the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter for a change in how your food is prepared. For instance, request that the salmon be grilled with a brushing of olive oil instead of butter, or ask for your pasta with steamed vegetablesand a bit of olive oil instead of the cream sauce. If your meal comes with fries, ask for a side of steamed vegetables or wild rice instead.
  5. Find the vegetables. It’s all too easy to get through an entire restaurant meal and realize you haven’t eaten a vegetable or fruil (and no, we’re not going to count the french fries or onion rings), So make sure you get a salad (some are so large you could get four or five servings of vegetables from one salad), stir-fry, or other entrée that includes veggies or fruit

Eating Out Ethnically

Nowhere is the melting pot of America more obvious than in our restaurants. From Greek to Indian to Chinese to Mexican, family-owned to chain, the ethnic food choices are endless. And most ethnic restaurants have plenty of minefields of their own, as well as ways to a heart-healthy meal. To no matter what country you’re dining in, follow these recommendations.

If you’re eating Chinese:

  • Avoid the fried noodles on the table.
  • Order fewer dishes than there are people at the table.
  • Start with soup to fill you up.
  • Avoid fried appetizers (this means no egg rolls).
  • Opt for steamed rice, not fried. If the restaurant serves brown rice, ask for it,
  • Use the 2:1 ratio: two times as much rice to main dish.
  • Avoid menu items described as crispy or golden brown. They’re all deep-fried,
  • Choose dishes rich in vegetables, and order at least one vegetarian entrée.

If you’re eating Italian:

  • Split and share. One order of pasta is usually enough for two people, especially if you also share a salad.
  • Pick tomato-based sauces; marinara, Bolognese, red clam, puttanesca, Avoid eream-based sauces: Alfredo, primavera (while the veggies are great, the sauce is usually loaded with butter and cream).
  • Skip the garlic bread or breadsticks and ask for plain bread and a dish of olive oil for dipping.
  • Go with fagioli—tItalian for “bean.”

If you’re eating Mexican:

  • Keep your hands away from the fried tortilla chips. Instead, ask for a soft tortilla to scoop up the healthy salsa and get a couple of vegetable servings under your belt even before the main meal arrives.
  • If a salad comes in a fried tortilla bowl, don’t eat the bowl.
  • Choose beans to fill your burrito instead of beef or cheese.
  • Ask for black beans, not refried.
  • Nix the sour cream.
  • Go for soft tortillas instead of fried tacos.
  • Avoid chimichangas (fried) and dishes labeled grande or supreme.

If you’re eating Indian:

  • Skip the appetizers (most are fried).
  • Avoid the papadum, chapati, nan, kulcha, or roti breads, which have all been fined or soaked in fat
  • Order side dishes with vegetables, beans, or peas, such as dahl or chutney.
  • Choose tandoori. Tandoori foods are oven-baked and usually include little or no added fat

If you’re eating Thai:

  • Start with a broth-based soup, not one made with coconut milk
  • Go light on any dishes made with coconut milk. Coconut milk is loaded with saturated fat—45 grams in | cup
  •  Choose dishes that have been stir-fried, grilled, or steamed
  • Here’s a good way to get your soy: steamed or baked tofu (make sure it’s not fried) and vegetables

If you’re eating diner food:

  • Choose Canadian bacon instead of regular bacon
  • Skip the fries. Ask for a side salad or order of vegetables instead
  • Forgo tuna and chicken salads; they’re likely loaded with mayo. Instead, order a turkey, roast beef, or even ham sandwich—plain or with mustard or horseradish—and remove some of the meat if it’s piled too high.
  • If you order a salad, ask for no croutons and get the dressing on the side,

Best Bets in Fast Food

It’s challenging, but not impossible, to eat heart-healthy meals at fast-food restaurants. Everything on this list, unless otherwise noted, gets 25 percent or less of its calories from fat. (The exception is Taco Bell. None of the items on that restaurant’s menu gets less than 30 percent of its calories from fat, but we’ve included some of the healthier menu choices for your information.)

This is not a comprehensive list; Subway, for instance, has numerous sandwiches and salads with less than 25 percent fat. Most fast-food restaurants can provide you with a brochure that contains nutritional information, and many list that data on their Web sites. You can also log onto for detailed nutritional information on a number of chains.


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