Americans love eating out. Whether it’s a fast food, sit-down or take-out meal, eating out is no longer just for special occasions. Instead, it has become a part of our everyday lifestyles. But how do we follow a heart-healthy diet when dining away from home? Where you choose to eat and what foods you order can set the stage for an increased risk of heart disease.
When picking up food here or there, it often is easy to lose sight of your overall eating patterns. Also, when we eat out, there is always the urge to splurge on foods that we don’t normally have at home. These foods tend to be higher in fat (particularly saturated and trans fats), calories and cholesterol. Saturated fat and trans fats raise our total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in the blood. This can contribute to plaque formation and increases our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
But as American Heart Month continues, remember that with a little planning, eating out can be both nutritious and delicious.
When choosing a restaurant, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. Most people over eat at buffets, therefore they consume more fat and calories than if they had ordered off a menu. If there are a few restaurants that you frequent, check to see if they provide nutrition information on any of their menu items.
Many restaurants will have their nutrition information available online so this can be a good resource to check before deciding where to dine. If you can, select what you will order before you arrive at the restaurant, this can help fight off the temptation to order something higher in fat and calories.
Understanding what is on the menu also is important when choosing heart-healthy foods. Try to avoid ordering foods that are breaded, battered or fried, which are very high in fat. Instead choose foods prepared by baking, broiling, grilling, steaming or roasting.
If an entrée is served with a heavy cream or cheese sauce, ask that the sauce be served on the side so you can dictate how much to use.
A good trick for portion controlling high-fat sauces and salad dressings is to dip the tines of your fork in the dressing before each bite. This way you get the flavor of the dressing but will only use a small amount. When deciding which meats to order, choose entrees that contain fish, chicken, turkey or lean cuts of beef, such as filets. White meat, like chicken breasts, is lower in fat than dark meat, like chicken thighs or drumsticks.
Do not be afraid to ask questions about the menu before ordering. Many restaurants are happy to accommodate their patrons by customizing menu selections. If possible, try to make healthier substitutions such as replacing a side order of french fries with a baked potato or steamed vegetables. These are very simple changes to make, and all it usually takes is asking.
Eating out can be a challenge when trying to follow a healthy diet, but it doesn’t mean you have to forego eating foods that are good for you.
Whitney Roberts is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.