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Thursday, June 9, 2011

15 Tips to Eat Right While Dining Out

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Dining out can ruin your diet.

Most restaurant menu items are loaded with calories, fat and sodium -- especially sodium. That's why after a typical restaurant meal we feel bloated, gross and, well, fat.

The trainer in me wants to say: Avoid dining out at all costs. But the realist in me knows better. With our lifestyles, that's going to happen. Lunch dates with friends ... dinner dates with the significant other ... work lunches ... birthdays ... family outings ... maybe you just want to go out to eat. The way we live calls for all sorts of occasions where we're just going to be at a restaurant.

Since this is how it is, let's at least make smart choices.

1. Pass on the appetizer. The entree will probably have too many calories as it is, no need to add more. Besides, unless you're in L.A. and can order beets as an appetizer (hey, Allison!), starters are probably going to be fried, loaded with cheese and accompanied by a dipping sauce anyway. Uh, pass.

2. Pick something off the light menu. This is a valuable resource and it boggles my mind that more people don't use it. Items from this section typically have reduced calories, fat and sodium. So these dishes are less likely to mess up your day's meal plan. If there isn't a special section for lighter menu options, ask your server to point out a few diet-friendly dishes.

3. Halve your order immediately. When your order comes out, ask for a box and put half of it away. Or before your food even comes out, ask your server to put half of it in a box for you. This will prevent you from overeating. Wait at least three hours before eating the rest.

4. Order off the menu. They might not always list it, but restaurants can always grill or bake some chicken or fish that you can pair with some steamed vegetables. You may have to pay a little more, but it's worth it to pay a little more to get something you want than to pay less and get something you don't want -- like an extra roll on your belly.

5. Avoid pasta dishes. Any pasta dish you get from a restaurant will undoubtedly have at least half your day's calories in one dish. It will also likely put you over your daily sodium limit of 2300 mg. A serving of pasta is only one cup and most restaurants serve 4-5 times that amount in most dishes.

6. Skip the starchy sides. If your meal comes with rice or potatoes, ask to swap those for steamed vegetables. This will save you at least 200 calories.

7. Avoid sauces and spreads. Sauces add empty calories and sodium to any dish. The added sodium will  make you retain water and lead to bloating. (Not to mention what it does to your blood pressure.)

As for spreads, they can add hundreds of calories to even a basic sandwich. Have the sandwich plain or ask to substitute for mustard.

8. Don't be fooled by the salad option. Ah, yes. The go-to salad option for those watching their weight. Salads are fine until all the toppings and dressing are added -- that's were most of the calories are. Avoid creamy dressings and opt for a vinaigrette instead. Limit the toppings to just vegetables -- skipping the cheese, bacon, croutons and nuts. (I wrote a post on salads here.)

9. Get dressing on the side. If you choose to get a salad, ask for the dressing on the side. This way you'll be able to control how much of it you're eating.

10. Choose brown over white. Most of the time you can substitute brown rice for white rice. Choose brown. It's a whole grain and a slower digesting carb which will make you stay full longer and won't spike your insulin levels, which helps lead to fat gain.

This rule also applies to breads, pastas (which, if you're at a restaurant, you shouldn't be eating anyway) and potatoes.

11. Drink water. Avoid sodas, juice, alcoholic drinks and any other caloric beverage. Water has zero calories and helps it support proper cell and organ functioning. Adding lemon to your water has been known to help control your appetite.

12. Skip dessert. This one is easy, just say no.

13. Share. Splitting a meal with your dinner-mate not only will save you calories, but will also keep a few dollars in your pocket.

13. Avoid all things fried. This, I feel, goes without saying. But just to make sure we're on the same page, all fried things are BAD and should be avoided. This goes for french fries, mozzarella sticks, battered and fried chicken or fish, buffalo wings, egg rolls, potato skins, potato chips, etc. This also applies fried vegetables.

14. Pass on the bread basket. This is one of my favorite parts about dining out because I love bread and its delicious companion, butter. This can pack on the calories before you even get to your meal. Don't even let the basket sit on your table -- it will only tempt you. When your server brings it out, politely decline it.

15. Avoid breaded items. The breading adds extra calories. Most of the time items get coated and then fried, which makes them even worse. But even baked items are bad if they've been breaded.

Navigating through endless menu options shouldn't be too difficult if you follow these tips. If you find yourself stuck, order this fail-proof dish: grilled chicken or fish with a side of steamed green vegetables.

Happy eating!

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