Dining out is an American way of life. Even though you are trying to prevent heart disease, you can still enjoy a convenient, delicious meal away from home. It is often easy to exceed recommended fat, cholesterol and sodium limits with just one restaurant meal. But many fast-food and sit-down restaurants now offer more heart-healthy menu items, or will prepare your foods to order. You just have to know how to find the healthier options on a menu.
When you eat out, you may want to think of these three factors, all of which impact whether your food choice is heart healthy.
- The foods items you choose
- How they are prepared, including what is added to them in the cooking process
- How much of the foods you eat
Following these tips will help you be able to enjoy a meal out at a restaurant while sticking to a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Choose More Healthful Whole Foods
- Don't hesitate to ask the server about any items on the menu to be clear about its ingredients. It never hurts to ask about the adjustments a chef can make for your health. They are usually eager to please and want to ensure you are a repeat customer.
- Choosing whole foods rather than combined foods or casseroles generally gives you more control over your meal. The chef will be more likely to be able to make adjustments to reduce the saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium content in a meal if it is not already combined ahead of time.
- Eat larger portions of vegetables to fill up on fiber. Start with a garden salad, or a vegetable-based soup (but not a creamy or cheesy one). Choose steamed vegetables as a side.
- Try to avoid saturated fat and trans-fat. Choose fish, chicken or turkey breast, lean and extra lean meats and trim off visible fat. Look for the words "loin" or "round" for lean beef and pork choices. Avoid processed meats, and creamy or cheesy casseroles, soups or entrees. These are usually high in saturated fat and sodium.
- Choose a baked potato or rice, rather than mashed or twice stuffed potatoes. Or if there's bread too, consider skipping potatoes or rice altogether or substitute an extra steamed vegetable instead. Substitutions may cost extra, but your heart is worth it.
- Drink water or unsweetened ice tea or coffee with your meal, rather than high-sugar beverages like soda or sweetened tea. Use nonfat or low-fat milk in your coffee instead of cream.
- Choose healthier desserts, such as fresh fruit, sorbet, frozen yogurt or angel food cake.
Choose Foods Prepared with More Heart-Healthy Cooking Methods
- Choose cooking methods like baked, broiled, grilled, roasted and boiled, which do not add any fat or calories.
- Avoid dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, Alfredo, au gratin or in cream sauce because they are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats and sodium.
- Use oils and fats sparingly. Avoid deep-fried or pan-fried foods. Ask the server to skip the cheese and skip the heavy sauces or leave them on the side (so you'll use less). Use only a small amount of butter, sour cream, mayonnaise or other heavy sauces on your foods. Avoid bacon on sandwiches, because it's high in fat and calories and has very few nutrients. For flavor, choose lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion, mustard and ketchup instead.
- Use small amounts of dressing by dipping your fork in the dressing with each bite. Choose vinaigrettes since they have healthier unsaturated fat, usually canola or olive oil.
- Choose foods seasoned with herbs, spices, vinegar or lemon juice. Ask the waiter to avoid adding salt to the meal during preparation, if possible.
Keep Your Portion Sizes in Check
- Ask for salad or appetizer plates. But skip the appetizers, and eat your main meals off of these smaller plates. You'll eat less.
- Portions from most restaurants are too large for one meal. Order half portions if it is an option, or take leftovers home with you. Box half up before you begin eating if you want to be sure you have some to bring home.
- Skip the "value-size" meals that provide greater portions of food for a slightly greater price. It increases the amount of fat, added sugars, sodium and calories you consume.
- Share meals and order fewer entrees than there are people. For example, order two entrees for three or four people. The large portions will go far, and less variety means you'll eat less, too.
- Eat slowly. It takes your brain at least 20 minutes to realize that you have fed your hunger. Try to wait at least that long to determine if you are still hungry, and stop eating when you are full.
- Avoid buffet restaurants. You don't want to eat more to get your money's worth. It will cost you more in the long run.
- Even if you are dining alone at a restaurant, avoid reading or watching television while you eat. You will absent-mindedly eat more than you intended.