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8 tips for making healthy choices at a restaurant

Restaurant dining can be a landmine for those watching what they eat. Tempting menu options, secret calorie bombs and a just-this-once mindset can wreak havoc on even the most disciplined diet.

“Dining out is tricky because restaurants add extra calories, fat and sodium with oil, butter and salt,” says Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Unfortunately, this is a challenge for those who are trying to eat well.”

Komar coaches her clients with these tips to help them make healthier choices when they go out to eat.

1. Remember “no BOSS.” Whenever possible, ask that your meal be prepared without butter, oil, salt and sugar. Ask for your vegetables steamed with butter on the side, request that no salt be added to your entree and ask for salad dressing, sauces and creams on the side. You can still have butter, oil, salt and sugar, but this strategy allows you to control how much you consume.  

2. Don’t drink your calories. Smoothies, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks cause calories to add up quickly. That fancy cocktail can be the caloric equivalent of a milkshake. Stick with good old H20. If you crave more flavor, request lemon, lime or cucumber slices for your glass.

3. Choose a healthy appetizer. It’s easy to consume a lot of calories when you start with an appetizer. Many are fried and/or come with creamy dips. This starts the meal in the wrong direction. Your body will crave more fat, salt and sugar.

4. Look at portion sizes. Restaurant portion sizes are often much bigger than what we should consume, so share an entrée or take half of it home to eat the next day. Even when you can’t control the content, you can control the quantity of what you eat, says Komar.

5. Fill up on vegetables. Most restaurants are willing to work with customers. A simple way to save calories and fat, plus sneak in extra nutrition, is to swap out a carbohydrate-heavy side dish (think: pasta, rice or potatoes) with a side of steamed vegetables (sans oil, butter or salt).

6. Watch your toppings. Take a turkey club sandwich, for example. Sounds healthy, right? Not necessarily. If you add mayonnaise, bacon and avocado, you are looking at hundreds of extra calories.

7. Avoid sneaky salad saboteurs. Salad can be healthy, but many contain unhealthy ingredients – like fried tortilla strips, cheese, dressing and bacon bits – that ramp up the calorie count. Ask for dressing on the side and use it sparingly. The best way to spruce up greens, according to Komar? Add fresh, colorful veggies – the more color, the better.

8. Nix the extra salt. Salt acts as a food enhancer, but it doesn’t actually provide flavor, says Komar. Plus, too much salt can lead to some serious health problems. Put down the salt shaker and try fresh lemon or lime juice, or vinegar instead.

You don’t have to forgo your favorite restaurant to stay trim – just follow Komar’s tips and balance dining out with cooking at home where you can control your portions and ingredients.

For more healthy lifestyle tips, click here.

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