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Ask Dr. K: Tips to eating healthy when dining out

Sat., July 26, 2014

DEAR DOCTOR K: I travel regularly for work, so I have to eat out a lot. Could you give me some strategies to make restaurant meals healthier?

DEAR READER: Eating out can ruin even the healthiest diets. That’s because restaurants – and not just fast-food joints – tend to overdo the butter, sugar and salt. I spoke to registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition for Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She assured me that you can enjoy a meal (or several) on the road if you follow a few handy tips:

• Watch the portions. Restaurant entrees tend to be large enough to feed at least two people. When my wife and I go to a restaurant, we use one of two strategies:

Strategy No. 1: We jointly choose the entree and split it.

Strategy No. 2: If strategy No. 1 threatens marital harmony, we each choose our own entree and ask the wait staff to wrap up half of it to take home.

• Hold the butter and salt. Many menu items contain hidden butter and salt. Ask how a meal is prepared. If something is typically prepared in butter, ask for it to be steamed or broiled without added butter, or sauteed in olive oil instead.

• Don’t be shy about asking for substitutions. The restaurant staff may be used to switching out white rice for brown and white pasta for whole-wheat pasta. Request a small salad or green vegetable instead of onion rings, or black beans instead of fries.

• Ask for sauce to be served on the side. Instead of drizzling the sauce on your meal, dip your fork into the sauce first, and then place your fork and its few drops of sauce onto a bite of food. The same thing works for salad dressing.

• Plan ahead. Look at the restaurant’s menu online, or call ahead and ask questions. Decide what you’re going to order ahead of time. That way, you won’t look at the menu and be tempted to order a more indulgent entree when you arrive.

• Eat slowly. Why? The daily recommended calorie intake for men and women is 2,700 and 2,100 calories, respectively. It’s not unusual for a restaurant entree to have more than 3,000 calories. A meal doesn’t start to reduce our appetite for 15 to 20 minutes. It is easy, particularly when you’re hungry, to down an entire meal in 15 to 20 minutes. It will be finished before you feel full.


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