It’s important to understand what's on the menu when you eat out. The good news: You can eat heart-healthy if you know what to look for. Many restaurants offer delicious meals that are low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, or will prepare your food to order. With a little bit of effort, you can ensure that the meals you eat away from home are part of a healthy diet.
Follow these tips when ordering your meal:
- Avoid ordering before-the-meal “extras” like cocktails, appetizers, bread and butter because these are often sources of extra fat, sodium and calories.
- Ask for butter, cream cheese, salad dressings, sauces and gravies to be served on the side, so you can control the quantity you consume. Instead of fried oysters, or fried fish or chicken, choose boiled spiced shrimp, or baked, boiled or grilled fish or chicken. Steer clear of high-sodium foods – including any food that’s served pickled, in cocktail sauce, smoked, in broth or au jus, or in soy or teriyaki sauce. Avoid dishes with lots of cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise.
- Be selective at salad bars. Choose fresh greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruits, garbanzo beans and reduced-fat, low-fat, light or fat-free dressings. Avoid cheeses, marinated salads, pasta salads and fruit salads with whipped cream.
- Choose desserts carefully. Fresh fruit, fruit ice, sherbet, gelatin and angel food cake are good alternatives to more traditional fat- and cream-laden desserts. Use fat-free or 1% milk in coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.
- Don't be hesitant to ask your server how particular foods are prepared or what ingredients they contain.
- Ask what kinds of oils foods are prepared with or cooked in. The most desirable oils are monounsaturated oils (olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil) and polyunsaturated oils (soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil).
- Ask whether the restaurant can prepare your food to order – for example, by leaving off or going very light on dressings, butter, cheese or other high-fat items. Ask the chef to prepare the food with very little butter or oil or none at all.
- Ask if smaller portions are available or whether you can share entrees with a companion. If smaller portions aren’t available, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the entrée in the box to eat later.
- Ask whether healthy substitutions are possible. For example, if a dish comes with French fries or onion rings, ask whether you can get a baked potato with vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free sour cream or soft margarine on the side. Instead of mayonnaise-laden coleslaw, ask if you can get a small salad, fruit or vegetables instead. Although some substitutions may cost a little extra, the health benefits are well worth it.