| Dining Out: “Ask The Expert” Column
By Liz Pearson
I eat out a lot. What are some healthy eating tips and menu choices for different kinds of restaurants?
Calories, fat and sodium often add up very quickly when you're dining out. Here are my tips for healthy restaurant meals.
Enjoy: a small Greek salad and chicken souvlaki (lamb and pork souvlaki are good runner-up choices).
Avoid: high-fat and -calorie gyros (meat-stuffed pita sandwich), moussaka (ground beef and fried eggplant casserole), spanakopita (spinach pie) and dolmades (meat and rice stuffed cabbage).
Tip: For less fat, ask for the feta cheese and salad dressing on the side and add just a tablespoon or two of each to your salad.
Enjoy: a dark green, leafy salad or a veggie and bean filled minestrone soup. Have pasta with tomato or marinara sauce and lots of veggies, a small serving of pasta (about 1½ to 2 cups) made with an olive oil-based sauce, grilled chicken or fish, or a gourmet-style, thin-crust veggie pizza (share it with a friend).
Avoid: High-fat dishes like pasta with creamy sauces and fatty meats (like sausage), as well as dishes that are heavy-on-the-cheese like lasagna and parmigiana.
Tip: Limit yourself to one piece of bread from the bread basket or better yet, skip it entirely.
Enjoy: Steamed rice and stir-fried or steamed veggie-filled entrees with a serving of lean chicken, beef or shrimp (a serving is the size of a deck of cards).
Avoid: High-sodium wonton soup, high-fat deep-fried foods like egg rolls and sweet and sour pork, fried dishes made with egg, such as egg-fried rice and Moo Shu Pork, and dishes loaded with high-fat nuts such as Kung Pao Chicken.
Tip: Use your chopsticks. You'll probably eat less food and also leave behind the sodium-rich sauces that go with most Chinese dishes.
Enjoy: Just about everything! Japanese cooking highlights rice and vegetables and relies on food preparation methods that, with a few exceptions, require little or no fat or oil.
Avoid: high fat, deep-fried vegetable or shrimp tempura.
Tip: If you love sushi, choose a well-established Japanese restaurant that you know properly handles the raw fish.
Steak & Seafood
Enjoy: shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, grilled calamari (not deep-fried) or steamed oysters. Have baked, broiled, grilled or steamed fish (especially salmon or rainbow trout to get your heart-healthy omega-3 fats) that isn't smothered in sauce or stuffing. A small filet mignon or sirloin steak is also an option. Don't forget to enjoy veggies with your meal.
Avoid: higher fat cuts of meat like porterhouse or prime rib. Limit your intake of swordfish, shark and fresh tuna steaks to lessen your exposure to mercury.
Tip: Rice pilaf is low in fat, but high in sodium. Make lower sodium choices throughout the rest of the day.
Enjoy: black bean soup or ceviche (seafood salad marinated in lime juice). Recommended entrée is chicken fajitas (go easy on the sour cream and guacamole and load up on the salsa). Runner-up options include small portions of bean or chicken burritos or chicken enchiladas (ask that the enchiladas be made with less cheese).
Avoid: deep-fried tortilla chips and cheese-laden dishes, including cheese enchiladas.
Tip: Be wary of refried beans. They're often mixed with lots of fat and sometimes lard, bacon or cheese. Some restaurants offer beans that have not been refried - ask for them.
Enjoy: salad and baked bread such as chapati. Choose oven-roasted dishes like tandoori chicken, grilled dishes like chicken or beef tikka, or dishes that feature lots of vegetables, beans or lentils such as some vegetarian curries.
Avoid: deep-fried foods like samosas (stuffed and fried vegetable turnovers) and pakoras (deep-fried dough with vegetables), as well as dishes that contain large amounts of ghee (clarified butter) such as Chicken Makhani.
Tip: Order curry that has been made without coconut milk or cream.
Enjoy: hot and sour soup or a fresh spring roll. Have stir-fried dishes like Gai Pad Khing (ginger chicken), small portions (about 1½ to 2 cups) of Pad Thai, chicken or shrimp satays (use only a teaspoon or two of peanut sauce).
Avoid: fried spring rolls, dishes made with coconut milk, including most curries.
Tip: When ordering any dishes that contain nuts, like peanuts or cashews, ask that no more than a tablespoon or two are added to the dish.
Enjoy: spinach or romaine salad with lower-fat dressing on the side. Good entrees include chili, grilled chicken or fish, veggie-loaded stir-fries, or pasta with tomato sauce.
Avoid: High-fat fried mozzarella sticks, potato skins, nachos, garlic bread, chicken wings, ribs and burgers.
Tip: Order plain rice or half a baked potato instead of french fries or onion rings. If your meal doesn't come with veggies, order a side of grilled or sauteed veggies.
Final few reminders:
· If you're not sure how a dish has been made or what ingredients have been added, always ask.
· Calories from alcohol add up quickly. If you don't want to order a club soda with lime, consider a wine spritzer or light beer. If you dine out a lot, order milk at least some of the time.
· Save rich desserts for special occasions and share them with a friend (or two). You can always finish your meal with a low-fat cappuccino or café latte, followed by a walk.
· Most important, be wary of "what the heck syndrome", the tendency to overindulge just because you're dining out. Share everything and remember, doggie bags are a diner's best friend.