Going out to eat is a great way to connect with friends and family. What’s better than being served a meal and not having to do any of the work?
I eat keto and often get asked the question, "What do you eat at a restaurant?" Whether you’re aiming to lose weight, have food allergies or sensitivities, or simply want to make healthier choices, restaurants can be tricky to navigate. So many establishments tout “healthier” menu items, but what does that really mean? Chances are a leaner cut of meat, an increase in carbohydrates to add something to the meal, and using less fat to cut overall calories on the dish. Calories are certainly relevant, but are NOT everything. The foods that are making up the dish are much more important than the overall calorie value.
Being prepared for the situation is the best way to stay on track, because you aren’t always in control of where you’re eating. I’ve created a list of 6 tactics I use when dining out to help you avoid dietary pitfalls.
1. Skip the bread basket.
Do you know that restaurants have a ton of good reasons for serving you bread, tortilla chips, popcorn while you wait to order? They want happy customers, of course. Refined carbs like this are cheap and a great way to raise blood sugar. When blood sugar spikes, people feel hungrier. This equals ordering more food, and more overall profit for them, while you have to decide if you’re going to finish that huge plate you just ordered. Support your favorite restaurant, but not at the expense of your health.
2. Add some fat.
This tip requires some mindfulness and consideration of your entrée. Fat is not only tasty and satiating, but also a vital component for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. A high-fat dish with a cream sauce will likely be plenty of fat, whereas a green salad or “un-sauced” meat with just some veggies may not do the trick. Order a plain cut of meat and ask for a side of butter or avocado to help balance out the dish, or add some extra virgin olive oil to your meal.
3. Opt for veggies.
Omit the potatoes, rice, noodles, couscous, quinoa that come with your dish. Remember the blood sugar spike I mentioned earlier? A low carb approach would not be to completely eliminate carbs, but instead replace these starches with nutrient-dense vegetables. Steamed or roasted broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, brussels sprouts, asparagus or sautéed veggies like kale and spinach are all great options. Salads with darker greens like arugula or even romaine are more nutritious than the iceberg variety. Limit or avoid starchy vegetables such as corn (which is actually a grain), carrots or tomatoes too if you’re aiming for super low carb.
4. Smart Sauce.
Sugary barbecue sauces first come to mind, but there are so many creations out there that are less-than-ideal. Aside from sugar, they usually contain some type of thickener made with wheat or corn as well as unhealthy oils made from corn, canola or vegetable. Ask the server what’s in the sauce and decide if it’s worth including it. Another option is to order it on the side and just use a small amount.
5. Drink water!
I cannot emphasize this enough. Water is the clear choice of beverage-pun intended- no matter where you’re eating. Alcoholic drinks are very dehydrating and those mixed drinks add a ton of sugar. Soda and other carbonated beverages decrease the acidity of your stomach and make your body work harder to digest your food.
6. Plan Ahead.
Whenever possible, browse the restaurant’s menu and nutrition facts before going. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the average restaurant meal contains almost a full day’s amount of calories. Being mindful of what they offer and sticking to your decision will benefit you in the long run. Sometimes you just have to choose what comes closest to meeting your dietary goals, and when that happens you can adjust by making better choices the rest of the day.