Dining Out vs. Fast Food

About 1/3 of all Americans eat and drink their calories away from home.  Fortunately, slowly but surely many restaurants are beginning to offer healthier, lower calorie menu items, making it easier to eat nutritious while traveling.  Another thing that will help is by the end of 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require calorie and other nutrition labeling for standard menu items in all restaurant chains with 20 or more locations.  Many of these restaurants have already complied with this ruling.  

The truth is most of the time, unless you're really conscious and even with new lower calorie options, fast food joints are just as bad as fine dining restaurants. .Food served in these places tend to serve up more cholesterol and trans fat. Fast food customers tend to get an average 3.5 more grams of trans fat per day, while restaurant eaters took in extra 2.5 grams. People who regularly dine consume an average of 200 calories and 58 mg of cholesterol more a day than their home-cooking counterparts. 

There are 4 key problems with any kind of dining out: 

  • Fatty cuts and blends: Most chefs will choose a burger or beef thats 95% lean beef with just two grams of saturated fat. They prioritize flavor over health and higher fat-content is an easy way to boost taste. 
  • Food is doused in grease: Think those big vats of grease bubbling behind the registers at your favorite fast food joint, yep, they pretty much speak for themselves. Most food in a restaurant is cooked in a lot of butter as opposed to more health oils like olive or coconut. 
  • Rich additives and sauces: Yes, we know, the sauces are what make the food. But how much is being added in a restaurant. Do you need as much as they spill over it? Much added fat and calories is in those foods. An example is the McDonald’s ranch dip has 110 calories and 12g of total fat. A restaurant-made aioli may sound like a healthier option, but can be almost as dangerous (calorie- and fat-wise) as it’s non-gourmet counterpart.
  • More salt and sugar than meets the eye: Hidden sugars are obviously in many sauces and additives like pasta sauce, BBQ sauce and ketchup, but also dried fruits often added to gourmet restaurant salads have tons of added sugar. 

Ah but it's summertime.  You know what that means – outings, vacations……healthy eating?  Of course.  Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean healthy eating goes on vacation too.  Traveling does mean more reliance on restaurants, convenience stores, airport food or other modes of eating.  We may think our only eating options are burgers, hot dogs, fries and soft drinks.  Surprisingly, this is not the case.

However, educate yourself on knowing what to look for while browsing the menu.  Here are suggestions to focus on from www.choosemyplate.gov:

Think about:

     *What you are eating

·         Check posted calorie amounts either on the restaurant menu (if available), pamphlets, website or download a smartphone app that can guide you on lower calorie, healthier choices.  Some apps to consider for choosing healthier foods include: 

-Restaurant Nutrition, free, compatible with all apple devices and android

-Healthyout , free compatible with all apple devices and android

-Eatoutwell, free, compatible with all apple devices and android

·         Choose healthy salads that include several vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, fruits, nuts, grilled chicken or fish, beans and ask for the dressing on the side

·         Water should be your first beverage choice followed by unsweetened tea, coffee, or fat-free or low-fat milk.  Sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages should be limited as calories from them add up quickly.

*How much you are eating

·         Portion size does matter.  The biggest challenge is avoiding large portions sizes often served at restaurants.  To avoid this either choose a smaller size (choose 6 ounces or less of meat, poultry or fish) share your meal or take home half of it. 

·         Avoid all you-can-eat buffet restaurants.  Unless you have tremendous self-control, it’s just too tempting to want to fill your plate full of food.

     *How your meal is prepared

·         When reading the description of a menu item,  if your read the words “crispy,” “crunchy,” “breaded, buttered or battered,” “fried,” “creamy,” or “tempura,” they’ll be higher in calories and fat.  Choose instead menu items that say “grilled,” “broiled” or “steamed” and there will be fewer calories and fat.