Eating out can be a dieter’s biggest challenge. A restaurant’s goal is to make food as tasty as possible without regard to health or calorie content. Healthy people need to be healthy food detectives when eating out.
Here is a guide on what to choose when eating out at your favorite cuisines without sacrificing your weight loss efforts.
Italian restaurant: Start with a soup, starter salad and finish with grilled fish.
Soups and salads are excellent ways to fill up at restaurants without filling up on calories. Minestrone soup is packed with filling vegetables and flavor and has 100 calories less than a cream based soup. A house salad is a great starter as well. Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories, at about 30 calories per cup, and are high in fiber and contain beneficial compounds known as phytonutrients. Be sure to ask for your dressing on the side and dip your fork first in the dressing and then in the salad.
For your main course, choose: grilled, poached or roasted fish, rather than breaded or fried, to avoid extra fat and carbohydrates. If you must have dessert, order a small portion of fresh fruit. A half-cup serving of fruit contains just 50 calories while the same serving of ice cream contains 200 calories.
Japanese restaurant: Edamame, salad, miso soup, fresh sashimi or grilled shrimp, naruto roll.
Japanese menus emphasize lean protein and vegetables. Order some edamame to snack on while you choose the rest of your meal. A half a cup of edamame has 8 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber and only 80 calories. It will help you fill up and eat less during your meal. Choosing a seaweed or cucumber salad and a miso soup will further help you fill up on minimal calories. One sushi roll can have up to 45 grams of carbohydrates, which is equivalent to 3 slices of white bread. Try a Naruto roll, which is wrapped in cucumber instead. It will provide you with that satisfying crunch at a third of the calories and none of the carbohydrates. If you don’t like raw fish, pick a lean protein that is grilled for your main dish. Also, try eating your entire meal with chopsticks. In addition to being fun, it will slow down your eating and reduce your likelihood of overeating.
Mexican restaurant: Ceviche of raw fish in a citrus-marinade, gazpacho, greens-based salad with lean protein, fresh vegetables and light cheese/dressing, slimmer small margarita.
Be wary of large portions typical of Mexican restaurants. Instead of snacking on free tortilla chips, start your meal with a light appetizer such as raw fish or gazpacho. For your main, avoid items with the following words: “gorditas, taquitos, tostadas”; all of those items are fried or crispy. Stick to lean protein and vegetables like a grilled fish over a salad. When approaching the drink menu, a typical large blended margarita contains more than 500 calories! Order your tequila on the rocks and ask for it with just triple sec and lime juice.
Thai food: Summer roll, grilled chicken skewer with spicy peanut sauce on the side, Thai style vegetables, grilled tofu.
Many of us think of Thai food as the healthier version of Chinese food. As an appetizer, try some summer rolls; they are similar to spring rolls, but not fried. Spicy peanut sauce is a healthier choice than some of the heavy Chinese sauces, but make sure to get it on the side and use sparingly. Thai food still has many traps and knowledge on how to avoid those are key to making proper selections. “Pla” means deep fried and fancy versions of rice such as ‘sweet coconut rice,’ contains added sugar. Thai-style vegetables are flavored with ginger, garlic, and chilies, so they can pack huge flavor for few calories. Grilled tofu is a great substitute for other meats and with the vegetables can make a great meal.
Greek restaurant: Grilled Octopus, gigandes or baked beans, chicken souvlaki platter, vegetable briam, Greek salad.
Grilled octopus is a great starter because it is mostly lean protein. Another starter or “meze” to try is Gigandes, which are Greek baked beans in tomato sauce. For your entrée’, try Souvlaki, a traditional Greek dish that consists of grilled meat skewers (usually chicken or lamb.) Order it as a platter rather than in a wrap and save yourself 200 calories from the pita. Get double the vegetables instead of the rice pilaf or potatoes that would usually accompany it. Briam is a mixture of various roasted Mediterranean vegetables in a tomato sauce, and is low in fat and carbohydrates. Be wary of Greek salad. Feta cheese contains 75 calories per ounce (or the size of 3 dice), and most salads will have five ounces of cheese. So if you choose to have this, share with the table and stick to a small piece of feta cheese.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.