Fast Facts on Fast Foods for Fit Folks
She's on the front lines of figuring out the best ways to dine out and stay slim and trim. Dr. Joanne Lichten, registered dietitian and author of Dining Lean: How to Eat Healthy in Your Favorite Restaurants,(Nutrifit Publishing) has just moved to Atlanta. I sat down with her, at the table of course, to get some of her top tips on eating out today.
Carolyn: "Most nutrition advice seems to focus on shopping and cooking at home. Why do you think that advice on eating out more healthfully is important today?"
Dr. Jo: "It's easy to read the nutrition labels and cook healthfully at home, but most of us eat one quarter of all our meals away from home - where little or no nutritional information is available!"
Carolyn: What are the biggest problems with eating out if you're trying to control your weight?
Dr. Jo: "If you're watching your health and weight, there are three challenges in most restaurants. First, the food is served on platters rather than plates. Research has shown that the more we're served, the more we tend to eat. So, even if you think you're not overeating, you probably are. Secondly, most of the food is prepared with more fat than you would ever imagine. Even if the food isn't fried, more butter or oil than is needed is used to stir-fry the food. And, did you know that the cook often pours clarified butter on top of your grilled chicken, fish, or steak before serving? Lastly, most restaurants rely heavily on meats, fats, and starches to complete a meal. Vegetables (and French fries don't count) are almost non-existent and fruits are usually just used for garnish."
Carolyn: When you're dining out how do you size up the menu to decide what to order?
Dr. Jo: "I listen to my taste buds and go where they tell me to go. There are very few places that I won't go because of nutrition. I believe that almost every restaurant will have something on the menu that tastes good and still allows me to fit into my jeans. I choose whatever I'm in the mood for but make a few special requests. For example, in a Chinese restaurant, I ask the restaurant to use as little oil as possible to stir-fry the food -this makes a much bigger difference in calories than choosing chicken over beef. Then, I ask for extra vegetables to be added to the dish - or on the side. The veggies help to fill me up so I eat less of the meal (that means another lunch the next day from the leftovers). I never feel guilty about eating what I love; I eat it slowly and savor every bite! By eating slowly, I end up eating fewer calories and get much more satisfaction."
Carolyn: "What are some of the good things you've seen on restaurant menus lately?"
Dr. Jo: "Every year the healthy options in restaurants broaden. Recently, Wendy's converted all of their restaurants over to a trans fat free oil, most restaurants have increased their salad offerings (like McDonald's Asian salad), most of the fast food restaurants have added fruit for everyone including the kids meals (Chick-fil-A has fresh fruit), Panera adds a healthy kids menu, and Houlihan's and Seasons 52 offer mini-desserts for those with a sweet tooth."
Top Five Tips from Dr. Jo
1. Stay in charge. This is your body and you're paying the restaurant to cook for you. So, don't be afraid to ask for what you need.
2. Ask for the doggie bag WITH your meal (not at the end). Put at least half of the meal in the box so you're not tempted by the huge portions. If you are served large portion and can't take it home (you're traveling or not heading home right away) don't be tempted to eat the whole thing. Ask yourself, "Do I want to waste it or waist it?"
3. Ask for them NOT to dress up your meal - ask for the salad dressing on the side, to skip the butter on your steak or fajitas, and to serve the baked potato toppings on the side. Practice the dip 'n stab method - dip your fork into the dressing, then into the salad for a taste with every bite.
4. Request fruits and vegetables. These not only fill you up faster (with fewer calories), they add nutrition and flavor to any meal. Don't see them on the menu? Don't assume that none are available. If they serve fresh strawberries on the cheesecake, they'll probably serve you a bowl of fresh strawberries if you ask. Homemade broccoli and cheese soup? Then ask for steamed broccoli. Sliced tomatoes are almost always available for the asking, too.
5. Eat your pleasers, skip your teasers. Everything on the menu can fit into your diet - although maybe not in the portions served, and certainly, not all at the same time. Every time you go into a restaurant. Ask yourself what you REALLY want today - those are your pleasers. Then, skip all other stuff the restaurant tries to tease you with - the chips, appetizers, and desserts (unless, of course, those are your pleasers for this meal). I've been known to go into a restaurant for a side salad, cheesecake, and a cup of tea. Those were my teasers for that meal!"