Choosing better fare when eating out 

Photo by Daniil Kuzelev/Unsplash

Two weeks ago in “Restaurant strategies to help you eat healthy,” the MSR shared information from Jill Weisenberger’s Prediabetes: A Complete Guide on making the healthiest choices from a range of restaurant fare. This week, we get more specific with Weisenberger’s recommended examples of what to order and what to skip when eating out.

American fare and fast food

Go for it:

  • Sandwiches with lean meats, such as roast beef, turkey, and chicken (Bulk up your sandwich with extra veggies, not extra meats and cheese. If your bread is very fluffy like a sub roll, you can scoop out and discard some of the doughy part.)
  • Vegetable soup and other broth-based soups (These soups will fill you up for few calories.)
  • Steamed vegetables, sliced tomatoes, carrot sticks, fresh fruit, sliced apples

Be careful:

  • Broccoli-cheese soup, cream-of-potato soup, and other creamy or cheesy soups
  • Deep-fried sides like French fries and onion rings
  • Fatty meats, such as prime rib, beef or pork ribs, corned beef, chicken with skin, sausage, bacon and hot dogs
  • Large or super-sized sandwiches or burgers (Turkey burgers are frequently made with ground turkey that includes the skin.)
  • Sauces and dressings, such as cheese, béarnaise, and hollandaise sauces; gravy; salad dressings (Ask for these items on the side and use the dip-and-stab method: First lightly dip the tines of your fork into the sauce and then stab your food.)

Asian (specifically Chinese, Japanese and Thai)

Go for it:

  • Steamed dumplings, steamed spring roll, edamame beans, chicken satay, seaweed salad, sushi (Government guidelines advise that pregnant women and others with concerns for food safety eat only vegetable sushi or cooked sushi.)
  • Miso, wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour soups (These soups tend to be low-calorie. Tom Yum Goong, a spicy, broth-based lemongrass soup with shrimp, is a good choice in Thai restaurants. But be aware that most soups are loaded with sodium.)
  • Chicken or salmon teriyaki, Pad Krapow (made with a Thai stir-fry basil sauce), and Pad Khing (made with a Thai stir-fry ginger sauce)

Be careful:

  • Fried noodles, egg rolls, chicken wings, spareribs, crab Rangoon, tempura
  • Buffets, fast food, and mall fare, where meats are often fried and reheated in extra oil
  • Fried dishes like General Tso’s chicken and sweet-and-sour dishes

Tip: Use chopsticks to slow you down and to shake off some of the fatty, salty sauces. A good strategy to save calories and money is to order fewer entrées than there are people in your dining party. Three entrées, for example, is usually enough to feed four or five diners.

Breakfast

Go for it:

  • Scooped bagel, which has fewer calories because the doughiest part is scooped and discarded
  • Egg sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Vegetable omelet, scrambled eggs, scrambled egg whites
  • Oatmeal, whole-grain cream of wheat, other whole-grain cereals
  • Fresh fruit, 100% fruit juice

Be careful:

  • Croissants, biscuits, coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, pastries, scones, muffins
  • Breakfast meats, which tend to be high in saturated fats
  • Fried potatoes
  • Pancakes, French toast, waffles (These items are usually made with refined flour and are covered with sugary syrups.)

Tip: American restaurant breakfasts tend to be quite large and rich in highly refined grains. Focus on whole foods and portion control.

Indian

Go for it:

  • Lentil soup
  • Raita, a combination of yogurt, onions, and cucumbers (Dip your bread in it or enjoy it alone.)
  • Lean meats, chicken, fish, or shrimp prepared in the following styles: jalpharezi, masala, saag, tandoor, and vindaloo

Be careful:

  • Fried breads, such as paratha and poori
  • Curries (These dishes are made with coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat.)
  • Creamy entrées, such as korma and malai

Tip: Ask your server about the types of fats used in various foods. Try to avoid coconut oil and ghee, which is clarified butter. Both are high in saturated fats.

Italian

Go for it:

  • Steamed mussels, clams in tomato sauce, marinated vegetables, prosciutto with melon, Caprese salad
  • Minestrone and bean soups; stracciatella, which is an egg and vegetable soup
  • Tomato-based sauces without cream or fatty meats (Good choices are tomato, pomodoro, marinara, red clam, puttanesca, and cacciatore.)

Be careful:

  • Fried calamari, fried cheese sticks; antipasti, which is an assortment of meats and cheeses
  • Lasagna, manicotti, and other cheesy, rich casseroles
  • Alfredo sauce, which is a mix of butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese; and carbonara sauce, which is rich in fat from eggs, cream, cheese, and Italian bacon

Hint: Watch out for the portions of pasta in Italian restaurants. A reasonable serving is a single cup or less, but some restaurants load the plate with pasta and add a mere sprinkling of vegetables. If you don’t want pasta at all — although there’s no reason to avoid a small portion — ask to have your meal served atop a bed of spinach or other vegetable.

Mexican

Go for it:

  • Salsa and picante sauce (You don’t need to pair salsa with chips. Instead, dress your salad with it and spice up tacos, soups, and more.)
  • Guacamole (Guacamole contains healthful fats. It’s high in calories, so limit the amount you eat.)
  • Arroz con pollo, chili, soft tacos
  • Fajitas, if you request that the sizzling oil or butter be left off your plate

Be careful:

  • Chips, nachos, chile con queso, quesadilla
  • Deep-fried items like crispy tortillas, salad shells, chile rellenos, chimichangas
  • Refried beans, unless they are made without lard

Middle Eastern

Go for it:

  • Hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves
  • Lentil soup, lemon-egg soup, cucumber-yogurt soup
  • Tabbouleh
  • Shish kebabs

Be careful:

  • Fried items such as falafel, crispy pita chips, and fried eggplant
  • Spanakopita: phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta cheese

Check out Healthy Dining Finder by visiting www.healthydining finder.com to look for restaurants near you that offer healthful fare.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert and certified health and wellness coach. This information is excerpted from her book Prediabetes, A Complete Guide: Your Lifestyle Reset (American Diabetes Association, May 2018).