Eating out can be a dieter’s biggest challenge being that you really don’t know what ingredients are being put into the food that you eat. A restaurant’s goal is to make your food as tasty as possible without regard to health or calorie content. A diet that does not allow you to eat out however, is not sustainable. With all that in mind, here is a guide on what to choose when eating out at your favorite cuisines.
Italian restaurant: Minestrone soup, starter salad, grilled fish
Minestrone soup is broth based, packed with filling vegetables and flavor and will save you at least 100 calories when chosen over a cream based soup. A house salad is another great way to fill up. Vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber and contain beneficial compounds known as phytonutrients. Be sure to ask for your dressing on the side. For your main, 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 fish, naruto roll
Japanese menus emphasize lean protein and vegetables. There are lots of battered and fried dishes as well so be sure to avoid those. 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 yet 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 help you fill up on minimal calories. If you don’t like raw fish, pick a lean protein that is grilled for your main dish. A 1/2 cup serving of rice has about 200 calories and 42 grams of carbohydrates so it best to avoid sushi rolls if you can. If you do order a rice roll, ask for “light rice” as you will save half the carbs and calories. Try out 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. Stick to low sodium soy sauce for dipping to avoid fluid retention. Also, try eating your entire meal with chopsticks. Besides for being fun, it will slow down your eating and allow your stomach to have time to realize that it is full thereby reducing your likelihood of overeating.
Mexican restaurant: Ceviche or 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. Eat half the portions of protein that they serve you. Instead of snacking on free tortilla chips, start your meal with a light appetizer such as raw fish or gazpacho, which is a cold vegetable soup. Avoid the salad trap. A typical Mexican salad comes loaded with ground beef, fried tortilla strips, cheese, sour cream, and refried beans. It’s a dieter’s worst nightmare, sometimes packing in: 1,000 calories, 60 grams of carbs, and 50 grams of fat. You can fix up the salad by swapping the beef for grilled protein, skipping the cheese and sour cream, requesting black beans and sticking to fresh salsa or pico de gallo for a dressing. For your main, avoid items with the following words: “chimichangas, gorditas, taquitos, tostadas”; all of those items will be fried or crispy. Stick to lean protein and vegetables. Ask your waiter to modify your order to make it less caloric. Corn tortillas are better than white flour ones and plain corn on the cob is better than corn drenched in butter. In terms of drinks, a typical large blended margarita contains more than 500 calories and premade margarita mixes are overloaded with sugar. If you can, order yours on the rocks and ask for it with just tequila, triple sec, and lime juice.
Thai food: Summer roll, Lean grilled meat on a stick slathered in a spicy peanut sauce, Thai style vegetables, grilled tofu
Many of us think of Thai food as the healthier version of Chinese food. Summer rolls are like spring rolls, without the long hot oil bath. Spicy peanut sauce is a healthier choice than some of the heavy Chinese sauces. While this is somewhat true, Thai food has many traps as well 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 lots of added sugar. Flavored with ginger, garlic, and chilies, Thai-style vegetables pack huge flavor for few calories. Tofu is a soybean sponge which sucks up anything it comes into contact with. Ask for it to be grilled or skip it completely. As always, eat half your protein.
Greek restaurant: Grilled Fish, Souvlaki, Briam/Tourlo, Gigandes, Greek Salad
Souvlaki are grilled meat (lamb) skewers found in every Greek restaurant. Order it as a platter rather than in a sandwich thereby saving 200 calories on the pita. Request a small portion of yogurt sauce to dip the skewers into, if so desired. Briam is a mixture of various roasted Mediterranean vegetables which are low in fat and carbohydrates. Gigandes are Greek baked beans and are a decent side dish as long as they are not sweetened. Don’t be shy to ask your waiter for clarification. Greek salad is fine but be sure to ask for the cheese and dressing on the side so that you can control how much you use.