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When we cook at home, we’re in total control of all ingredients, spices, and oils. The control can be nice, but it can also be obnoxious! Who wants to cook every single meal every single night?? Not this girl!
One of the beauties of eating out is relinquishing control. I mean…how nice is it to have someone else cook (and buy the groceries!) every once in awhile?!
It’s important to realize that eating out—however convenient it may be—also comes with a downside. More often than not, chefs and owners are on a tight budget, which means they use the cheapest ingredients. When it comes to food, “cheap” (unfortunately) often correlates to poor quality and less nutritional value.
For example, most restaurants use “vegetable” oils because they’re…you guessed it—CHEAP! When heated, reheated, and reheated again (as they often are in restaurants), these oils become highly toxic. (To learn more about this—and why I wrote “vegetable” in quotation marks!—read my post “Canola Oil vs Vegetable Oil: Which Is Healthiest?”)
That being said, it’s perfectly okay to indulge in restaurant food every so often, even when your goal is to maintain the healthiest diet. Nutrition is important, but relaxation and socialization are also necessary for a healthy existence! Home-cooked meals are usually the best option from a nutritional standpoint, but you shouldn’t feel the need to sacrifice the pleasures of special restaurant meals, especially after you read this next part!
Healthy eating out can happen without putting a damper on all of your nutritional goals. Here’s how…
The 7 Simplest Habits for Healthy Eating Out:
1. When possible, skip the salad dressing and/or sauce.
The base of most dressings and sauces is usually one of the aforementioned unhealthy, ultra-processed, cheap “vegetable” oils, like canola. (Again, you don’t want to miss my prior post “Canola Oil vs Vegetable Oil: Which Is Healthiest?”)
Ask for your dish without the dressing or sauce. (Don’t even ask for it on the side; just skip it altogether!)
Instead, request that your server bring olive oil, salt, and pepper (if they’re not already provided). Any salad or protein can be jazzed up with that all-star trio; in fact, they may even make your meal taste better than the provided sugar- and toxin-laden sauces! (For a shocking breakdown of the sugar content of many “savory” restaurant items, see this article. Yikes!)
2. Just say no to bread.
Wheat and related grains are potent appetite stimulants.
Why do most restaurants serve a bread bowl before dinner? Well, their motives aren’t as pure as you’d like to believe. The bread in that cute basket stimulates your appetite so that you’ll (hopefully!) order more food…and later dessert!
To sidestep any unnecessary hunger pangs, skip the bread bowl. If it’s in front of you, you’ll be tempted to have just a bite…which, let’s be honest, will lead to several more bites, and possibly (gasp!) even an entire fresh basket. (That one bite turns into many more for me, too!)
Also, skip the bun/bread on your burger or sandwich. I’ve been doing this for years, and now I actually prefer burgers without the bread. The meat and cheese alone are so juicy and delectable!
By avoiding appetite-inducing bread, you’ll save room for healthful (and filling!) things like veggies, salad (dressed with salt, pepper, and olive oil, of course), and protein.
3. In the same vein, just say no to breaded items.
You know how I mentioned that “vegetable” oils are heated, reheated, and reheated again, making them toxic? Guess what the oil is mostly used for? Frying things! When you avoid fried/breaded items, you’ll steer clear of those toxic oils.
4. Splurge on bites of shared desserts.
I like to look at the dessert menu just as much as the next person! However, I’ve realized that tiny bites of a dessert—or even multiple desserts—are more satisfying than eating the entire thing myself. By the time slices of cake and pie come around, I’m usually too full for an entire piece, anyway! Sharing a dessert guarantees that I won’t stuff myself beyond the point of no return.
If you’re not too full and are dying for something sweet after your meal, order one dessert (or maaaaybe two) for the table to share; satisfy your sweet tooth with a couple of bites.
5. Make yellow and Dijon mustards your best friends.
Often, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, sweet and sour sauce, and other sugar-filled concoctions are the preferred condiments; yellow and Dijon mustards get a bad rap! Typically, 2 tablespoons of ketchup contain about 8 grams of sugar, 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce contain 12 grams, 2 tablespoons of honey mustard contain 10 grams, and 2 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce contain 7 grams.
Studies suggest that higher sugar intake from food and beverages correlates to chronic illness (like type 2 diabetes), dementia (including the more serious forms like Alzheimer’s), mental disorders (like depression), and more. As Max Lugavere, the author of Genius Foods, advocates on this Fat-burning Man podcast episode:
Even mild elevation of blood sugar is correlated with shrinkage in memory centers of the brain.
That’s right! Even a mild elevation of blood sugar on a regular basis could be detrimental to your health. Therefore, it only makes sense to avoid sugar as much as possible! (See my prior post “Hidden Sugar: You’re Probably Eating More Than You Think!” for more on this topic.)
Swap yellow or Dijon mustard for the ketchup on your burger (sans the bun, of course!) or the sauce on your vegetables. Yellow and Dijon mustards generally contain fewer than 1 gram of sugar per 2 tablespoons, so you can enjoy both with abandon!
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions.
Some restaurants are very nit picky about this, but others are happy to accommodate! If the burger comes with fries, consider subbing a side salad. (Think of how much healthier the traditional burger can be if you order it without the bun and with a salad, dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. At that point, you’re still eating a delectable meal, and it’s the perfect balance of of healthy fats, veggies, and proteins!)
7. This one may go without saying, but always make the healthiest choice to begin with.
Possibly, preview the menu online before you arrive at the restaurant. This is a great way to pinpoint the healthiest option ahead of time so that you won’t feel rushed when it comes time to order.
If previewing the menu isn’t an option, no worries! Right when you sit down, you can quickly scan the menu. Here’s a glimpse into my “What should I order?” thought process:
- Is there a wild fish option? (Gotta get those omega-3s! Click here to read why.)
- If not, does some other protein look/sound good?
- Or, is there a dish that’s entirely vegetables? Maybe I should just load up on those…
- Which sides does the restaurant offer? Are any of them healthier than the ones offered with my entree choice? If so, I may ask for a substitution.
- Will my dish come with a sauce or dressing? Mental note: I’ll ask them to bring olive oil, salt, pepper, yellow mustard, and/or Dijon instead!
BONUS: Plan on ordering a cocktail? Follow this simple formula…
Most specialty cocktails are loaded with sugary syrups, candied fruits, and juices, which translates to: they’re filled with sugar, sugar, and more sugar!
If you want to order a cocktail, keep it simple. Follow this formula:
YOUR SPIRIT OF CHOICE + SODA WATER + CITRUS
My favorite combo is tequila + soda + lime, but sometimes I’ll order vodka + soda + lemon (crazy, I know!). By skipping the restaurant’s craft cocktails, you can avoid drinking 25+ grams of sugar in just one drink!
Bottom line: Healthy eating out is possible! After a bit of practice, these 7 habits will become second nature, and you’ll be on your way to achieving health gains outside of your home.
⇒ To optimize every aspect of your health, visit My Favorite Things! There, you’ll find links to healthy packaged foods, toxin-free products, and overall wellness boosters.
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