We love to eat out.
Americans, on average, consume about one-third of their calories away from home, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and we spend about $50 billion a year in restaurants.
Those who eat out more often are more likely to gain weight, studies say.
But eating out doesn’t have to be unhealthy, and it doesn’t have to disrupt the routine of the millions of Americans with dietary restrictions caused by conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, says Sarah Henthorn, a dietitian with Baton Rouge General Medical Center.
Everyone should pay attention to serving sizes, Henthorn says. Because restaurants serve notoriously large portions, it often makes sense to eat just half your entree.
“If it’s an 800-calorie entrée, just ask them to box up half of it and then you’re fine,” Henthorn says. “I’ll eat if it’s in front of me, but if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. I have better control over that.”
Many chain restaurants list their nutritional facts online along with standard serving sizes, so diners can know how many calories or carbohydrates they will consume. But it’s still easy to overeat, Henthorn says.
“Eat the same amount you would eat at home since going out to eat is usually a much bigger portion,” she says.
Dining with diabetes
Eating out can be a struggle for those with diabetes. They must avoid more than just sugar. High-fat foods and carbohydrate-heavy meals are bad for them, too. For diabetics and pre-diabetics, Henthorn offers these tips:
Limit carbohydrates. Many restaurants serve bread or chips before the meal. That can lead to a carbohydrate overload and cause trouble for those watching their sugars.
“Try not to do the bread before the meal and an entrée that has a side of potatoes or maybe even a roll, too,” Henthorn says. “That’s too much carbohydrates at once.”
When choosing side dishes with the entree, avoid potatoes and pasta dishes. Look for fruit or vegetables.
Avoid fatty foods. Fatty foods can affect your sugar levels. “If your sugar’s up, the more fat you have, then the longer it’s going to stay up,” Henthorn says. “Fried foods, they keep the sugars up longer.”
Ask if dishes are prepared in oil or butter and ask if they can be cooked in olive oil or vegetable oil, the healthier options.
Eating with high blood pressure
About one in three adult Americans has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and only half have it under control. For most, that means avoiding sodium, and that means more than just nixing the salt shaker.
Henthorn makes these suggestions for those avoiding sodium:
Ask for special orders. Request that your food be freshly prepared without seasoning because many restaurant seasonings contain sodium. Henthorn recommends bringing your own sodium-free substitute, like Mrs. Dash or Tony Chachere’s with one-third less sodium.
Limit the condiments and dressings. Mustard, ketchup, salad dressings and all those bottles on the table are often loaded with sodium. “Those are usually shelf stable and are usually packed with preservatives,” Henthorn says.
When ordering a salad, ask for dressing on the side, Henthord advises, or use oil and vinegar. “Usually, when they’re on the side you’re going to dip and not eat as much,” she says.
Order foods high in potassium. Potassium helps control blood pressure and reduces the effects of sodium, Henthorn says. While bananas are known for the nutrient, many dishes on the menu at restaurants contain potassium, too.
“Winter squash would be good right now,” she says. “Yogurt has some. Tomatoes usually have a lot, too. If you get spaghetti, that is a good option because tomatoes have a lot.”