Very often, going to a restaurant is difficult when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Even worse, sometimes things are made to sound healthy, but end up being one of the worst things on the menu! Below I have listed several things that sound healthy, but may not be. Remember when you eat out to plan ahead and check a restaurant’s nutrition facts prior to going, or order something very simple that you know for sure is healthy, like a chicken breast and side of vegetables.
1) Specialty Salads
Salads are wonderful! Except many times when you go out to eat. Lettuce, fresh vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and low-fat dressings make an excellent salad, but most of the time this is not what you get at a restaurant. Restaurant salads contain high fat dressings, fried foods, croutons or other refined grain products, fatty cheeses, and the list goes on. To give an example, Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad, which sounds rather healthy, packs a punch of 1360 calories, 98 g fat (!), 1600 mg sodium (!!), and 90 g carbohydrates (!!!). Then, if you order more dressing — which many people do — you are adding even more to that! Stay away from most restaurant specialty salads.
2) “Baked” Dishes
Dietitians often teach to look for the word “baked” at restaurants in order to get a dish with less fat. This usually works if you are ordering a cut of meat such as a pork chop or chicken breast; however, use caution because sometimes things that are “baked” are casserole style and come with large amounts of added fat and calories. Baked Ziti with Sausage at Maggiano’s, for example, has 1070 calories, 30 g fat, 2130 mg sodium, and 127 g carb. If you also eat bread, drink wine, and get dessert, you likely will exceed your calorie, fat, sodium, and carb needs for the entire day in just one meal.
So you go to a restaurant, and you think about all those “bad” options out there. You’ll just have soup. Soup and a house salad – can’t go wrong there, right? Maybe not. While soup may be advertised as a healthy or light choice, many times restaurants add fat and salt to soups to make them tastier, giving you high calorie, high sodium results without you even knowing. It could even be something that sounds healthy, like Chili’s Chicken Enchilada Soup with 400 calories, 26 g of fat, and 1450 mg sodium per bowl. The carbs are better at 26 g, but this is not enough to overshadow the rest of it.
Much like salads, a sandwich is a healthy concept to start out with. If you took fresh meat, added vegetables like lettuce, tomato, avocado, and onion, some condiments like low-fat mayo and mustard, and a whole grain bread of some sort, this is actually a very healthy option. Restaurants like to ruin anything that starts out healthy, though. Special sauces, fried meat, or deli meats salted to the nines are what you are really going to get. An example of this is Atlanta Bread Company’s Bistro Chicken Press Sandwich which contains 780 calories, 41 g fat, 1660 mg sodium and 59 g carb.
Have you been keeping up with the smoothie trend? Green smoothies, fruit smoothies, workout smoothies, post workout smoothies, and the list goes on! Maybe if you went home and pureed fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, your smoothie would be healthy. But don’t be fooled by smoothies mass marketed to consumers. Most of these smoothies are filled with sugar, and touted to be healthful. Remember also that these smoothies are advertised as “meal replacements”, but most people usually eat a meal shortly before or after because smoothies generally don’t fill you up. An example is Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Strawberry containing 680 calories, 21 g fat, 94 g of sugar and 112 g total carbohydrate, and only 179 g of sodium, but this is not the issue. Please, please do not be fooled into thinking that a smoothie is healthy.
So there you have it. Are you scratching your head, about to swear off restaurants forever? Don’t do that! Restaurants are a large part of our social culture, and saying you won’t go to one again is like saying you will never eat another piece of pie. You just have to get good at recognizing what’s good and what’s not. But first, start out by going with a plan – look at the nutrition facts BEFORE you order or go. That way you won’t be caught off guard.