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16 Tips for Eating Healthy at a Restaurant

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Eating out can be fun. You get to try new dishes, enjoy the company of others, have someone else serve you, and maybe best of all, you don’t have to do the dishes or clean up any mess. You can enjoy your meal and let someone else do the work.

But dining out can also mean abandoning dietary logic, overeating, and indulging in foods that don’t support your waistline or overall health.

The Challenge with Restaurant Dining

Research shows that compared with eating at home, we consume more calories when eating out. Many of these outside foods are substantially higher in calories than what we might make at home.

People who eat out more often weigh more and have increased risk for certain diseases including diabetes. Researchers argue eating out may contribute to the rapid growth of weight gain and obesity. Conversely, two large prospective cohort studies associate frequently eating meals at home with a lower risk of diabetes.  

Restaurant portions are often massive, and most of us don’t accurately judge a food’s caloric content.

Finding organic produce and quality meats can also feel like a challenge since some restaurants use subpar ingredients to fit their budget. (Fortunately, that’s changing as more restaurants use grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, and organic produce to fit an increasingly health-conscious consumer demand.)  

Despite these and other potential obstacles, with a little savvy, you can still dine out healthy. Neither the Core or Advanced MaxLiving Nutrition Plans count calories or assign rigid portion sizes. Instead, we want you to focus on consuming a variety of healthy fats and organic meats and vegetables until you are full.

Many restaurants serve foods that fit perfectly with these plans. You can minimize problem foods including damaged oils, refined grains, and sugars by asking questions and telling your server what you are trying to avoid.

16 Tips for Healthy Restaurant Dining

We want to empower you with all the tools you need for eating out successfully. With these 16 principles, you can effortlessly incorporate the MaxLiving Nutrition Plans into your restaurant dining.

1. Ask questions before you order. Ask your server whether a dish contains food sensitivities or problematic ingredients along with any other concerns you might have. Knowing before you order saves you the awkwardness and hassle of sending back an entree.

2. Order grass-fed, organic, and wild. More restaurants are offering better-quality, healthier foods. Look for wild-caught meats, organic free-range poultry, and wild-caught seafood. These are selling points, so most menus will mention them. If not, ask your server; if they carry conventionally raised meats like grain-fed meat. If not, consider a vegetarian meal instead.

3. Design your own salad. If you don’t have an optimal meat option, consider a big salad as your entree. Custom-make one with healthy ingredients like grilled onions and peppers, broccoli, artichokes, and black beans. Darker lettuces like kale or spinach are more nutrient-dense than romaine and especially iceberg lettuce.

4. Avoid damaged oils. Many vegetable oils – including corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil – are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Research shows on average we eat 20 times more of these inflammatory oils compared with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, increasing our risk of disease including obesity. When restaurants reuse these inferior oils, they can become oxidized or rancid. Ask to have your food cooked in healthy oils like coconut or avocado oils, if available. If not, ask for your food to be cooked in butter.

5. Browse the menu ahead of time. Most restaurants have online menus. Perusing them ahead of time can help you decide what to order and troubleshoot any conflicts that might arise. You can focus instead on your company rather than deciphering the menu once you arrive.

6. Bypass fast food restaurants. Some studies show that unlike more formal dining-out options, fast food places are more likely to result in being overweight or obese. More fast food places offer the illusion of healthier choices, but these foods often use damaged oils and other poor-quality ingredients.

7. Swap it out. Most restaurants allow substitutions, and you can modify almost any dish. Let’s say you order a grass-fed steak that comes with asparagus and a baked potato. Substitute the baked potato for a second vegetable or maybe some sliced avocado. You can do the same thing with rice, pasta, and grains.

8. Have a salad for your appetizer. Simple is better with salads. Dark-green lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables should be your starter-salad foundation. Don’t ruin it with the dressing: Restaurant salad dressings are often loaded with damaged oils, sugars, salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and other additives. Instead, bring your own dressing or ask for extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar or lemon slices.

9. Don’t even let the breadbasket go down. Even someone with massive restraint can become lured by hot, crusty baguette. If someone at your table insists on eating it, ask them to take a piece and then have your waiter remove the basket. If you need something to munch on while waiting for your salad, ask for some olives, sliced avocado, or guacamole with raw veggies.

10. Avoid soups. What could be a better start than a bowl of vegetable soup? Unfortunately, restaurant soups are notorious for hiding harmful ingredients like MSG, excess table salt, and hydrogenated oils. Far from the homemade batches your grandma made, most restaurant soups come in large bags, are pre-made at a vendor facility, are shipped for hundreds of miles, and are loaded with additives and preservatives to make it last.

11. Ask for sauce on the side. Many sauces drench food with sugar, gluten and other food sensitivities, and other harmful ingredients. If you can, don’t use them at all, since sauces are hiding places for things you shouldn’t be eating. Instead, use butter, olive oil, or squeeze lemon over your meal if you need some flavor. However, you’ll probably find a good steak or fish can stand on its own without sauces.

12. Avoid fried foods. Fried is oftentimes codeword for battered, breaded, or something you don’t want your food-encrusted in. Meat and seafood are common offenders, but even vegetables can be breaded or fried. Instead, ask for grilled or broiled meats and fish and specify sauteed vegetables.

13. Order bottled water or bring your own. Most water comes right from the faucet, unfiltered with all the impurities that tap water can carry. If the restaurant allows, bring your own bottled water. If not, splurge on a nice bottle of sparkling or mineral water.

14. Order kids’ food on the adult menu. Most children’s menus are packed with breaded, fried junk foods full of preservatives and ingredients you don’t want for your little ones. Opt instead for an adult entree and have them share it or take some home.

15. Ask for a doggie bag. Studies show when someone serves you more food than you need, you eat more than you should. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize increased portions and can’t always rely on satiety signals to indicate they should put their fork down. Just because a restaurant serves it doesn’t mean you need to eat it all. Instead, save half of your entree for lunch the next day or share an entree.

16. Fill up before you get to dessert. Focusing on healthy dinner options means you’re less likely to succumb to sugary concoctions at the end. If you must have dessert, consider a bowl of fresh berries.

Healthy Meal Options on the Maxliving Nutrition Plans

These sample meals show how simple using the MaxLiving Core and Advanced Nutrition Plans can be while eating out.

Start with a salad preferably of kale, sliced tomatoes, and cucumber drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar (starter).

Then choose one of the following:

  • Grass-fed filet with sauteed spinach and Brussels sprouts

  • Organic free-range poultry and a non-starchy vegetable like broccoli drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar

  • Wild-caught salmon with steamed cauliflower and green beans

As you become accustomed to the Core or Advanced Nutrition Plans, keep a list of foods to eat and avoid nearby. Peruse it before you eat out, and keep it nearby when your order in restaurants. Once you get the hang of it, you can eat out nearly anywhere with ease while maintaining optimal health.

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