Restaurant Dining: A Hit to Your Health and Wallet

Couple DiningMy spouse and I are health conscious because I am a dietitian and not a hypocrite, and his life depends upon it.  We regularly visit an area of southwest Michigan, and recently had breakfast at a local diner with great TripAdvisor reviews.  Unfortunately, we did not agree with the great reviews on TripAdvisor.  The menu was limited, but I will be the first to state that this is not necessarily a bad thing because the focus may end up being on quality, rather than an abundance of mediocre dishes.  The good news here was the staff was more than happy to substitute egg whites for whole eggs, but that is probably where the positive aspects of the meal ended.

Now the bad news:  the nice multi-grain bread was already buttered on the bottom of the toast (so did not realize it until it was eaten), the portions were huge (I know many people want large portions for the money being doled out), and I saw no fruit options on the menu.  Other bad news: the bill was $30.00 for what we could have made at home for probably a dollar at most, and made it a lot healthier in a short amount of time.  This is, in fact, the key issue with dining out on a regular basis.

When my clients dine out on a regular basis, this is what I tell them to expect:

More Fat.  If you make the same food at home, you can control the fat in the dish with very simple recipe tweaking.  Restaurants don’t typically care about the fat content in their meals because fat carries flavor and texture in food and of course, they want you to return for another meal! You can bank on eating more calories than you anticipated due to the higher fat content, and you can also assume that it will be more difficult to meet your weight loss goals.

More Calories.  And, let’s not forget the simple concept that larger portions, when eaten, yield more calories.  Unless you can exercise a lot of self-discipline while dining out, you will most likely eat your whole meal.  If you can consistently ask for healthy substitutions such as fruit for fries, you are on the right track.  Also, you need to get in the habit of bringing at least half of your meal home. And who doesn’t want that yummy appetizer, dessert, or cocktail while dining out?  It is probably safe to say that if you are eating at home vs. dining out, you probably are not having an appetizer, cocktail, and dessert with your main meal!

More Sodium.  If you are fortunate to find a nice restaurant meal low in fat and overall calories, the sodium is probably lurking.  I have yet to see a healthy restaurant meal that is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium.  If you think the sodium content does not matter because your blood pressure is fine, you need to think again.   High sodium intakes cause other health problems such as bone loss and are correlated with increased cancer risk.  And, if you hop on the scale the next day, you can credit that weight gain of several pounds to fluid retention from all that salt you ate.

More Money.  As my husband made a lower sodium chili on Sunday, he proudly pointed out to me that the entire pot of chili probably cost less than a few dollars.  Had a bowl of chili been purchased at a full service restaurant, it would have been at least $6.00 dollars.  He also used only half a packet of low sodium chili powder and added additional beans, and veggies creating a lower sodium, but healthier higher fiber dish.

So, while eating out is social and recreational for many, having the mentality that it should be a treat for special occasions rather than your regular diet, can keep you healthier, slim you down, and fatten your wallet.  In fact, it is a win-win way to eat.

Checking out online menus and nutrition information is key to healthier dining options.

Do you have any strategies for managing your calories, fat, and sodium while dining out?

 

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