A restaurant dining survey performed by the market research group, LivingSocial, found that the average American eats out on 4.8 occasions each week. Nearly half of these respondents described themselves as “meat lovers,” 22 percent said that they had a “sweet tooth,” and 19 percent were self-described “fast food junkies”. With the common tendency that many of us have to overdo it or splurge when it comes to eating, we need to be especially careful when eating in restaurants. While restaurants happily cater to our “guilty pleasures”, they are often less concerned about our waistlines and general health. The following are several “traps” that we can allow ourselves to become ensnared in when eating out.
- Beware the starters. Eating bread or tortilla chips while waiting for your food to arrive can add hundreds of calories to your meal. Sensible options are to ask the server to bring these items after your meal arrives, or take a piece of bread or a handful of chips and ask the waiter to remove them from the table. Don’t forget also that each tablespoon of butter spread on bread adds up to 100 calories.
- Calorie-dense side dishes. French fries or onion rings are often an automatic choice when the server asks for a choice of side dishes. As compared to a baked potato, however, two-ounces of French fries pack a hefty 174 calories while the same amount of baked potato has around 52. A baked potato can be a sensible alternative, but adding sour cream, cheese, or butter can turn this very reasonable side dish into a calorie bomb! Instead of French fries, onion rings, or potatoes smothered in butter or gravy, consider lower fat sides like tossed salad, vegetables, or broth-based soup.
- “Hidden calories” in beverages. Can you imagine eating 8 to 9 teaspoons of sugar? That’s the amount contained in 12 ounces of most soft drinks. When sugar is dissolved in soft drinks, however, it becomes much more palatable, as well as being dangerous to our waistlines. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories, too. The caloric content of most beer is in the 100 to 160 range for 12 ounces. By drinking water, unsweetened tea, or diet beverages these hidden calories can be avoided.
- All salads are not created equally. Salads can be a healthy choice, but those with high fat dressings, fried chicken tenders on top, or cheese and bacon bits can be just as calorie dense as the meal. When eating out always order the dressing on the side. While olive oil/vinegar based dressings do contain fat and calories, they are generally healthier than creamy dressings.
- Portion size out of control. Over the years, the restaurant industry has increased the size of portions to coincide with the increasing American appetite. Just look at the options to “supersize” meals at many fast-food restaurants for just pennies more. One restaurant chain offers a twenty-four ounce steak which is the amount that most dieticians would recommended for six people! Ask the server beforehand about portion size. If possible share an entrée or plan to take some of the meal home for a second meal. And at all costs, avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants that simply encourage gluttony.
- “Meal-killer” desserts. A sensible meal can be turned into a calorie-fest based on what and how much we choose to eat for dessert. Most large desserts contain between 500 and 1,000 calories. Worse yet is the Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory which contains 1,540 calories and 59 grams saturated fat. Usually a post-meal sweet-tooth can be satisfied with a bite or two of a dessert shared among several people. Or, choose a lower calorie option like fresh fruit or a scoop of sorbet.
Everyone splurges from time to time, and an occasional indulgence is nothing to be ashamed of. But with more and more people eating out, along with the calorie-packed dishes that are typical on restaurant menus, it makes sense to be careful about what you order. Calories and weight gain are only part of the concern. The same foods that contribute to waistline expansion often contain higher amounts of sodium and saturated fat, both of which can contribute to heart disease and stroke.