Dine Out Without Diving Off Your Diet

Driving off the Cliff
When you start to eat healthily, dining out, which was once a bliss-filled, belt-notch-loosening pleasure, becomes a culinary terror.

Servings are Matterhorn-esque in size. Supertankers of soda abound. Fries come with your order whether you want them or not. Nary a veggie can be seen for miles.

We’re here to help.

But please remember that even with our tips, restaurant dining is almost always going to be less healthy than what you can make at home. That said, here are a few pointers:

1. Make smart choices
Almost every menu contains chicken or fish cooked in a healthy way. Look for words like “grilled,” “broiled,” or “steamed,” and avoid “sautéed” and “fried.”

2. Skip the appetizer
By definition, an appetizer is intended to get your appetite going. But when some appetizers contain more than 1,000 calories, that’s not an appetizer—that’s a full meal and more! If you do want an appetizer, ask your table if they’d be willing to split one of the healthier options like a salad, bruschetta, ceviche, or anything that’s light on sauce and heavy on fruits, veggies, or lean protein.

3. Eat a salad
Greens are also a great option, but not all salads are created equal. Stick with salads that don’t contain mayo (in other words, avoid the tuna and chicken salad), and ask for the dressing on the side. This way you can add your tablespoon or two, instead of having your salad drenched in it.

4. Side dishes in your mouth mean sidecars on your thighs
At many restaurants, the “side” is a baked potato, fries, or coleslaw. What does that equal? Unnecessary calories. If you’d like a side, request the salad (dressing on the side), fruit, or steamed veggies, even if you don’t see them as an option.

5. No bread
Don’t eat the bread. Does it taste good? Sure! But instead of eating something because it’s in front of you, swap those empty calories for something you’d actually enjoy.

6. Eat half
Over time, American portion sizes have enlarged to gargantuan sizes. Restaurants often provide you not with one serving of pasta, but with as many as 4 or more. But if you have a hard time not cleaning your plate—after all, the food does taste good—request that the waiter split your order in half before they bring it to the table. That way you can enjoy your dinner as lunch later in the week.

7. No soda
If bread is bad, soda might be worse. That’s because it’s easy to consume massive amounts of calories fast. And don’t even think about going the “diet” route. Those artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy, and they can lead you to crave more sugary substances. Talk about a lose-lose! If you want something other than water, ask for unsweetened iced tea. It’s calorie free, so you can drink as much as you want!

8. Dessert
Really? Really? Granted, some restaurants use restraint, and focus more on unique flavors than on quantity, but if you’re out with friends at the type of place where the dessert has more calories than your meal, and they insist upon ordering it, suggest the table split it. Then take a single bite and put your spoon down. It’s not about denying yourself, but about making smart choices. If you’re still craving something sweet when you get home, enjoy some yogurt and berries or a piece of fruit.

8 Healthy Condiments

Condiments
Rice cakes. Cottage cheese. Melba toast. Diet staples bland enough to send you down to Staples to buy some Styrofoam peanuts to add a little flavor to your eating plan. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, if you really want to move the needle on the scale, you’re going to have to cut out a lot of fat, sugar, and sodium, but that doesn’t mean your new regimen of steaming, blanching, and boiling has to condemn you to a life of bland eating. Many condiments can spice up your cuisine without adding any calories, and in some cases, they can even accelerate your weight loss! Here are eight of our favorites.

1. Ketchup
Until recently, ketchup had been the king of the condiments. Americans have found very few meals that couldn’t be improved by being drenched in tomato-ey goodness. And ketchup has quite a number of healthy properties. Remember when the Reagan administration famously classified it as a vegetable in school lunches? OK, maybe that went too far . . . but it is chock-full of lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants around. The only problem is that most brands are also chock-full of sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sugar, which substantially defrays the health benefits of the tomatoes. But more and more ketchup manufacturers are offering low-salt, low-HFCS brands; and if you can get your hands on them, you can drench your favorite meals with nutritional impunity. Or for the culinarily inclined, you can make your own ketchup and add the amount of sugar and salt that is right for you.

2. Mustard
This sharp paste made from the crushed seeds of the mustard plant comes in colors ranging from yellow to brown and in sharpness ranging from tangy to eye-watering. Mustard has practically no calories or fat to speak of, and even if it did, a little goes a long way. After all, it is one of the only condiments to be weaponized. It is worth checking the labels as some are high in sodium and others can add sugar or oil for flavor and texture, but generally, mustard can be consumed guilt free—as much as your palate can handle. There are lots of gourmet varieties with ingredients like horseradish, white wine, or jalapeños added for extra zest.

3. Salsa
In the last decade or so, salsa has overtaken ketchup as the number-one condiment in America. There are literally thousands of different kinds of salsas, though most contain tomatoes, onions, and peppers as their base. Very low in calories and high in flavor, salsas are a great accent to any dish, but as with all commercially prepared items, attention should be paid to the levels of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s a pretty easy thing to make yourself. A simple pico de gallo can be made by combining diced tomatoes and onions with minced cilantro and jalapeño and marinating those ingredients in lime juice. Make a big bowl on Sunday and have a healthy snack or sauce all week long!

4. Hot sauce I can go through two or three bottles of hot sauce a week. My refrigerator door rattles with tall skinny bottles of the stuff and I have been known to excuse myself from the dinner table in order to towel off my face. While many have said that the high levels of capsaicin (the “burning” component in chili peppers) I consume have deadened my taste buds to subtle flavors, I would argue that the hot sauce has opened my palate wide. I pity those who don’t have the iron stomach to withstand the delights offered by habanero, chipotle, and cayenne peppers. A little bit of hot sauce gives a ton of flavor with practically no calories, and the capsaicin is even believed to boost your metabolism. As always, keeping an eye on the sodium content is advisable.

5. Soy sauce
Needless to say, this isn’t a very good part of a low-sodium diet, but there are low-sodium versions available (although low-sodium soy sauce has through-the-roof levels of sodium compared to most other foods). Some studies have shown that soy sauce contains even more antioxidants than red wine and, as a result of the fermentation process used to make it, high levels of probiotics. It doesn’t have all the health benefits found in other soy products like edamame or tofu, but as a substitute for salt as a seasoning, you get a lot more nutritional bang for your buck.

6. Vinegar
Vinegar comes in many different varieties—malt, wine, rice, cider, sherry, balsamic, and on and on. The word itself comes from the French vin aigre, or “sour wine.” But unlike wine, vinegar has no alcohol and, depending on the variety, very few or zero calories. But it does have plenty of zip and tang. I find that a dash to my favorite soup or a sprinkle on my sandwich or salad adds lots of flavor without adding salt, fat, or sugar. In fact, studies have shown that vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and in one study, a test group of people who drank two tablespoons of vinegar before meals showed more weight loss than the group who didn’t.

7. Yogurt
Yogurt has the most calories and potentially the most fat of any of the condiments on this list. Full-fat yogurt, in fact, can have milkfat levels as high as ice cream. But low-fat and nonfat varieties serve as great substitutes for mayonnaise or a creamy dressing without adding too many calories to your dish. And with high levels of L. acidophilus and other probiotics, yogurt can also be very beneficial to your digestive system. Try mixing some plain nonfat yogurt with your favorite herbs or a little mustard or curry as a salad dressing or dipping sauce. Or try goat’s-milk yogurt for some flavor variety.

8. Curry
In different parts of the world curry can mean almost any number of combinations of savory spices. Besides the powder derived from the curry plant, curry powders and paste can contain many spices, including turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. There are commercially prepared curries from all over the world, from India to Thailand to the Caribbean. Keep an eye out for salt and fat content, and you’ll be on your way to giving your sauces, meats, fish, and vegetables a hit of amazing flavor without adding calories.