Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Best Bets for Eating Out

Eating out can be expensive, and is often unhealthy. There is never any way to control all the ingredients of food when eating out – simply because you are not the one selecting food for the meals. Now there are more and more restaurants who serve organic and natural foods. But by and large, most restaurant owners have a bottom line to consider – the cost of running their business. As such, most of the food they purchase for their restaurants will be the variety that is not as high quality as you would choose for meals at home. In fact, much of what you will eat at restaurants contains ingredients that are incredibly unhealthy to eat. The reason for this is that foods which have the longest shelf life will probably be staples in a restaurant for maximization of profits.

One of the things you will absolutely have to give up if you are going to eat a truly healthy diet is fast-food restaurants. Fast-food restaurants are the bottom of the barrel, no matter how much they try to convince you with clever marketing that they have changed many of their menu items to healthier choices. Fast food restaurants are infamous for using fillers, chemicals, hydrogenated oils and altered fats, and unnaturally high does of sugar and carbohydrates.

Many other restaurants serve plenty of fast-food type fare, so choosing menu items for those who are accustomed to eating these types of items may be difficult at first. Do not be fooled by media advertising used by fast-food chains to entice you to eat their food…they use all kinds of buzz words such as “healthy”, “fresh”, and “natural” when in reality, the ingredients they use are probably the worst possible selections you might come across and many of them are processed. Anything processed should be a red flag for health. Many of these foods contain toxic ingredients that can actually cause allergic reactions and a variety of health issues. Here are some unhealthy choices available at restaurants when eating out:
  • Hamburger and hot dog buns (and often the meat inside those buns)
  • Bagels
  • Pita Breads
  • French fries
  • Pasta
  • Focaccia breads
  • Potato chips, tortilla chips (corn and flour)
  • Flour and corn tortillas
  • Tater Tots
  • Many soups - as they can contain hydrogenated oils, damaged fats, flour, and chemicals
  • Meats and/or poultry full of chemicals, steroids, nitrates, or hormones
  • Salad dressings - most dressings are horribly unhealthy, but if you can get olive oil and vinegar you are good to go. It is very common for restaurants to use soybean oil or canola oil in vinagrette dressings.
  • Dairy products
Of course, you don't often know the source of foods you eat in restaurants. Because finding this information out is time consuming and most people don't want to bother, you can avoid overloading your body with more toxins and chemicals than necessary by sticking to the following foods, when possible. Naturally raised meats are harder to come by, but are becoming more and more common:
  • Beef, naturally raised(grass-fed)
  • Potatoes and some rice (brown, basmati, and wild are the best)
  • All Vegetables and fruits, either raw, baked, roasted, sauteed, or steamed - salads or cooked
  • Meatloaf (without bread)
  • Roasted chicken, naturally raised (pasture-raised)
  • Healthy fish
  • Roasted turkey, naturally raised (pasture-raised)
  • Ham, bacon, or pork naturally raised with no nitrates
  • Lamb (grass-fed)
  • Wild game meats
  • Raw Vegetables and cooked vegetables (salads and otherwise)
  • Naturally produced dairy products
  • Salad dressings that are oil and vinegar-based - if in doubt, ask about what type of oil they are using
If you are going to eat out, simply avoiding any fast-food selections at all is your best bet. There are plenty of other choices that are both healthier to consume and taste better.

Best choices at restaurants are always proteins such as meat, fish, and eggs. If meat is organic and grass-fed, that’s a plus. Fish selections that are wild are usually superior to farmed, although in some cases farmed can be acceptable. For a pocket-guide to safe fish choices, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium site. Although not always the case, local and independent establishments tend to use locally-produced foods more than chains. If you eat at a local restaurant, you are much more likely to find local foods on the menu than at restaurants such as Red Robin, Olive Garden, or Johnny Carino’s.

Nearly any type of vegetable besides french fries, hashbrowns, or tater tots is a good choice. Even a baked potato or mashed potatoes are fine in moderation. A good rule of thumb is to try and eat raw vegetables at every meal, but a variety of raw and cooked is good as well. This may seem like a limited selection, but there really are many choices you can make at restaurants that will allow you to stay within your lifestyle goals.

Unless noted (which is rare), most dairy is a bad idea to consume in restaurants because they use the cheapest variety they can find, which means the milk, cream, butter, cheese, sour cream, and other items are pasteurized, low or non-fat, and probably full of antibiotics, steroids, other chemicals, and hormones. The best type of dressing you can get on a salad is oil and vinegar, such as most types of vinaigrette (some may contain undesirable oils such as soybean, cottonseed, or canola; if in doubt, ask). Although some vinaigrettes contain unhealthy oils, Ranch, thousand island, blue cheese, and other similar dressings are also loaded with these oils, processed dairy, sugar, and chemicals that you’ll want to avoid.

A good way to have an impact over what foods restaurants serve where you eat is to make comments to the staff and even talk to the manager or owner. Tell them that you'd like to see healthier choices on their menu and would especially like to have offered healthy, local, and organic choices as well.

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