How exciting is it to be eating out again, it really feels like such a novelty!
Whether it’s posh nosh or a quick sandwich lunch, eating out is no doubt a great way to catch up with friends and family as well as being a satisfying experience for food lovers. However, no matter how healthy you are at home, it can be hard to stay on track when going out for food, saying that it is possible to eat out and not fall off the health wagon completely.
Here, nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly and owner of Nutrition by Laurann, guides us through her top tips and tricks so you can eat out, have fun and enjoy good food without the guilt.
1) Don’t arrive starving: Have a small, healthy snack like a low-fat yoghurt and some fruit if you’re really hungry an hour or two before your meal so that you’re not tempted to overeat.
2) Avoid The Pre-Meal Nibbles: Whilst many of us save our appetite for our big meal out, arriving hungry very often leads to filling up on the pre-meal nibbles which can easily increase the calories. These could include prawn crackers and bread baskets. You can enjoy a few olives before your meal but try not to over-indulge.
3) Fill Up On Low Fat Foods First: If you’re having a starter opt for something light like a salad. That way you won’t end up overeating or over full when it comes to eating your main meal.
3) Ask For Changes: Don’t be afraid to ask for little changes to the meal. Ask for sauces and dressing on the side, vegetables to be served without butter, or salad or extra vegetables instead of chips. Rest assured as most restaurants are used to this.
4) Watch the fats: Whilst fat can add great flavour to foods it can also rank up the calories if we’re trying to eat reasonably healthy and watch the waistline. Tip 1: Choose lean meats and poultry with the skin removed. Tip 2: Avoid the fried foods.
5) Eat slowly: I’m sure we’ve all experienced eating our food too quickly and the indigestion that comes afterwards, that’s because eating slowly and chewing your food properly is extremely important for us to digest our foods effectively. Tip: Take your time, enjoy your meal and savour your food as this also gives your body time to give you the signal that you are satisfied.
6) Avoid eating past your capacity: It’s important to remember that you don’t have to clean your plate. One of the benefits of eating slowly is that it gives your body enough time to register that you’re full. Tip: It may be hard not to finish a delicious meal but remember that it’s okay to leave some food on your plate. You can always take the rest home in a doggy bag if you don’t want to leave it behind.
7) Learn How To Choose The Healthy Options: Most menus in restaurants have a healthy option section, however when this isn’t so obvious, there are also little tricks to use and things to look out for.
Your Guide to Sandwiches & Salads
- Choose Your Carbohydrate: For sandwiches opt for wholegrain bread, pittas or wraps For salads some healthy options include wholegrain rice/pasta, couscous and quinoa. As wholegrain foods are higher in fibre, they keep you full for longer and are better for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
- Include A Lean Protein: Protein is important for repair so include options such as lean beef, fish (such as tuna or salmon), chicken or turkey breast without skin
- Non-Meat Protein Options: For those who don’t eat meat, healthy protein options include eggs, Quorn slices, tofu, peas, beans and lentils.
- Squeeze in Some Calcium: Cheese is a great source of calcium so choosing low-fat cheese or cottage cheese is a great addition
- Healthy Sauces & Dressings: Sauces can really increase the calories when it comes to sandwiches and wraps so opt for healthy relishes, low-fat spread, low-fat mayonnaise, reduced sugar ketchup and reduced sugar/low fat salad dressings where possible.
- Squeeze In The Veggies: As I always say, “every meal is an opportunity to nourish” and your sandwiches and salads are a great way of squeezing in extra nutrition. Whether it’s tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach and kale or squeezing in some fermented carrots and cabbage to give your gut a little boost. Use this opportunity to fit in those very important vitamins and minerals.
- Healthy Fats: It’s also important to include some fats in our diet to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Sources include extra virgin olive oil, nut oils, nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocado.
Your Guide To Main Meals
- Assess How It’s Cooked: The way a food is cooked can hugely affect the calorie content of the meal. Where possible opt for foods that are grilled, baked, poached or steamed and try to avoid foods that are deep fried. Stir-fried dishes are also a healthier option than deep fried dishes too and can often be packed with delicious veggies. Tip: You can easily narrow down the healthiest option on the menu by scanning it for the healthiest cooking method. If in doubt you can always ask how it’s prepared.
- Choosing Carbohydrate Sides: Whilst it may be tempting to get chips or fried rice on the side, they’re often deep fried or cooked in a large amount of fat and again can quickly increase the calorie content of the dish. Healthier alternatives would be boiled rice, wholegrain pasta (where available), noodles or potatoes (once they’re not cooked with cream or butter).
- Veggie Sides: Just like our sandwiches above, it’s always great to squeeze in our vegetables when given side dish options. You can also opt for all out delicious hot or cold salad options with a nutritious protein and healthy fat option (see salad section above)
- Watch The Salt: Many of us out of habit automatically reach for the salt to season our foods as soon as it’s served to us in restaurants, however most food will already have been seasoned in the kitchen. Tip: Why not taste your food first and see if it needs additional seasoning, you may be surprised. For those with high blood pressure or heart related conditions maybe try a little black pepper instead.
- Portion Sizes: When eating out it’s particularly important to be mindful of our portion sizes as many can be extremely generous with the amount of food that they serve us. Tip: Remember the trick of using your hands as a visual aid: The palm of your hand = 1 Portion of protein (1/4 of your plate), 1 Fist = 1 Portion of carbohydrates (1/4 of your plate) and 2 Fists = 2 Portions of vegetables (1/2 of your plate)
- Avoid The Batter: Foods covered in batter, commonly chicken, pork and prawns usually deep fat fried in cheaper vegetable fats. It also includes deep-fried parcels such as spring rolls and wontons. Not alone does this increase the calorie content of your meal but the cheaper vegetable fats are often high in ‘trans-fat’ which has been proven to be bad for our heart.
- Sauces Beware: Whilst sauces may seem innocent, they can also hide additional calories, these include nut-based sauces such as satay, those that contain coconut milk (very commonly used in Asian dishes) as well as sauces rich in cream and cheese. Tip: If in doubt, ask for the sauce on the side.
Your Guide To Desserts
Before deciding on a dessert, it’s always a good idea to allow some time for your meal to digest fully. You can then decide if you’re full and if you need the dessert. If you are, there are some healthy suggestions.
- You’re Sweet Enough: As we’re well aware many of the desserts will contain a huge amount of sugar. This will not only ramp up the calories but can cause our blood sugar levels to spike and crash, this definitely not where you want to be after a satisfying meal. However, there are some healthier alternatives which include.
1) Fruit: This may not seem hugely exciting, but fresh fruit can provide you with the bit of sweetness you crave as they contain natural fruit sugars. A fruit dessert such as a fruit salad can also be a healthy alternative.
2) Frozen Yogurt: You may be surprised at how tasty frozen yogurt or ‘fro-yo’ is. It’s also a far healthier alternative to ice-cream.
3) Sorbet: Cooling and often lower in fat and sugar this can be a great option.
4) Share: If you really want that dessert and a bit of a treat, why not get an extra spoon and share it.
Your Guide To Drinks
Beware of Liquid Calories: So, we’ve gone through how to choose healthy food options but it’s important to be aware of the amount of energy in soft drinks and alcohol, this unfortunately is where the hidden or ‘liquid calories’ sneak in.
- Low Sugar Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Swapping a full sugar soft drink to a diet version is a positive step forward, swapping this again to water/sparkling water (add a dash of lime or cordial if you wish) is a double step forward.
There are also non-alcoholic beer and spirit alternatives out there too such as Erdinger and Heineken 0% or for those who prefer the taste of gin Silk Tree Botanics distilled alcohol-free gin mixed with a slimline tonic is a great option, but you can always ask what the restaurant has in stock.
- Alcoholic Drinks: These can contain huge amounts of 'liquid calories’ particularly beers and ciders but the calorie content of other alcoholic drinks such as whiskey, wine, vodka and gin can add up too.
Tip 1: Add reduced sugar or diet mixers.
Tip 2: Make spritzer with a little sparkling water or diet soda and of course have fun but please drink responsibly.
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