I always advocate preparing your own meals whenever you can. Making your own meals saves you time and money, plus you know exactly what goes into everything you prepare.
Today when you take a trip, you have to take real food with you. It’s not your fault that you can’t find real food in the average American town. The food industry conspires to keep real food off the shelves. Why? It’s simply not as profitable to sell vegetables, fruits, and nuts as it is to sell Twinkies, candy bars, and chips.
While numerous culprits – namely, the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) into the food supply – contribute to our obesity epidemic, so too do increased portion sizes and eating more than half our meals in restaurants, on the go, and at fast-food restaurants.
Especially around the holidays, you’ll probably attend numerous luncheons, dinner parties, and other social events that restaurants will cater. If you’re traveling, you will probably also eat out at sometimes less-than-stellar choices. Dining out can be a pleasurable experience and a welcome deviation from cooking, but you want to be especially prepared during these situations.
Even if you choose farm-to-table restaurants or fine dining, you can never know exactly what will go into your food. Gluten and other food sensitivities as well as inflammatory vegetable oils are among the many problem ingredients you’ll face in restaurants.
You needn’t abandon logic when you eat out. Keeping a few core principles in mind and remaining flexible will allow you to eat well in any occasion.
- Be very clear about your needs. Asking your server questions before you order can save confusion and frustration once your entrée arrives. Most restaurants are set up to accommodate food sensitivities and special requests, so don’t let the menu dictate what you order.
- Choose the restaurant when you can. Research your options online and suggest a few options to your party. Most people are happy when someone else makes the decision, and choosing puts you in the driver’s seat to find healthy options. Most places have online menus. Look for those with high-quality foods like grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and organic produce.
- Request a “crudités platter,” fresh fruit, or olives as a starter or appetizer instead of the breadbasket. Bread and alcohol at the beginning of a meal increase your hunger and alcohol decreases your inhibitions, making it more likely you’ll make a play for the cheesecake.
- Drink water before your meals. Water helps curb your appetite.
- Be very specific about gluten and dairy intolerances. These two slip into even innocuous-sounding dishes. Again, always ask your servers. More restaurants now offer gluten-free menus.
- Make it simple. Ask for a grilled fish or chicken dish with a large plate of vegetables steamed in olive oil. Anything glazed, breaded, or otherwise comes drowning in sugary sauce is a red flag to stay away.
- Careful with the dressings. Dumping sugary, creamy dressing becomes a surefire way to ruin a perfectly healthy salad. Ask for olive oil and vinegar.
- Double up. If your wild-caught salmon comes with asparagus and couscous, simply substitute another green vegetable for the starch.
- Stop when you’re 80 percent full. The Okinawans are among the longest-lived people on the planet. They have a simple saying: “harihachibu,” or 80 percent full. You’ll be pleasantly satisfied and you might even bring another meal home.
- Ask for berries for dessert. Berries provide sweetness without the sugar overload. While everyone else dives into some 2,000-calorie dessert monstrosity, you can enjoy your nutrient-rich berries guilt-free.
- Discover some “slow food ” restaurants. These restaurants, where the atmosphere and ambience are soothing to your senses, are popping up more and more in big but also smaller cities. Many use the highest-quality farm-to-table ingredients. Our eating environment influences how much we end up eating. Slowing down and savoring your food helps you better enjoy your meals and also helps you eat less.
- Enjoy ethnic cuisine. Those include Indian, Japanese, Thai, Mediterranean (Italian, Greek, and Spanish), and Middle Eastern. You will reap different nutritional benefits from traditional ingredients such as lemongrass in Thai dishes, sea vegetables in Japanese dishes, curry in Indian dishes, and great greens such as escarole and broccoli rabe in Mediterranean dishes.
Eating out often leads to eating too much, and too much of the wrong things. But as awareness grows and the needs of health-conscious diners are met, menu options are changing and nutritionally intelligent choices are now available. Even some chain restaurants now offer healthy options.
Every voice counts, so speak up and let your favorite restaurants know you want organic produce, high-quality oils, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed beef.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD.