3 Simple Rules to Eating Healthy While Dining Out

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Even though most restaurants are now including calorie counts on their menu, those figures can be deceiving, especially when your dietary restrictions are less about calories and more about reducing sodium intake, limiting cholesterol and balancing fat, carbohydrates and protein.

While some foods may be low in calories, those calories may be primarily coming from ingredients that directly contradict your dietary needs. But don't let the lack of a comprehensive nutritional guide of the menu prohibit you from dining out, simply choose to dine out wisely

Let's look at three rules that will help you stay on track while enjoying an evening out: 

1) Seek out simple dishes. While dining out doesn't mean you have to always order the most boring thing on the menu, seeking simple dishes and making good decisions on what makes the final order is important. As a general rule of thumb, the simpler dishes have less ingredients, thus less room for restaurants to sneak in preservatives and sugar.

A good option is always a salad - but even salads can pile up the calories and end up being less healthy than other options. Look for basic salads and request dressing, cheese, etc on the side so you can control your portions. And if you choose to add a protein, make sure it's grilled!

2) Avoid sugary drinks. While having a fountain drink every now and again is not necessarily a bad thing, combining unlimited refills and a server seeking a solid tip is never a good combination. Before you finish, you may have ended up consuming 500+ calories and well over 100 grams of sugar ... even if you never touched your food!

Sticking with water is an easy way to avoid drinking your calories. If you feel like you need something more, order a club soda (bubbly water) or an iced tea (unsweetened) - both are devoid of unnecessary calories and may satiate your desire, just steer clear of artificial sweeteners and be aware that most iced tea has caffeine. 

3) Steer clear of pasta. While many restaurants these days offer pasta dishes that could feed a family of five, avoid the urge to order unless that is precisely what you intend to do. A single order of pasta from some of the major chains will supply nearly two days' worth of your daily recommended sodium intake, and north of 200 grams of carbohydrates! This is a dangerous combination, especially for aging family members who should be cautious about sodium and empty carb intake.   

Even though having them split the entree and taking a portion of it home for tomorrow's lunch (and maybe dinner too!) is tempting, you're still going to be eating a nutritional gut bomb that will force your body to retain water, add extra stress on your digestive system and likely make you feel sluggish for a period of time as your process. 

Keep these rules in mind as you dine out and you will feel much better about it tomorrow, both physically and mentally.

And even though we didn't include "avoid dessert" on the list (because we all know you need to indulge every now and again!), do your best to limit your sweet tooth to one or two bites. This should satisfy your cravings but not derail your nutritional journey altogether!

Life appears more difficult when we focus on the prohibiting nature of "rules", so focus your mental energy on choosing to do what's best for your health vs adhering to a strict set of guidelines. Daily taking care of your self then produces a recurring sense of accomplishment!