Dining Out? Choose smart for your heart

Heart-healthy eating is usually easier to do in your own kitchen, where you control the ingredients, cooking methods and portions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a relaxing restaurant meal now and then. The trick is to choose wisely.

Many restaurants today make it easy, adding better options to their menus. You may find a surprising variety of healthy places to eat near you.

Order up! 6 strategies for choosing heart-healthy foods

Next time you head out to a restaurant with family or friends, bring your appetite—and a plan:

  1. Focus on lighter fare. Skip foods fried in oil or butter—or smothered in rich, heavy sauces. That’s likely to be anything described on the menu as fried, deep-fried, au gratin, creamed, buttered, crispy or stuffed. Instead, look for foods that hint at healthier methods, like steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted dishes.
  2. Chat up your waiter. Don’t be shy about asking your server questions. If the menu doesn’t say, you can always find out more about how a dish is prepared or what’s in it.
  3. Make a special request. Find something on the menu that you’d love to try—minus the rich dressing, gravy or topping? Just ask that those ingredients be left out or served on the side. If you ask, many restaurants will also let you make healthy substitutions, such as:
    – Whole-wheat instead of white bread
    – Skinless chicken instead of fattier meats
    – Extra veggies or tofu instead of meat
    – Olive, canola or another vegetable oil instead of butter
  4. Watch for signs. At some restaurants, the menu may have a special section for light or vegetarian dishes. Or it may flag healthy choices with a special symbol. Many menus list nutrition information too. This makes it easy to compare dishes if you’re watching your sodium or fat, for example.
  5. Downsize your plate. Many restaurants pride themselves on huge portions. And while it may seem like a good deal, it’s not a bargain if you end up eating too many calories. So stick with a small lunch- or appetizer-sized portion of your favorite entrée. Or ask for an extra plate, and split a dish with a friend.
  6. Be wise about beverages. Sweetened drinks are often loaded with empty calories. Instead, try a cold glass of water with lemon, plain tea or fat-free milk.

Watching your blood pressure?

Find out why these five foods are bad news.