Your Menu for Heart-Smart Dining Out

Just because you're trying to eat right doesn't mean you can't eat out. Follow this guide for making heart-smart selections you can savor.

Heart Smart Dining

Eating smart at home? It’s a challenge, but you can do it once you’ve stocked your kitchen with heart-smart foods. Going out to eat? That’s a whole different story. Suddenly, you’re tempted by Alfredo and au gratin. You rationalize deep-fried broccoli as a nutritious appetizer. And that dessert tray calls each time it passes your table. But you can navigate these nutritional minefields and enjoy a meal that you don’t have to cook or clean up. Here are a few tips to keep you on the right path for heart health.

Before You Even Leave the House…

Preview the menu.

Stop by your favorite restaurants as well as others you’d like to try and request copies of their menus. Or check the Internet—many restaurants post menus on their Web sites and also list the nutrition facts. Choosing your meal ahead of time may reduce the chances that you’ll succumb to the sight and scent of less-optimal choices.

Save room in your budget.

Make wise food choices for the rest of the day and you may have some discretionary calories (100 to 300 for most people) left to splurge on luxuries like a sweet baked good or a glass of wine.

When Ordering…

Go first.

That way, you may not be swayed by others’ choices.

Be nosy.

Go ahead and ask your server questions about items on the menu—preparation, portion sizes, and so on. You may even want to make a special request—like combining pasta with steamed vegetables—for a more nutritious choice.

Be smart with beverages.

Better choices include water (ask for a slice of lemon, lime, or orange to add zip), fat-free or low-fat milk, calorie-free carbonated beverages, and unsweetened tea. For a change or pace, order sparkling water with a maraschino cherry.

Start with a salad.

Try to pick a selection packed with veggies. Of course, ask for the low-fat dressing “on the side.”

Veg out.

Maximize your vegetables by choosing dishes such as stir-fries or kebabs. It’s also smart to select vegetables (and fruits and legumes) that contain folate. Clinical studies are under way to determine folic acid’s role in heart health—it may help keep your cardiovascular system going strong. Good sources of folate include lentils, asparagus, spinach, and garbanzo beans.

Favor fish.

If you can’t make up your mind, order fish for a smart choice. Some research shows that consumption of two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, EPA and DHA, may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet. Best omega-3 choices: salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

Make a soy selection.

Eating 25 grams of soy protein per day as part of a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Sound like a lot of soy? The Food and Drug Administration suggests dividing it into four servings a day—and soy is everywhere if you just search a little. Look for soymilk, soy burgers, soy nuts, soy yogurt…and soy many more choices.

Choose your method.

Order steamed, grilled, baked, blackened, or broiled food. Limit foods that are fried or sautéed.

Skip or substitute the extras.

Help keep calories and fat under control by limiting the extras. Do you really need a second helping, extra gravy, or whole-milk sour cream? Instead, ask for—and stick to—one serving, small portions of gravy, and low-fat sour cream.

Keep portions in check.

You may want to order an appetizer or side dish as your main meal. If you order a full entrée, share it with a friend or immediately set aside half to be taken home.

Enjoying Your Meal…

Bread and butter makeover.

Go for breads made with whole grain—they can help keep your heart healthy. Keep fats “healthy” by asking for olive oil instead of butter—and limit the amount you use.

Take your time.

Eat a portion of your meal, then lay down your fork and wait 10 minutes or so before taking another bite. This technique lets you savor the entire dining experience—the food and the conversation. And at the end of 10 minutes, you may find you’re not hungry anymore.

The Finish Line…

Distract yourself with a drink.

Enjoy a cup of coffee or hot tea. It gives closure to the meal, and you have something to do with your hands if someone else is eating dessert. 

Go fruity.

Perhaps that craving for something sweet can be satisfied with fresh fruit. Or order fruit ice or sorbet, which usually comes as a small serving.

Indulge a little.

If you feel the need to treat yourself, split the dessert with at least one other person. There’s room for all foods in your diet—moderation is the key.

Life in the Fast Lane.

Nutritious choices at fast-food restaurants are growing—salads, wraps, and fruit parfaits. But first do a little research on these options: Some salads and wraps include fried meats or dressings with extra calories. Instead, choose a low-fat dressing and take you meat grilled—not fried. When you have a hankering for a burger, order the smallest one on the menu. Dress it up with lettuce, tomato, and dollops of ketchup and mustard. Skip the cheese and special sauce.