Six easy tips for dining out well (and meeting the Dietary Guidelines)

The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines were unveiled earlier this week. Basically, we Americans eat too much and move too little. And, on top of that, we eat too much processed (think: peeling open a foil package) and too little whole (think: peeling an orange) foods. So while there weren’t any surprises, there were a few welcome changes, such as eat more fish and seafood and specific recommendations for pregnant women.

My top 4 take-away messages from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Fresh fish sushi rolls help you meet Dietary Guidelines

  • Enjoy food, but eat less of it
  • “Produce up” half the plate
  • Eat more fish/seafood
  • Focus diet on whole foods (versus processed) foods

So now, you may be wondering… Okay, great, new guidelines. Is that yet another thing I am supposed to consider when choosing food?

Or, maybe you’re thinking… How am I supposed to FIT MORE FOOD RULES INTO MY ALREADY-BUSY LIFESTYLE?

Then, I did an interview for a piece on Celebrate Chinese Year with a Bang: Tips for making healthy choices when ordering take out for NBC Washington this week, which got me thinking about how the Guidelines can come in useful during one of our favorite pastimes–eating out at restaurants. Here are some ways I’m going to order better and eat well while incorporating the new Guidelines.

Six easy tips for dining out well with the new Guidelines

  1. Start with soup. Studies have found that eating a cup of soup before a meal helps you eat fewer calories in one sitting. Researchers aren’t sure why, but think it has to do with the warmth of the soup. But, stick to tomato- or broth-based veggie soups (which tend to have fewer calories and fat than cream-based soups.) And order the cup–not the bowl–as a starter, to control sodium.
    TRY THIS: Eat a cup of garden vegetable or lentil soup before your meal.
  2. Order  fish. The new Guidelines are big on adding fish and seafood to your diet. The reason? If we’re eating more fish, we’re likely eating less high-saturated fat and high-cholesterol protein sources (like beef or pork). Fatty fish (like salmon, herring, lake trout, sarding) is a great source of omega-3 fats, which help to prevent heart disease. Leaner fish (like tilapia, cod) contains less omega-3 fats, but are still a great lean source of protein. Avoid breaded or fried fish; the cooking processes negate the healthful benefits of fish.
    TRY THIS: Order grilled salmon, drizzle with a little lemon juice and top with a fruit salsa or diced fruit.
  3. Hold the cheese, mayo, butter and other high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium additions. Cheese is a great source of protein, but can rack up the calories quickly if you’re eating it on top of an already high-calorie, high-fat and high-sodium entree or sandwich. Plus, cheese, mayo, butter and sauces tend to be high in sodium. (The Guidelines advise us to consume less sodium every day.) Bottom line… If you’re ordering a meat- or poultry-based entree, hold the cheese, mayo and sauce. If your source of protein at that meal is cheese, opt for low-fat or nonfat cheese and still hold the mayo and sauces. This also helps reduce sodium.
    TRY THIS: Ask for avocado instead of full-fat mayonnaise and spread the avocado on your bread.
  4. Add a side salad, steamed veggies or cup of fruit. The Guidelines advise making half your plate fruits and vegetables. While I’m all for this, even just ordering an extra dish of veggies or fruit will “up” our antioxidant, vitamin, mineral (think: potassium) and fiber intake. Fiber helps keep us feeling fuller longer (which may help us eat less). And, potassium helps counter the SUPER HIGH SODIUM content typically found in restaurant and packaged foods.
    TRY THIS: Nosh a salad full of leafy greens topped with olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice before your meal and finish your meal with a plate of delicious fresh fruit.
  5. Eat smaller portions. Okay, you knew this one was coming. But, Cornell researcher Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, has found over and over again that portion sizes truly dictate how much we eat. The Guidelines explicitly state to avoid oversized portions (which are what we usually get when eating out).
    TRY THIS: Ask for a box when you place your oder. Take your knife and cut your entree in half when the order arrives. Box that portion up for lunch tomorrow. Saves you calories and $$.
  6. Drink water. The Guidelines advise drinking water instead of other beverages. While we can enjoy non-water drinks sometimes, drinking water with your restaurant meals help to keep you hydrated. And since we sometimes mistake thirst for hunger, staying hydrated may also help prevent us from eating when we’re not hungry.
    TRY THIS: Spice up your water with fruit slices (think outside the lemon box and try orange or berries), crushed herbs (like lavender or mint-yum!) or iced herbal tea (like chamomile or passion fruit).

Oh, yeah… and I’ll walk to the restaurant when I can. Walking burns calories, stimulates the metabolism and forces me to enjoy the fresh air.

I’d love to hear from you… How will the 2010 Dietary Guidelines impact your life? What changes will you make to eat less and eat better? Please comment or email me.

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