Eating Healthy While Dining Out

Can You Eat Out Healthily When Trying to Lower Cholesterol?

A healthy salad with shrimp.
A healthy salad with shrimp. vanillaechoes/Getty Images

Eating healthy when following a cholesterol-lowering diet can be hard - especially when you're eating out at a restaurant.

The backbone of any plan to lower LDL levels, or the "bad cholesterol," is a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber (from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains) with some healthy fats (such as from olive oil, nuts and oily fish). While cooking that way can be a difficult adjustment, eating out poses a different set of challenges.

When you're at a restaurant you have less control over how the dishes are prepared. However, by following a few simple guidelines, you can stay on a heart-healthy diet, even while eating out.

Decoding the Menu: Words to Avoid

Many restaurants print dietary information on their menus, which makes it easier to choose a healthy meal. Even without such clues, however, it is possible to decode menu descriptions as part of your effort to lower cholesterol.

Steer clear of breaded, battered or fried foods; they are very high in fat. Saturated fat and trans fat, in particular, raise the total cholesterol and LDL ("bad cholesterol") levels in the blood, contributing to plaque formation and, potentially, heart attack or stroke. Moreover, trans fats lower the levels of HDL ("good cholesterol") in the blood.

In restaurant menus, fried foods may be described as:

  • fried, deep-fried or batter-fried
  • pan-fried
  • crispy
  • golden

Avoid these dishes, since they're likely to contain high levels of saturated and/or trans fat.

Decoding the Menu: Words to Choose

Instead, choose dishes that are described as:

  • broiled or baked
  • braised
  • poached or steamed
  • roasted
  • barbecued
  • lightly sautéed or stir fried
  • garden fresh

Steer Clear of Creamy

Avoid items that contain significant amounts of cheese or cream.

If a dish comes with a sauce consisting mostly of butter, cream, oil or other fats, ask that the sauce be served on the side. Dip the tines of your fork into the sauce before each bite: This will flavor the food, rather than smothering it in unwanted fat and calories.

Go for Fish

Fish, which is naturally low in saturated fat, can make an excellent main course, as long as it is not battered or fried.

Make Smart Meat, Poultry and Egg Choices

When ordering meat, choose leaner cuts, such as beef filet, over fattier cuts, like prime rib. Smoked or cured meats, such as salami, ham, hot dogs and bacon, are also high in fat and salt, the latter of which is an important consideration for individuals watching their blood pressure.

Order skinless poultry, such as chicken or turkey, or simply remove the skin from the meat before eating it. Most of the fat in chicken and similar birds comes from the skin. White meat, like chicken breast, is lower in fat than dark meat, like chicken thighs or drumsticks.

If you are ordering eggs, ask that your dish be prepared with all egg whites or egg substitute. Although egg whites are an excellent source of protein, egg yolks are high in saturated fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels.

Fill Up on Fruits and Vegetables

Rather than filling up on meat, try to make fruits and vegetables the centerpiece of your meal. When choosing starches, such as potatoes, pasta, beans or bread, look for those that are high in fiber. Remember, the less processed and more whole version usually has more fiber. So beans and potatoes (with the skin on) will have more fiber than pasta and bread, generally.

More Tips

Most fast food is very high in fat and salt. The best choices at fast-food restaurants tend to be salads, grilled chicken sandwiches or roast beef sandwiches.

  • If ordering a salad, request the dressing on the side, and choose a light vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing.
  • Request mustard rather than mayonnaise, and specify that your sandwich or salad should be served without cheese.

At a buffet, survey all the meal possibilities and then fill your plate with the healthiest options. Try to fill up on simply prepared dishes, vegetables, fruit, and other high-fiber foods.

For dessert, fruit, sorbet or a nonfat cappuccino are all good options. If you crave a decadent dessert, you may want to share with a friend so you can both indulge without going overboard.

By making these smart choices, you can enjoy eating out and still stick to a healthy diet.

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