Healthy dining out more than calorie counts

What’s your restaurant personality? Are you dining out to save effort in the home kitchen? Are you driven by a desire to taste something new and fabulous? Research from Health Focus International identifies restaurant types ranging from “health seekers” to “indulgers.” Others known as “second kitchen” dine out often and “socializers” value the experience as much as the food.

Identifying diner distinctions while vital to menu developers is also handy for targeting nutrition tips for healthy dining out. “Personal circumstances and preferences are an important part of finding the right strategy for weight management,” said Gayle Timmerman, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin. Timmerman’s research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education Behavior showed that compared to a control group, the diners who were counseled on strategies to reduce calorie and fat intake when eating out lost significantly more weight. Those strategies are included in a publication, Eating Well While Eating Out, recently made available to registered dietitians by Darden, the parent company of restaurants including Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse.

“Because consumers are eating away from home more than ever before, they need advice and coaching for how to maintain a balanced diet when eating out,” said registered dietitian Cheryl Dolven, director of health and wellness for Darden.

Top tips for taste and health

Health Seekers: Customize salads to include items you really love. Toppings with calories that quickly add up include: cheeses, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and croutons.

Second Kitchen: For breakfast sandwich on-the-go, choose eggs on an English muffin or bagel thin instead of a biscuit or croissant, substitute ham or Canadian bacon for bacon or sausage.

Socializers: Share appetizers, desserts and entrees, which is a great way to avoid excess calories while enjoying a great meal and good company.

Indulgers: Box half of big portions in a takeout container before you begin eating.

Is that really healthy?

Nutrition menu labeling including calorie, fat and sodium content is now required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for chain restaurants. But, registered dietitian Hope Warshaw, author of “Eat Out, Eat Well” said, “Watch out for menus using terms such as fresh, natural, local, sustainable. That’s virtuous but it doesn’t translate to calorie conscious.” Her book, published by the American Diabetes Association, shares skills for finding healthy menu choices in any restaurant.

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