Strategize Restaurant Menus and Cuisines for Your Metabolism-Boosting Diet

You can stick to your metabolism-boosting diet when eating out. You just need a strategy. Whether you’re taking a look before you go online or you’re opening up the menu as you sit down at the table, knowing the low-down on restaurant lingo can make all the difference when making healthy choices.

Depending on where you’re dining, you face unique challenges with the options available — from freebies on the table to accompanying cocktails to specific dishes.

When dealing with the freebies at restaurants such as bread or tortilla chips on the table, weigh your options:

  • If you want bread or chips, take one serving from the main basket to your side plate. Make a concession elsewhere in the meal such as skipping an alcoholic drink, dessert, or starchy side (like pasta, potatoes, or additional bread with your meal).

  • If you don’t want it, ask the waiter to remove from your table (of course, only if all your table companions feel the same way!).

  • If you don’t want the freebie but someone else at your table does, keep your mouth busy by drinking water and getting involved in conversation. Also, having a snack 2–3 hours prior to the meal will prevent you from going to the restaurant too hungry so that you can keep your hands out of the bread basket.

Restaurant Prep: Choose or Lose
Choose Lose
Steamed Sautéed
Broiled Crispy
Stir-fry Fried or pan-fried
Baked Au gratin
Grilled Scalloped
Poached Creamed or buttered
Roasted Stuffed or crusted

When in doubt, always ask your waiter about how a dish is prepared or how big the plate is. Often servers can be accommodating with menu substitutes and lighter methods if you simply speak up. Also, descriptive words may not tell the whole picture.

Vegetables may be steamed, but they could also then be covered in butter sauce. Stir-fry is healthier than fried or pan-fried because less oil is used for a shorter period of time. However, often dishes that are stir-fried will have another sauce added on top of that such as soy sauce with cornstarch for thickening.

Each cuisine presents its own hazards when navigating the options available to you.

Cuisine Choose or Lose
Cuisine Choose Lose
Italian Chicken paillard Chicken or veal Parmigiana, Milanese
Shrimp marinara Shrimp scampi
Whole-wheat pasta primavera White pasta Bolognese
House salad, oil and vinegar Tomato and mozzarella
Steamed spinach Zucchini fritti
Mexican Seafood ceviche Nachos
Chicken fajitas (tortillas used sparingly) Steak burrito or tacos
Side of black beans Fried plantains
Guacamole (2 tablespoons) Jalapeno poppers
Tequila with club soda, lime Frozen margarita
Chinese Steamed chicken or shrimp or tofu with veggies General Tso’s chicken
Moo goo gai pan (stir-fry) Beef with broccoli
Brown rice White rice or noodles
Steamed dim sum Egg roll
Fresh pineapple Green tea ice cream
Indian Chicken tikka or tandoori Chicken korma or tikki masala
Roti (whole wheat) Stuffed naan
Lentil soup Samosa
Steakhouse Petite filet mignon Rib eye or prime rib
Shrimp cocktail Fried calamari or crab cake
Grilled tuna steak Filet of sole Francese
Plain baked potato Crispy onions
Grilled asparagus Creamed spinach

Restaurant menus can be deceiving. Just because a dish sounds like the healthier option doesn’t always make it the best choice when out to eat. Don’t make these common restaurant mistakes:

  • Olive oil with bread: Although oil is a healthier alternative to butter, you can still soak up 120 calories per tablespoon when dipping your bread into olive oil. Either dip lightly or skip altogether.

  • Small plates or tapas: Portion control heaven, right? Not always. When out to eat at tapas, it’s often hard to remember how much you’ve eaten when multiple plates keep coming out of the kitchen and you take bites off every one.

    On top of that, if the items are fried or sautéed, you may be getting more than you bargained for. When choosing small plates with a table, put in a request for ceviches, grilled meats, and veggies.

  • Salads: Although you may be getting a dose of vegetables with a salad, you may also be getting the caloric equivalent of a hamburger. At Applebee’s, for example, the Grilled Shrimp and Spinach Salad clocks in at over 1,000 calories — which is about the equivalent of their Steak and Riblets Combo.

    Items to watch for and exclude from salads include creamy dressings, croutons, cheese, bacon, flash fried or breaded protein sources, and the list goes on. Ask what’s in your salad, make swaps, and ask for all dressings on the side.

  • Vegetarian and vegan: Eggplant Parmigiana, cheese ravioli, vegetable burritos, and fried tofu are just a few examples of ways restaurants infuse saturated fat and sodium into seemingly innocent meatless dishes. Sometimes meat or fish can be a better option depending on the preparation method and what else is on the dish.

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