Healthy eating and dining out

Healthy eating and dining out
One of the biggest challenges facing those trying to follow a healthy diet is the local restaurant.  Eating out presents special challenges, such as not knowing how the food was prepared, how much fat it contains, and whether or not the healthiest ingredients were used.
Many restaurant chains, and even some fast food restaurants, have recognized the demand for healthier menu choices, and they are working hard to satisfy that demand.  All too often, however, the healthy choices on a restaurant menu are limited and unappealing.  It is important, therefore to pay close attention to the menu and make the healthiest choices possible.
One of the most important thing diners can do to eat healthy at restaurants is to be proactive.  Diners should not be afraid to ask how a dish is prepared, or what ingredients are used in its preparation.  If the server does not know, ask him or her to check with the chef.  A good chef will be happy to answer such questions, and to make modifications in the recipe if needed.  In addition, most restaurants will happily accommodate special needs, such as low fat or low sodium dishes.  After all, the restaurant is there to serve its patrons.
Some of our favorite tips for healthy eating in restaurants include:
Ø  One good rule of thumb to use when dining out is to order entrees that are grilled, baked or broiled.  Deep fried dishes are best avoided.  If you are unsure how a dish is prepared, don’t be afraid to ask.
Ø  Portion size is just as important at the restaurant as they are at home.  That means ordering the petit fillet instead of the full size steak, requesting half size portions of French fries, and maybe even forgoing that tempting dessert.  Choosing leaner cuts of meat or fish is also a good way to eat healthier.
Ø  When choosing side dishes, ask if steamed vegetables are available.  Steamed veggies are an excellent, low fat, low calorie choice for many diners.  Vegetables that are fried, au gratin, or prepared in cream or butter sauces are best avoided.
Ø  When ordering salad, ask if fat free choices are available.  Most restaurants have several fat free or low fat varieties of salad dressing available.  If no low fat option exists, request the dressing on the side so that you can control the amount that is used.
Ø  When ordering soup, choose broth based soups, and avoid bisques or rich soups like cream of crab or cream of broccoli.  A simple vegetable soup is a delicious and low fat alternative.
Ø  Replace high fat, high calorie French fries with healthier alternatives such as fresh fruit or an unbuttered baked potato.  Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate such special requests.
Ø  In Italian restaurants, stick with the tomato based sauces and avoid cream or heavy Alfredo sauces.  A simple pesto sauce without meat is a good choice for most pasta dishes.
Ø  When dining at oriental restaurants, go with the steamed rice and stir fried vegetable entrees.  Avoid the heavy sauces and request that your meal be prepared with less oil.  In addition, try to choose dishes that feature less meat and more fresh vegetables.
Ø  Choose a light dessert of fresh fruit or sorbet.  When ordering traditional desserts, order one and share it with your dining partner.
Finally, when dining at a fast food restaurant, it is important to avoid the temptation of super sizing the meal.  Fast food restaurants often make their larger portions more attractive by pricing them competitively, but a big part of healthier eating is to control portion sizes.  In addition, most fast food chains now offer healthier alternatives, such as salads and baked potatoes, as well as prominently displayed nutritional information.
While dining out certainly presents challenges to those trying to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, there is no reason to forgo the pleasure of an occasional meal out.  By following the guidelines listed above, and by adding some creative tips of your own, you can make dining out a healthy experience as well as a pleasant one.

Healthy eating for vegetarians and vegans

Study after study has revealed the importance of a balanced diet to good health.  Eating a balanced diet, one that is rich in all the various minerals and vitamins needed for a healthy body, can present quite a challenge for vegetarians and vegans.

That is because maintaining a good balanced diet in the absence of one entire food group, such as meat and poultry, can be difficult.  Meat and other animal products contain significant amounts of important nutrients, such as protein, calcium and B vitamins.

Vegan diets present an even larger problem, since vegans go a step farther and eliminate dairy products and eggs as well as meat.  Vegans in particular often have trouble getting the vitamin B12 they need and often must rely on vitamin supplements for this important nutrient.

Of course that does not mean that vegetarians and vegans cannot enjoy good health.  Many vegetarians and vegans can and do enjoy levels of health much better than their carnivorous peers. It simply means that vegetarians need to pay somewhat closer attention to their dietary needs, and to be on the lookout for signs of dietary deficiencies.  The key to a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, as with all types of diets, is practicing moderation, eating a variety of foods, and keeping nutritional needs in balance. 

One of the most frequently cited concerns by family members and friends of vegetarians and vegans is how they will get the protein they need from a diet devoid of animal flesh.  However, getting sufficient protein is usually not a concern for vegetarians, since most American diets tend to contain more protein than they need.

Vegetarians who eat dairy products can get all the protein they need from dairy products, from soy based products and from beans, nuts, lentils and seeds.  There are many non animal sources of protein, so most vegetarians should not have a problem getting sufficient protein.

Even vegans, who eschew all animal based products, even milk and dairy products, typically do not have a problem with protein deficiency.  That is because nuts, seeds, lentils, pinto beans, split peas, soybeans, garbanzo beans, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, navy beans and many more all have lots of protein. 

Vegan meals are often rich in tofu and other soy based products, and these products contain sufficient protein to meet the needs of most vegans.  In addition, the many bean based vegan recipes are excellent sources of protein.  For instance, a cup of cooked beans contains the same amount of protein as a two ounce serving of meat.

As with protein, nutritional deficiencies are generally of no more concern to vegetarians than they are to the general population.   Vegetarians who follow a balanced, nutritious diet should have no problem meeting their daily nutritional needs.

Vegans on the other hand, are more susceptible than vegetarians to nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D.  That is because the most common sources of these important nutrients are all animal based, either meat or dairy products. 

Of these three nutrients, the hardest to replace on a vegan diet is vitamin B12.  The primary sources of vitamin B12 in the diet are all animal based.  For this reason, vegans are generally advised to take vitamin B12 supplement, or to eat foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12.  There are a number of such foods on the market, including nutritional yeast and soy milk.

Calcium is also a concern for vegans, since the primary sources of dietary calcium are milk and other dairy products.  Again, calcium fortified foods such as some soy milk and certain cereals are important to maintaining a healthy vegan diet.  The same is true of vitamin D, another primarily animal based nutrient.

The bottom line is that it is possible to maintain excellent health while avoiding meat and dairy products.  The key is to follow a well balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and make smart food choices.