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What you need to know before eating out

Dr. Manal Samarkandy

By Manal M. Samarkandy |ArabNews| 23 Jan 2012

Fast food refers to food that can be prepared and served quickly. Fast food restaurants usually have a walk-up counter or drive-through window where you order and pick up your food.

Fast food restaurants are popular, because they serve filling foods that taste good and don’t cost a lot of money.

However, the reason fast food is usually cheap is that it is often made with cheaper ingredients such as high-fat meat, refined grains, and added sugar and fats instead of nutritious foods like lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.

In Saudi Arabia, studies have shown there is an upward trend in childhood obesity compared to a decade ago.

Inactivity and poor food choices may be responsible for the high prevalence of obesity among children.

Major lifestyle changes in recent years have led to physical inactivity, and unhealthy dietary habits among Saudi children and adolescents are of major public health concern.

There are some tips you need to follow before eating out with your children:

• Make sure you and your children are not too hungry before eating out.

• Fried chicken and fried fish usually equal high fat and high calories. Try to select restaurants where baked and grilled items are a specialty.

• Buffets can be dangerous for those whose idea of a bargain is eating more than they paid for; this extra food is “wasted.” If you decide to eat at a buffet, realize that the visual appearance of large amounts of food stimulates the appetite.

With this knowledge in mind, fill up on salad (limited dressing of course), fruits and veggies. Of course, all-you-can-eat salad bars with lots of healthful choices can be great!

• Beware of high-fat, calorie-laden sauces prepared with lots of cream, butter or oil. Anything with cream or a creamy title is usually suspect. Broth- and tomato-based sauces are always your best bet.

• High-fat methods of cooking and preparation can add up calories very quickly. These usually include pan-fried, sautéed and deep-fried. Baked, grilled, poached, or steamed foods are better choices.

• Tuna and pasta salad may sound healthful, but they are often smothered with fat. One tablespoon of mayonnaise contains 100 calories. A pasta salad may have as much as a quarter cup of mayonnaise.

These are some of the common pitfalls of dining out. We are going to help you with strategies on how to select your food when eating out:

• Appetizers can be very dangerous items and actually diminish the enjoyment of the main course. It is very easy to consume several hundred calories from potato skins and then force yourself to complete the main course simply because it costs lots of money.

• Ask the server not to bring chips and bread prior to serving the meal. Although you may have good intentions regarding the avoidance of these items, it’s hard not to grab a handful of chips when they are right in front of you.

• Salads are usually a great choice, but by having lots of cheese and dressing, your purpose may be defeated.

• Ask for dressing on the side, dip your fork in the dressing and then get a bite of your salad.

• Soups are very filling. Select wisely by choosing broth-based rather than creamy soups.

• Chicken and fish usually mean less fat and fewer calories than beef, but a small steak occasionally can work into your health plan. Four to 6 ounces of meat a day is all that most people need, so be cautious. You may find that by ordering a small filet (the lowest-fat piece of beef) and splitting it with a friend, you will get all the meat you need.

Many people believe that eating out is a special occasion, giving them the green light to overindulge, but now almost half of our meals are eaten away from home, making it no special occasion.

For most people trying to manage their weight, a meal containing about 500 calories is appropriate.

Many restaurants serve twice what is appropriate. The habit of sharing entrées with a dinner companion may save your money and your health.

• If you are served too much food, immediately ask your waiter to bring a carryout box and prepare a take away meal before you even take your first bite.

• Practice ordering first. People are often persuaded to change their minds when they hear someone else ordering something that “sounds good.”

Be the first to order and set the health trend. Become known as the person who knows the best foods to order.

• Avoid adding excess to your food, such as extra cheese on the burger — this is known as “excessorizing.”

These are all strategies that will help you order and eat less food:

• Eat your calories; don’t drink them. Jumbo and super-sized drinks can add 500 or more calories very rapidly, but they do little to improve nutritional status or the level of satisfaction.

• Fast foods can be a good choice. A grilled fish or chicken sandwich can easily fit. Be careful with the size, remembering that value marketing (the marketing technique that rightly claims that people will buy more if they are offered more food for just a little bit of money) is very effective for fattening and making money for the restaurant.

• A child’s beef burger is the size most of us need. Two hundred calories or more can be painlessly shaved off a meal simply by asking that the cheese and mayo be left off.

Extra lettuce, tomato and onion can add lots to satiety while adding very few calories.

Diet soda is always your best choice, because size doesn’t matter. Look at how many calories are in a 35-ounce, king-sized soda!

Note that the calories you can get from a large fast food meal go to over 1,600; this is the total calories needed for one day for most people!

A good option for eating at fast food restaurants is the small meal. You can even split a small fry with someone and only add 100 calories to this order.

— Manal M. Samarkandy is a clinical dietitian at the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City



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