Eating well when eating out
For some of my clients, eating out can scupper their plans to eat well. This can cause feelings of anxiety or failure if they don't manage to stick to the plan they have been following to improve symptoms or address a particular health concern.
The first thing I want to say, is that unless you have a specific allergy, intolerance or condition that is aggravated by certain foods, then the occasional meal that doesn't fit your normal eating plan is not something to fixate on. Instead, enjoy it as a treat, tune in to how it makes you feel and then return to normal. Eating well is about flexibility and balance. Try to avoid attributing moral values to foods, but instead focus on what makes you feel good and try to live by the 80/20 principle.
Having said that, if eating out is more than an occasional treat and you want to be able to choose foods that have the most nutritional benefits, here are some general guides.
Skip the bread basket
Not exactly a newsflash. But often bread in restaurants is made from refined, white flour. During the refining process, flour is stripped of fibre and nutrients and as a result becomes more quickly broken down in the body. This can result in short lived blood sugar spikes. So while white bread can make you feel full (and maybe even bloated), this is often followed by an energy slump. If you're wolfing down the bread you might feel too full to finish your main course, but still crave something sugary later on when your blood sugar crashes. If you fancy something to nibble on before the main event, opt for olives or crudites with a dip instead.
Load up on veggies
Sometimes ordering several veggie starters or side dishes to share is the best option for getting a variety of colours, flavours, textures and nutrients on your plate. Turkish, middle eastern and mediterranean restaurants often have great mezze options. Look out for delicious dals, spinach and cauliflower dishes at Indian restaurants and veg anti-pasti and side salads if you're eating Italian. Always include some greens with your meal - whether a rocket salad, or some steamed broccoli.
Balance your plate
Restaurant food often tastes special because it's richer, saltier and oilier than what we cook at home. While this can be part of the pleasure of eating out, overdoing it on the fat, salt and sugar can leave you feeling less than sparkling. If you've ordered something fried, get some steamed veg alongside it. If you're eating a refined carb-heavy pizza or pasta dish, try and buffer it with some fibre from veg, beans or legumes and some good quality protein from eggs, legumes, meat, poultry or fish.
If you fancy something sweet, share a dessert rather than having one to yourself. Restaurant portions are often much bigger than what you'd eat at home and are high in refined sugar and fat, so follow the 'a little of what you like' rule when it comes to dessert. And enjoy it.
End with something herbal
Opting for a fresh mint or ginger tea to sip slowly at the end of your meal will keep you hydrated and will be gentler on your digestion than a coffee. Also bear in mind that drinking coffee in the evening could disturb your sleep. Fresh mint and ginger are traditional digestive aids and can cleanse your palate and refresh you after a heavy meal.
Don't be afraid to ask….
Don't be shy about asking what ingredients are used in dishes, about the provenance of the meat and fish or if your order can be adapted. Restaurant staff should be happy to answer your questions and accommodate your needs.
If you feel more comfortable doing your research beforehand, many restaurants have information on their food suppliers and the ingredients they use on their websites.