January 05, 2014

UAB expert: Steps to keep heart health in mind when dining out

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Simple steps can make a big difference for heart health at restaurants.

Dining out can negatively impact waistlines and heart health, but a UAB expert offers simple steps to help.

nycu_heart_restaurants_sAccording to a LivingSocial Dining Out Survey, Americans eat out, on average, four to five times each week. This can present health issues, because what people choose to eat when they dine out tends to have more calories, fat and saturated fat than the meals they would have prepared at home.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, each meal or snack eaten away from home adds an average of 134 calories that day, compared with the same meals or snacks prepared at home; one additional meal away from home each week can translate to roughly two extra pounds in a year. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked obesity to people eating meals in restaurants where portions are large.

“When you combine weight gain and the poor eating habits that can come along with dining out, it could be a recipe for disaster for your heart health,” said Jody Gilchrist, nurse practitioner at the UAB Heart & Vascular Clinic at Acton Road. “If you eat out enough and are not careful about what you eat, you could be looking at metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, including high cholesterol and diabetes.”

Gilchrist offers several tips to help her patients make heart-healthy choices.

Tips for making heart-healthy choices:
  • Plan ahead
  • Reduce portion size
  • Pay attention to how food is prepared
  • Choose lighter options

Plan ahead. “If you know you’re eating out, conserve calories ahead of time,” she said. “Also, investigate where you are going if you can. Use the Internet to look up healthy menu options, or download a smartphone app that lists calorie counts for specific restaurants. See what healthy menu options they have, and choose one of those instead of something with more calories or fat.”

Reduce portion size. “If you have to eat fast food, choose something from the kids’ menu,” Gilchrist said. “In a restaurant, pick an appetizer instead of a full meal, or split an entrée with someone to save calories.”

Pay attention to how food is prepared. “Don’t be shy about asking how something is cooked or for substitutions,” she said. “Key words to avoid include ‘fried,’ ‘batter,’ ‘creamy’ and ‘cheesy.’ Stick with foods that are baked, broiled, grilled, steamed or stir-fried.” Gilcrest suggested substitutions including balsamic vinegar dressing on the side instead of Caesar dressing (or no dressing at all), and a vegetable or a baked potato instead of french fries.

Choose ‘lite’ options. “Try to get ‘lite’ cheese on pizza, and then load it with veggies,” Gilchrist said. “Add as many vegetables to a meal as you can, and eat them first. They will help you feel full more quickly, and you get the bonus of added nutrition.”

Gilchirst recommends American Dietetic Association and American Heart Association websites as resources to her patients willing to research additional tips on healthy dining.

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