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Avoid Restaurant Roulette
Order These Healthier Options

When you walk into a restaurant, you usually have a good idea what type of food they serve. A deli is likely to have a large selection of sandwiches and it's a safe bet that most Italian places will have some sort of pasta.

For each type of restaurant, there are also certain dishes they'll serve that are going to be lower in calories and fat. To help you the next time you go out, here are several common restaurant types, and what you can order from them if you're trying to have a healthier dining experience.

Breakfast Breakfast places can be surprisingly easy. Hot or cold cereals are a good start. Order fat-free (skim) milk to drink or as a topping. Egg whites or egg substitute scrambled together with onions, green peppers and mushrooms make a terrific high protein meal. Substitute tomato slices for the hash browns and add dry, whole grain or multi-grain toast for plenty of fiber. If you want pancakes, order whole grain ones if you can and leave off the butter. Top pancakes or oatmeal with sugar-free syrup.

Chinese Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese usually have stir-fried vegetables, just ask that they prepare them with very little oil. Steamed spring rolls, Hunan, Szechuan shrimp, or chicken are all healthier options, but ask that any sauces be put on the side. Whole grain rice is good too, but make sure it's not drowned in butter. Avoid the beef, pork and deep-fried or breaded ingredients. Many foods can be steamed (ask your server) to avoid fatty oils. Tell your server you're allergic to coconut milk and nuts so they'll leave them off.

Don't order tofu thinking you're being healthy. Tofu is vegetarian but regular tofu gets over 50% of its calories from fat. Firm tofu gets over 80% of its calories from fat.

Sushi Japanese usually means sashimi (raw fish cut into bite sized pieces) and sushi (boiled rice shaped into bite sized pieces and topped with seafood or formed into seaweed wrapped rolls). Because sashimi is typically unadorned, it tends to be low in calories and high in protein. Sushi can be healthy too, but be careful of the rolls. Many are stuffed with cream cheese, fried or battered fish. The rice is typically white and that's high in simple carbohydrates, so eat it sparingly.

If they give you chopsticks, use them. Chopsticks will force you to eat slower and you may not eat as much. Go easy on the sake wine though, one 6 oz. glass has 234 calories.

Deli Deli or Sandwich Shops have plenty of options, but it's safe to choose white meat turkey or chicken breast without the skin. Top any sandwich with mustard, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts, mushrooms and peppers. Make sure to skip the mayo and put everything on whole-grain or multi-grain breads.

Buffet Buffets are dangerous territory. There are often so many choices, it's hard to skip the fattier offerings. There's also the feeling that you should eat a lot to get your money's worth. If you have to eat at one, look over the food before you fill your plate. Decide what you're going to eat and stick with it. Start with a plate full of healthier salad options. If you're still hungry when you're done, go back and get vegetables that don't have added butter, oil or sauces.

Fast Food Fast Food restaurants usually offer barbecue or grilled chicken breast. Ask for the mayo to be left off. Skip the fries and onion rings and order a salad without the toppings. Don't reward yourself with a shake when you're done, many have 400 to 800 calories in a single serving.

Italian Good Italian choices are spaghetti with tomato or meat sauces. Linguini with red sauce is another reasonable option. Some restaurants offer whole-grain pasta, order that and get more complex carbs. Request dishes without cheese on top and ask them not to pour extra oil on either. If you're getting a pizza, order it without cheese or oil and have them load up on the vegetables.

Mexican Mexican places usually have vegetable or chicken fajitas. Chicken or bean burritos and chicken tacos can be healthy, but make sure they don't stuff them with cheese, sour cream and avocado. Order corn tortillas instead of flour because they're much lower in fat and sodium. Skip the refried beans if they're cooked in lard. Request they not bring the complementary chips to the table.

Seafood Seafood restaurants are notorious for taking something healthy (fish) and covering it in breading or frying it in oil. Don't let them. Order broiled or grilled fish and baked or steamed veggies. Ask that butter be left off and use pepper or squeeze lemon over the top for more flavor. Avoid the shellfish if you're trying to cut down on cholesterol.

These are all simple choices that you can order without having to think too much. Bon appetite.

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4/8/2007