By Noor H. Salem
With long work hours, and very long to do lists at home once work is over, more and more people are relying on restaurants to prepare dinner for their families. While it’s fine to dine out occasionally, and it can be an enjoyable experience with friends or family, don’t allow that to be an excuse to sabotage your healthy eating habits. In fact, you can still balance both, without taking any fun out of your outing. Being aware of main restaurant food items and what they consist of will allow you to make better choices.
When it comes to dining out, many food items that are thought to be healthy, can in fact be very misleading for many. Take the famous caesar salad for example. Ordering a salad with romaine lettuce, cheese, dressing, and croutons is not my definition of healthy. Not to mention, the majority of caesar salads come with romaine lettuce as the only vegetable. You’ll be lucky if they toss on a few slices of tomatoes. The majority of commercial ranch or caesar dressing come along with soybean or canola oils, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a ton of refined sodium, and another twenty or more ingredients you can’t pronounce. The majority of soy and canola crops are genetically modified, and neither are the best oil to dump on top of your romaine lettuce. The sodium used in these dressings will definitely not be Himalayan Pink Salt or unrefined celtic salt, which are two salts which I recommend my clients to cook with. Instead, restaurants use refined, bleached and overly processed sodium, which comes along with anti-caking preservatives you don’t need to be putting inside your body. Himalayan Pink Salt and unrefined celtic salt are actually unrefined, and come along with over 80 trace minerals! It’s amazing; and they come along with other health benefits too. Eat all the vegetables you can imagine, but dumping these dressings on there takes away the entire concept of healthy. Those crunchy innocent looking croutons actually come along with health sabotaging ingredients. The majority of commercially prepared croutons come along with hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate and other artificial flavorings, an inflated amount of sodium and preservatives to keep them shelf stable, and crunchy by the time they reach your dinner plate. Try avoiding these, and opt for a different salad that contains more vegetables. I highly advise you skip the dressing, and go easy on the cheese.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, restaurants are meant to thrive economically. Evidently that’ll cause them to not always use the best quality food. Soups can be extremely high in sodium, unhealthy oils, and artificial or natural flavorings. They will undoubtedly include ingredients and additives that you will not find in your kitchen cabinet, and even worse, possibly not ingredients you’ll find in nature either.
When it comes to drinks, do avoid sodas and carbonated beverages to the best of your ability. these are a given, the greater number of people are aware they are not health promoting, even if they happen to drink them. However, many aren’t aware that diet sodas are in fact worse for your health than regular soda. those artificial sweeteners made in chemical labs are not natural, and have numerous health effects. they are proven to cause more cravings, and some have been correlated with a higher risk of cancer. How about smoothies and items marketed as healthy? It depends. I would advise you either watch them make your smoothie if possible, or simply ask for the list of their ingredients. Do they use a prepared fruit syrup that is full of high fructose corn syrup, food coloring, and natural or artificial flavorings? Or do they actually put real fruit in your smoothie? Just be more conscious and ask; it’s okay to ask and is definitely better than being oblivious about what’s in your drink!
Of the many recommendations, I always advise my clients to look up the menus and deciding on what to order before heading out the restaurant. Majority of restaurants now provide nutritional information online. Beware of high sodium dishes, deep fried items, and those extremely high in saturated fats. Try sticking to whole foods, like salads, proteins, and vegetables. If you’re stuck between two options, try picking the best of the worst. Again, try avoiding those salad dressings; go for hummus or guacamole dip instead. Do your best in choosing wisely, and don’t’ stress over it- enjoy quality time with your friends and family.
Editor’s Note: Noor Salem is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and is CEO of her own wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition, LLC. Noor specialized in women’s health, weight loss, and food intolerance versus allergies. She offers individual and group health coaching programs, and is a speaker on the topic of holistic health at workshops and seminars. The views expressed here are her own.