Dave Shaw

Performance nutritionist, clinical dietitian and health expert, Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: The healthiest options when eating out

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Pad Thai.Photo / Thinkstock
Pad Thai.Photo / Thinkstock

Never before has there been such a variety of eateries to tempt our taste buds. With a desire to try new places and packed diaries hindering our time in the kitchen, it's no surprise that dining out is a regular social event for many of us.

Heaps of restaurants offer a reliable, pleasant alternative to cooking - large servings, cheap food and friendly service. But when you're eating out regularly the fat, sugar, calories and sodium can quickly add up.

However, most foods on most menus can fit into a healthy diet if prepared with low fat ingredients and less salt. Just don't be shy about making special requests.

Here are a few tips to help you make smart, healthy choices the next time you eat out.

Sweet and sour pork.Photo / Thinkstock
Sweet and sour pork.Photo / Thinkstock

Chinese

Chinese food reflects many different cooking styles, ingredients and flavours from multiple regions of China. It often includes a healthy combination of meats, vegetables and rice. But many dishes can be high in fat and salt. Restaurants can also serve large portions of deep-fried foods, so try ordering fewer dishes than you have dinner companions. Then divide and devour.

How to make a healthy choice:

Pick plates packed with veges like chop-suey or a vegetable stir-fry.
Avoid anything fried including spring rolls, dumplings, fried rice, crispy beef and battered pork.
Reduce how much salt you eat by asking the chef to use less soy sauce during cooking.
Avoid sweet and sour dishes as they are usually fried and high in fat and calories.
Pass on anything complimentary that's crispy or fried.

Indian curries.Photo / Thinkstock
Indian curries.Photo / Thinkstock

Indian

Indian food usually features rich curries, intense combinations of flavour and spice, and heaps of vegetarian options. It's great because it can include a lot of high fiber grains and less animal protein. Legumes and vegetables are also commonly used - another bonus. The downside is, many dishes are prepared with ghee (clarified butter) or are fried or sautéed. Coconut oil and cream, which are high in saturated fat, are also used.

How to make a healthy choice:

Opt for a vego option or choose meals without large portions of meat.
Dahl dishes are packed with fiber and are an excellent source of protein.
Choose dishes prepared without ghee, butter or cream. Unfortunately most are prepared with these, but you can ask to have it replaced with yoghurt.
Choose roti over naan bread.
Ask for extra vegetables or have a side salad.

Italian pizza.Photo / Thinkstock
Italian pizza.Photo / Thinkstock

Italian

Italian menus are made up of a variety of pastas, breads and tomato or creamy-based sauces. Pasta is low in fat, however, it's the full fat cheeses and creamy sauces that add the extra calories. Pizza can also be high in fat and salt depending on how much cheese and meat is in the topping.

How to make a healthy choice:

Antipasto is generally an array of cheeses, smoked meats, olives and marinated veggies, so it can contain a lot of calories, fat and salt.

If you're having pasta, skip the creamy sauces and go for tomato-base - marinara is best.

Although olive oil is a good source of healthy fat, it's high in calories, so watch your portions when dipping bread.

Always ask for extra veges on every single dish, even pizza.

Ask the chef to use less cheese and processed meats when preparing your meal.

Minestrone soup is a tomato-based, hearty option that's filled with beans, veggies and pasta and is often low in fat and calories.

Sushi roll.Photo / Thinkstock
Sushi roll.Photo / Thinkstock

Japanese

Japanese food is made up of smaller portions of meat, fish or chicken combined with fresh vegetables and rice. Generally, it's lower in calories because little or no fat is used in the cooking, unless it's fried. Therefore, most of the fat you eat comes from the food. Unfortunately, some dishes can be high in salt from the inclusion of processed meats and high sodium sauces.

How to make a healthy choice:

Ask for small portions of rice or share with your dinner dates.

Sushi and sashimi are low in fat and high in protein. Try to avoid specialty rolls that are fried or topped with rich sauces.

Ask for your sauces on the side so you can control how much salt you're having.

Avoid foods that are deep-fried or battered.

Guacamole and chips.Photo / Thinkstock
Guacamole and chips.Photo / Thinkstock

Mexican

Mexican food can be fresh, tasty and healthy. However, it can also be loaded with hidden calories from cheese, sour cream, fried beans and guacamole. Dishes often include staples such as rice and beans, combined with tomatoes, fresh fish, corn, beef and poultry.

How to make a healthy choice:

Be warned, guacamole is usually very high in calories.

Look for baked dishes, like enchiladas, burritos and tamales. Ask to go easy on the cheese.

Ask your waiter not to bring fried corn chips to the table.

Request low-fat sour cream or use salsa to add flavor. Salsa is packed with vitamins A and C, has no fat and is low in calories.

Load up on salad if you're having tacos and skip on the deep fried shell.

Pad Thai.Photo / Thinkstock
Pad Thai.Photo / Thinkstock

Thai

Thai food is a perfect blend of fresh and spicy. These dishes often feature chili peppers, rice, noodles, sugar, fish, chicken, and fresh vegetables. They are often light in meats and loaded with noodles and vegetables. But beware, some dishes are cooked in a rich coconut cream and are loaded with fat.

How to make a healthy choice:

Pad Thai is stir-fried with a lot of oil, and often includes eggs and peanuts.

Try sauces that are made with basil, chilli and lime juice.

Aim for the lighter, stir-fried dishes and the fresh spring rolls.

Avoid dishes with coconut cream and opt for foods lightly fried in vegetable oil.

If you're keen on a meat dish make sure it's sautéed, stir-fried or grilled, rather than deep-fried.

Dave Shaw is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Follow him on Twitter here.

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