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Powerful Choices Podcast: Be Smart When You're Dining Out

August 2010

Colleen: Hello and welcome to the American Cancer Society’s Powerful Choices Podcast series, where you'll get the information you need to make everyday choices that can help you be healthy and stay well. I’m Colleen Doyle, the American Cancer Society’s director of nutrition and physical activity. Thanks so much for joining us.

You know, we talk a lot about how healthy eating habits can help you stay well. One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need while controling your intake of fats and sugars is to prepare meals yourself from scratch at home.

But let’s face it: we don’t always have the time or the energy to prepare a home-cooked meal. Sometimes it’s nice to go out and it can be a necessity if you’re traveling.. Eating out doesn’t mean you have to completely throw a healthy diet out the window, though. Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society is here with tips that can help you eat right whether you’re out with friends and family or on the road. Len, thanks so much for joining us.

Len: Thank you, Colleen. I travel for business a lot, so I know how tricky it can be to eat right when you’re away from home. When you eat out at a restaurant, you lose a lot of the control over what goes into your food. But the same basic rules apply when you’re out as when you’re at home. Let vegetables, beans, rice and pasta be the stars of your main dish. If you’re eating meat, opt for leaner cuts, such as loins and rounds.

When you’re evaluating the menu, look for items that are grilled, broiled, roasted, baked, steamed, blackened, or poached – those cooking methods are typically lower in calories. Avoid anything that’s fried, sautéed, or made with a lot of cheese or cream. And don't be afraid to ask for items to be prepared the way you want them. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side, for example.

Another good idea: watch portion sizes. Order an appetizer, half an entrée, or share a meal with a friend. Ask for half the entrée to be wrapped up to go before the food is brought to the table.

Slide: Tips for healthier restaurant dining:

  • Make veggies, beans, rice, or pasta the biggest part of your meal
  • If you eat mean, choose leaner cuts like loins and rounds
  • Choose foods that are grilled, broiled, roasted, baked, steamed, blackened or poached
  • Avoid foods that are fried, sautéed, or heavy on the cheese or cream.
  • Order sauces and dressings on the side
  • Control portions by ordering an appetizer, or half an entrée

Colleen: Great suggestions, Len. A lot of restaurants are now offering menu items designed for people who want to eat healthier. Scan menus for icons that indicate low-fat or heart-healthy items. Also, look for smart substitutes: some restaurants will let you substitute a side salad or steamed vegetables for french fries.

Len: That’s right, Colleen. Another trick I use when I’m traveling is to skip restaurants altogether and head to the supermarket instead. I hit the salad bar, pick up a boxed salad, or go for simple rotisserie chicken. That way I have more control over both portion size and what I’m eating.

Colleen: Thank you so much, Len. To keep your healthy eating habits on track, you may also want to enlist the help of tools like calorie counters, which will allow you to determine exactly how many calories you need to be taking in a day, based on your weight and level of physical activity. We offer one, along with many other tools to help you manage your weight and stay well, on cancer.org.

For more information on other things you can do to stay well and reduce your cancer risk, go to cancer.org or call us any time at 1-800-227-2345. From all of us here at the American Cancer Society, thanks for watching.