It's easy to monitor what ends up on your plate and in your mouth when you're cooking at home. Dining out presents new challenges. Many restaurants, though, have begun to pay attention to diet trends and help customers eat more healthfully. You'll find some menu choices marked with special icons designating healthier choices. Just remember, what you want to do is include more healthy carbohydrates in your diet, not eliminate most carbohydrates.
A few tips for low-carb dining. Meat, poultry, and seafood do not contain carbohydrate-none whatsoever. The same goes for most types of cheeses. But even those cheeses that do have carbohydrate, such as feta, have very small amounts.
Keep cholesterol and saturated fat levels in check by ordering lean cuts of red meat, choosing poultry and fish more often, and limiting the amount of cheese. Dishes that are heavy in animal protein and smothered in cream sauce or cheese may be low in carbohydrate, but they're certainly not heart healthy.
Instead order dishes that have more vegetables-or order more vegetables as side dishes-since vegetables naturally contain very low amounts of carbohydrates. And don't shy away from fruit: The carbohydrates in fruit come with lots of nutrients. Whole-grain and bean-based dishes provide fiber, protein, and healthy carbs. And as always, keep portion sizes in check. When it comes to weight gain, it's how many calories you take in. If you consume more calories than you need, you will gain weight.
There certainly is a lot to consider when you're dining out. In this article, we'll tell you how to go to various types restaurants -- from American and Mediterranean to Asian and Italian -- and enjoy your meals while ensuring that you keep your carbs in order. We'll start with American food.
Low-Carb American Food
If you're not a particularly adventurous eater or live in an area with few ethnic restaurant choices, good old American standbys probably make up the majority of your meals. Use these pointers to include the carbohydrates so crucial for energy and overall good health while maintaining the variety so critical to success and changing eating habits for the better.
Order red meat less often. You've heard this before but may not know why it's recommended. Red meat has the same amount of protein as poultry and fish, but (depending on the cut) it has much more saturated fat and cholesterol. Poultry and fish do have cholesterol, but in lower amounts. We make all the cholesterol we need in our livers, so try not to add excess cholesterol in your diet. Lower-fat cuts of beef include eye of the round, top round, round tip, top sirloin, bottom round, top loin, and tenderloin. It may be difficult to locate these cuts on restaurant menus, so if they're not available, order the smallest, leanest cut you can find (or poultry, fish, or seafood in its place), and concentrate on always serving the "skinny" cuts at home.
Have sauces and dressings served on the side. They add flavor and very few carbs but lots of calories and saturated fat. Use the "dip" method: Dip (not dunk!) your fork into the sauce or dressing before spearing a bite of food to get the full flavor of the sauce in smaller, less damaging doses.
Double up on vegetables and salads. Instead of having protein as the center of your meal, push it to the side (unless of course it's vegetable-based protein such as soy or beans), and load up on green, yellow, orange, and red foods. Don't skimp on the veggies! They're naturally low carb, full of flavor and nutrients, and guaranteed to fill you up, not out. Vegetables don't have to be flavorless; just avoid drowning them in butter, cheese, or cream sauce. Look for (or ask for) vegetables that are roasted, sauted with herbs, prepared with olive oil, or prepared with garlic. If the dish you're ordering doesn't come with a vegetable you like, scan the menu for one you do. Ask the server to substitute a different veggie from another dish. Restaurants are usually more than happy to oblige.
Don't make bread "the meal before the meal." You don't have to forgo the bread basket, just don't overdo it. If you just can't stop at one piece, select the darkest, most hearty-looking piece in the basket and ask the waitstaff to remove the rest. Eat your piece of bread when you most enjoy it-on its own while waiting for your dinner, as an accompaniment to your salad, or with your main meal. Then savor every bite. As a rule, foccacia-type breads are higher in fat and calories. The plainer the item, the fewer calories, fat, sodium, and other additives there are.
Don't skip dessert. There's no reason to skip dessert, but there's also no reason to consume a piece of chocolate cake large enough to feed several people. You need a strategy. Remember the tips from earlier in this chapter about including fruit as dessert? Now's the time to use them. First, scan the menu for anything that's fruit-based-even if it's pie. You can always eat just the fruit and the bottom crust. Sorbet with fruit, a fruit crumble or crisp, or even an apple tart all contribute some nutrients. And they're all healthier than a bowl of chocolate mousse, which is primarily fat and sugar. Second tip: share!
If Asian food is your thing, the next section will be of particular interest.