How to Eat Out Low-Carb

By: Cathy Leman
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. cream isn't the wisest menu choice.

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.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Ordering dishes that contain a lot of vegetables is a key to healthy dining.

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.


Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Indian Restaurants

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. If you want carb-friendly foods, Asian restaurants are the way to go.

Eating out is a lot of fun, especially when the fare is Asian or Indian. Fortunately, Asian and Indian restaurants offer plenty of low-carb options. Here's a look:

Low-Carb Asian Food

Whether you opt for Japanese, Chinese, or Thai, Asian restaurants are a mecca for healthy carbohydrate dining. Many of the dishes are built around seafood, vegetables, and soy protein (such as tofu), and the chances of finding noodles made from whole grains or alternatives to white flour are much greater. Some Chinese restaurants even offer brown rice instead of white.


If sushi is one of your favorites, don't worry about the small amount of white rice accompanying the fish. The protein and heart-healthy fats in the fish slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate, and the total amount of rice isn't that significant unless you eat sushi by the boatload.

Choose dishes that are vegetable-heavy, with small amounts of protein added for flavor. If you've wanted to taste tofu but were never quite sure how to prepare it, Asian restaurants are the place to give it a try. You can experience this wonderfood prepared in a variety of delicious ways while reaping the health benefits of soy protein: fiber, healthy carbohydrates, and plenty of phytonutrients.

Low-Carb Indian Food

Whether you've been dying to try Indian food or have long been a fan, healthy carbohydrate selections await. The third most popular cuisine in the world is much more than curry dishes, the first dish that comes to the mind of many Westerners when considering Indian food. The rich, complex blends of spices add the depth and flavor so unique and crucial to Indian cuisine.

Vegetarian dishes are plentiful, particularly in southern India. Meat dishes are more common in the north, particularly the healthfully prepared tandoori chicken, fish, and meats, which are marinated in herbs and baked quickly at high temperatures in a clay oven. Dishes prepared with yogurt, lentils, and flours made from ground beans such as garbanzo; roasted meats, chicken, or fish with vegetable sauces; and an abundance of fruit, both tropical and temperate, are all good carbohydrate choices.

Keep reading to learn about the best low-carb choices at Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, and Middle Eastern restaurants.


This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.


Mediterranean, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican Restaurants

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Mediterranean food is renowned for its nutritional value.

When it comes to dining out, Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Mexican restaurants are popular destinations. In this section, we'll tell you how to enjoy the offerings at these eateries while keeping your carbs in check.

Low-Carb Italian Food

When dining a la Italiano, the bread basket and huge servings of pasta are the bad guys. As we've already pointed out, foods made from refined white flour are quickly broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream. But how often do you go to an Italian restaurant and eat just plain bread and pasta? Remember, carbohydrate-based foods that are eaten in combination with protein or fat enter the bloodstream more slowly.


If you're in the mood for pasta, first ask if the restaurant serves the whole-wheat variety. This could be a long shot, but if you're dining in an urban area or more upscale restaurant, you're more likely to find this option. If not, select a protein-based entree, preferably chicken or fish; grilled, sauted, or steamed vegetables; and a salad and a small side order of pasta. Stick to olive oil or tomato-based sauces, and skip the cream/butter/cheese-based types. You'll satisfy your craving for pasta without overdoing it and round out the meal with heart-healthy protein and lots of antioxidants and fiber.

Low-Carb Mediterranean Food

Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Italy, and France (particularly the southern region) have long been studied by nutrition researchers. That's because these countries boast a cuisine that some say is unrivaled in its nutritional superiority. The diet is rich in olive oil, vegetables, and herbs, and it uses only the freshest ingredients prepared as simply as possible.

This diet baffles many Americans, though, because of its high fat content. How can a diet that is close to 40 percent fat produce such good health and longevity and have a reputation for causing fewer heart attacks? The secret is that much of the fat in the Mediterranean diet comes from high-quality, heart-healthy olive oil.

The cuisine also includes fish, rice and other whole grains, hearty breads, olives, small amounts of cheese, nuts, and red wine, as well as fruit for dessert. The low-stress environment, the importance of gathering with family and friends to enjoy meals, and the reverence for food have also been noted as contributing factors in the good health of people in this region. It's possible that it's the combination of the Mediterranean diet and the Mediterranean lifestyle that promotes good health. Something for all of us to consider!

Low-Carb Mexican Food

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Vegetarian burritos now are an option at many Mexican establishments.

Even though most Mexican restaurants serve white rice, the combination of rice and beans is an unbeatable protein source that is blood sugar friendly. Many restaurants now serve vegetarian refried beans, so if they're available, go for that option to eliminate cholesterol and saturated fat. Healthy carb choices are veggie burritos and chicken, steak, shrimp, or veggie tacos or fajitas (ask for corn tortillas and order the sour cream on the side).

The bottomless tortilla chip basket found at every Mexican restaurant is best left untouched. Better yet, ask the waitstaff to remove it unless you can limit yourself to a handful of chips. These restaurants are notorious for offering cheese-smothered dishes, many of which have first been deep-fried: low carb yes, heart healthy no!

Low-Carb Middle Eastern Food

Middle Eastern restaurants are another wonderful choice for enjoying healthy carbohydrates prepared in the most delectable ways. These restaurants serve lots of beans (legumes) and whole grains such as bulgur and couscous. Lentils often stand in as the main protein in a meal, pushing meat to the side of the plate.

Tangy hummus spread (a dip made from garbanzo beans, garlic, olive oil, and sesame paste), tabbouleh (bulgur wheat mixed with tomatoes, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice), chilled yogurt soup, and rice dishes are just a few of the menu options that fit the carbohydrate profile you're looking for. Food from the Middle East also has a high fiber content, including lots of vegetables and grains that make it extremely filling. The bonus to you? You'll eat smaller portions, leave feeling more than satisfied, and have scrumptious leftovers for tomorrow's lunch!

So whether you like Middle Eastern restuarants or your tastes lean toward good old American, there are carb-friendly choices everywhere. You simply need to know how to navigate the menus.

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