Eating out is both a social and relaxing activity and can be especially tempting when clients feel they’re too busy to cook. Making healthful choices when dining out is important for all clients, but it’s particularly vital for those with CVD or hypertension, as they need to limit (often strictly) unhealthful fats and sodium. Here are five simple tips to share with cardiac patients to help them make the best heart-healthy choices when dining out.
1. Suggest clients pick the restaurant. We all have friends and family members who may want to eat at restaurants that serve less healthful foods so encourage patients to recommend places that offer healthful and delicious steamed, baked, and grilled options. This is easier than they may think; many mainstream restaurants that previously offered only unhealthful dishes now have an array of tasty menu items lower in fat and sodium.
2. Recommend clients review menus before suggesting a restaurant. In my clinical facility, our cardiology staff encourages our patient population to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the Mediterranean, or plant-based diets, as outlined in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, even while dining out. However, when healthful options aren’t available, encourage clients to order using the “Have it Your Way” approach. They can ask their servers to alter cooking methods, such as grilling or baking instead of frying, or ingredients, such as replacing refined grains with whole grains. When looking at menu descriptors, I tell my patients to steer clear of the three Cs: crunchy, crispy, and creamy, as these usually denote fried or saturated fat–heavy items. Patients also can add in healthful fats such as avocado to make their meals more filling.
In addition, remind clients that restaurant servings often are double the size of a typical serving. Advise them to consider getting an appetizer as their main dish with a side of fresh greens or order an appetizer and split an entrée with their dining partner. If they’re eating alone, suggest they eat one-half of an entrée and take the other half home.
3. Suggest clients order clear salad dressings and to ask for them on the side. Clear dressings often have less fat than their creamy counterparts. Encourage patients to dress salads using, for example, a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. Suggest they use as little dressing as possible. A less-than-healthful dressing choice or too much dressing can make an otherwise healthful salad unhealthful.
4. Advise patients to drink water. They can use the time before their food is served wisely by sipping on water, and they can squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice in it to add some flavor. For alcohol, they should stick with one to two drinks at most and consider a glass of red wine as a heart-healthy way to add resveratrol to the meal. In between alcoholic drinks, clients should drink a glass of water to stay hydrated, stay full, and drink less alcohol.
5. Encourage clients to eat mindfully. Clients should have plan to eat healthfully when dining out but also enjoy their meals without feeling guilty. For example, they may not be able to control the amount of sodium in the meal they order, but they can make more healthful food choices throughout the day to counterbalance their restaurant meal. The American Heart Association encourages consumers to “Savor the Flavor” by enjoying their meals mindfully. Remind clients to be aware of their mood while eating, as this may influence their food choices and the amounts they eat. In addition, they should take small bites of food and chew it slowly to appreciate the flavor and enjoy their food.
When someone else is doing the cooking, it provides clients the opportunity to try foods they may not know how to cook at home. Encourage them to perceive dining out as an occasion to try new healthful foods.
— Sharon Priya Banta, MS, RD, CDN, is both a clinical RD working at an outpatient medical center and the owner of the private practice Simple Practical Balanced Nutrition, providing virtual consultations, advice, and nutrition tips for busy people on the go. You can find her at www.spbNutrition.com or follow her on Instagram @simple_practical_balanced.