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Eating out: Keeping the focus on healthy

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POSTED July 24, 2012 6:14 p.m.

Everyone loves a treat now and then, but how do you enjoy a night out on the town without packing on the pounds thanks to the oversized, filled-with-fat, portions served at restaurants? According to Diane Alcorn, RD, Registered Dietician and Director of Nutrition and Food Services at Oak Valley Hospital, it is possible to eat healthily without sacrificing taste and fun.

“Find a few favorite places where the servers are willing to listen to your needs,” Alcorn advised. “Look at the menu and ask for the food to be prepared as you want it. Try to avoid anything with a sauce or that’s breaded. Meat should be grilled and vegetables should be cooked without sauce or butter. If you have salad, have the dressing on the side and watch for hidden calories such as olives, avocado, etc., that can really add the calories to your salad.”

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute offered the following tips for healthy eating when out on the town.

• Ask for fat-free (skim) milk rather than whole milk or cream

• Ask for margarine rather than butter with the meal

• Trim visible fat from poultry or meat

• Select foods that are steamed, broiled, baked, roasted, poached, and lightly sautéed.

Another way to stay in line with your health goals when eating out is to make the decision to save some for later, before your plate even exits the kitchen and appears in front of you.

“Look at your plate when it comes to you and decide how much you’re going to eat, then ask for a take-home container when they bring the meal,” Alcorn suggested. “You look at your plate and decide which portions you’re going to have, put it in the take home container and then close the lid. For some people, that’s a tough one. You can also consider how much butter you’re going to eat before you start. There are a lot of calories in the bread and butter or oils that come as a starter.”

For many people, eating is a social occasion, which can make nibbling without thought a problem.

“Try to avoid unconscious eating,” Alcorn said. “Be aware of what you’re eating and how much. Planning ahead is really important. If you decide you’re going to eat dessert, decide what you are going to give up or perhaps split it with another person.”

Part of a successful strategy for healthy eating is to refrain from stuffing yourself and listening to your body when it sends out the signal that you’re full.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it’s important to “resign” from the ‘clean your plate club.’ When you’ve eaten enough, leave the rest.

Portion control is important, too. Try ordering from the appetizer or side dish menu rather than the entrée menu. Or, as the old adage goes, “Sharing is caring” and invite a friend to split the meal with you.

And watch those foods that bear little resemblance to the original vegetable or dish, Alcorn warned.

“A plain baked potato is fine, but think about what you’re doing to it when you add things to it,” Alcorn said. “There comes a point when food is overloaded with too many parts. For example, a twice-baked potato. After you add everything that goes into it, it’s hardly a potato any longer.”

As with all things, common sense is the key.

“There are no bad foods, just how you choose to have (them) in combination and what you choose to do with them,” Alcorn said. “Pasta always gets targeted as something to avoid but pasta is fine. The question is how much of it are you going to eat?”

Diane Alcorn, RD, is a Registered Dietician and the Director of Nutrition and Food Services at Oak Valley Hospital. She has been with the hospital for 32 years and enjoys teaching people how to eat more healthily for better living.

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