Make heart-healthy choices a habit when dining out

Go for the menu items with less fat, salt

Special to the Herald-LeaderMarch 17, 2013 

Eating out and eating heart healthy are two things that don't always go hand-in-hand but the American Heart Association says you can eat healthy in a restaurant with a few guidelines.

It may require a change in your thinking. It may require a change in habits. But if we think ahead, recognize the difference between good and bad choices, ask questions and vow to stay on the right track, we can eat healthy while eating out.

So how do we do that? Here are some guidelines offered by the American Heart Association.

When it comes to appetizers and salads, what items should we look for and what should we avoid?

Stay away from fried appetizers and creamy soups that add fat into your diet. Instead, choose salt free or low-sodium soups that are more broth based.

For salads, it is wise to order dressings on the side so that you can control how much you use. When you are ordering dressings, choose oil-based vinaigrettes that are going to be lower in fat than the rich, creamy ones like ranch or blue cheese.

Also, try to avoid high-fat and high-sodium additions like cheese, croutons, and bacon bits.

Say no to the butter when it comes to breads and side dishes. Instead, ask for soft margarine.

What about that main entrée?

If you choose meat, it's always important to pick something that is lean such as fish, skinless poultry or sirloin steak. It is also important that your entrees are baked, grilled or roasted instead of fried. Remove the skin from poultry when it arrives, or cut away any visible fat from other meats like steak or pork. This will drastically reduce the saturated fat content of your meal.

What are some healthy options for eating at ethnic restaurants? At Asian restaurants, order a stir-fried chicken or fish and vegetable dish without soy sauce or other sauces. These sauces often contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is extremely high in sodium.

A steamed, broiled or boiled main dish is an even better choice. Instead of fried rice, ask for steamed rice.

At Italian restaurants, choose red marinara sauces over white, creamy ones. Try meatless pasta instead of entrées made with sausage or meatballs. Eat plain Italian bread instead of buttery garlic bread. You should also skip the freshly grated Parmesan cheese offered by the server.

At Mexican restaurants, enjoy fresh salsa or picante sauce, but limit the guacamole, refried beans and cheese. Ask for fat-free or low-fat sour cream. Opt for soft corntortillas over flour ones. Try salads instead of anything fried, and look for fresh seafood on the menu.

On to desserts. Fresh fruit or fruit sorbet is always a good choice. If you do decide to have a slice of cake or pie, remember that the portions are larger than normal at most restaurants, so eat only a small amount or order one slice and share it with friends.

You can always ask for the lower calorie or sugar-free dessert options. This is especially important for diabetics.

For information on how to eat and live heart healthy, visit the American Heart Association's website at

Heather Leger is a Clinical Dietitian at UK HealthCare's Good Samaritan Hospital.

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