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Dining Lean: A Book Review

Dining Lean
How to Eat Healthy in Your Favorite Restaurants


Book Review by

From Mexican food restaurants to the McDonald's drive through, it really is possible to eat healthily and watch your diet when you eat away from home.

That's the message delivered by registered dietitian Dr. Joanne Lichten in her new book, Dining Lean: How to Eat Healthy in Your Favorite Restaurants (without feeling deprived). The Houston, Texas, author has compiled a handy paperback volume that is an exhaustive reference for maintaining healthy eating habits in restaurants. The book is filled with tips, nutrition facts, and specific information on popular restaurants. For people trying to maintain a healthy diet, information on restaurant dining is especially important since the National Restaurant Association estimates that nearly half of all adults eat out on a typical day. You can keep the book in your car to check out the calories and fat of that double burger with cheese.

Here's a good example from the book. You stop by Burger King for a quick lunch to go and there are several options for ordering the healthiest selections. For example, order a BK Broiler chicken sandwich without the mayonnaise (370 calories, 9 grams fat). With this sandwich and with others at restaurants, omitting the mayonnaise can save a lot of fat and calories. In this case, holding the mayo saves 160 calories and a whopping 17 grams of fat. Try substituting mustard, or some restaurants now even offer low-fat mayonnaise. Other low-fat dressings include salsa and barbecue sauce.

Whether it's a dressing for your sandwich or your salad, don't be afraid to request fat-free versions. "I was in a restaurant recently on vacation and the salad bar offered no lean dressing choices," Lichten said in a telephone interview from her Houston-area home. "I asked if they had any low-fat dressing and they dug around behind the counter and produced packets of light ranch dressing. It was worth asking."

Lichten said two of her favorite healthy fast food offerings are the low-fat honey barbecue (310 cal, 6g fat) and tender roast chicken (270 cal, 5 g fat, sans sauce) sandwiches from.KFC. "I've had a lot of chicken sandwiches in my life, and the tender roast chicken sandwich on a Pepperidge Farm roll is really good." She also loves the honey barbecue with its shredded chicken covered in low-fat sauce. "It's a really thick sauce that doesn't drip on you," she added.

Another of her favorite fast food options is the "Slim Suit Summer Special" pizza from Pappa John's. It's a large, thin-crust pizza with lots of fresh veggies and light on the cheese.

More and more restaurants like these are trying to offer some healthy food options for their customers. A recent survey of table service restaurants confirmed that 40 percent currently feature healthful menu items, according to Lichten. For example, Liz Herrera, co-owner of Casa Herrera Mexican restaurant in Abilene, Texas, said her family-owned restaurant offers a number of healthy food choices. The selections include low-fat cheese or chicken enchiladas made with broiled chicken and low-fat cheese (no sour cream), rolled in a corn tortilla cooked without oil and topped with a red sauce. The enchiladas are served with rice and refried beans cooked in canola oil. "Having these healthy items on our menu helps us keep our customers," Herrera said.

Guiltless Grill Dining

"People often say they try to eat healthy, but they don't always vote that way with their wallet."
Franchise restaurants also have gotten on the healthy bandwagon. Tim Smith, spokesman for Dallas-based Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's Grill & Bar, said the company believes its customers are glad the restaurant provides healthy options like its "Guiltless Grill" items." "We find that people don't always select from it (Chili's Guiltless Grill menu), but they are very glad to have it there for those times when they think they need something that's a little lighter."

Smith added that, although people say they want to eat healthier, they don't always practice what they preach. Even people who try to eat healthy most of the time "sometimes see dining out as a kind of reward." So they might choice a big, juicy hamburger instead of a grilled chicken sandwich. " It's the psychology of the reward," Smith said. "People often say they try to eat healthy, but they don't always vote that way with their wallet. But people like the idea of having a healthy option. They may not always choose it, but I think most of our customers seem to appreciate that it's there."

After you've eaten a healthy meal, Lichten's book says it's even possible to enjoy a bit of dessert. She offers some general guidelines and tips for selecting desserts within your calorie and dietary fat budget.

Healthier Dining

  • Choose fresh fruit without cream or other toppings. Often this is enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. Ask for it, even if it's not on the menu.
  • Enjoy a cup of flavored tea or coffee for a satisfying finish to a meal with the benefit of fewer calories than a rich dessert.
  • Order a small cup of low fat or fat-free frozen yogurt. It's one of the lowest calorie desserts. But beware of misleading nutritional information offered by some yogurt shops. For example, one yogurt company's nutritional brochure states that each four fluid ounces contains 130 calories. So an eight-ounce cup of their yogurt contains 260 calories, right? Wrong, it contains nearly 400 calories because of the freezing process that adds air to create the light texture of frozen yogurt, increasing the volume (fluid ounces) by 50 percent more than its weight. Surprisingly, you really don't save very many calories by choosing sugar-free frozen yogurt and ice cream. For example, a half cup of Baskin 31 Robbins Nonfat Ice Cream has 100-120 calories with no fat. The no-sugar-added version saves only 20 to 40 calories and one to three grams of fat.
  • Order one dessert and several forks so everyone at the table can share. Our taste buds are the most sensitive in the first few bites; that's when a sweet and rich dessert offers the most satisfaction.
  • Skip the piecrust. Most of the fat and calories in pies, cobblers, and turnovers come from the crust.
  • Other good dessert options include rice pudding (190 cal, 5 g fat per half cup), a snow cone (120 cal, no fat), or flan (220 cal, 2 g fat per 1 cup).

Dining Lean: How to Eat Healthy in Your Favorite Restaurants
304 pages
Nutrifit Publishing (April 2, 2000)
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com
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