EATING OUT HEALTHFULLY
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© June 2014, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Many people enjoy eating in restaurants. In fact, a recent study showed that Americans today consume 42% of their calories away from home. Eating at restaurants can be a pleasure, but too often it is not a healthful way to eat.
WHERE TO EAT OUT
The following tips are generalizations, but may be very helpful for your health if you are eating out, regardless of how fancy or expensive the restaurant.
1. Walk into the kitchen of your favorite restaurants. Confirm the cleanliness and orderliness, and have a look at the cleanliness of the employees.
2. Single-owner, non-chain restaurants often offer the best food. Chain restaurants may be cleaner, but often serve poorer quality food at the same prices, with many more chemicals added.
They are also more likely to use pre-packaged or pre-prepared items. Fast food restaurants are notorious for serving chemical additives or even non-foods that only look like food, but are really just chemical concoctions.
For example, Ňmilk shakesÓ at fast food restaurants may not even contain milk. ŇMashed potatoesÓ at many fast food restaurants and chain restaurants are made with powdered potatoes, not fresh ones. ŇEggsÓ at chain restaurants are sometimes made with powdered eggs or Ňprocessed egg productsÓ instead of with fresh eggs.
3. Indian (from India), Thai, Japanese and Chinese food restaurants are often best because they offer plenty of cooked vegetables, fresh lamb and chicken, with little or no wheat and other junk foods. They also often prepare food fresh. Avoid most Oriental chain restaurants, however, as they may not serve as much fresh food, and they usually serve more chemicals in the food.
4. Mexican food restaurants are usually not good, though the food may be tasty. Their problems are:
a) use of pork and lard.
b) few fresh cooked vegetables.
c) too much carbohydrate (such as tortillas, rice, beans, corn chips, and the worst – flour tortillas)
d) salsa, a tomato product.
e) too spicy.
If you must eat at a Mexican restaurant, always ask for corn tortillas, not flour tortillas. Flour tortillas are made of white flour and usually contain plenty of preservatives, too.
5. A quiet, pleasant eating environment is essential for best digestion. Blaring television sets, crowds or noisy conditions may be fun, but do not lend themselves to healthful digestion. If a restaurant has an outside patio, this can be better if the temperature is comfortable and the environment is quiet and peaceful.
7. Fancy restaurants with higher prices may serve better food and be cleaner, but not necessarily.
8. Buffets at busy, quality restaurants are great because you can see what you will eat. However, ask when your items were cooked. If food has been sitting out for hours, it is more likely contaminated with bacteria or other microorganisms.
WHAT TO ORDER IN RESTAURANTS
Vegetables. Steamed, roasted, stir-fried or baked vegetables can be excellent to order in a quality restaurant. Before ordering, ask if vegetables are fresh. Vegetables also need to be washed carefully as they can carry parasites, especially when grown out of the country, as is often the case.
I suggest always asking for triple portions of vegetables, and hold the bread.
Salads. I would never order salad in any restaurant! Most restaurants do not wash it well enough. I would also avoid other raw foods for the same reason.
At salad bars, many chemicals can be sprayed on the vegetables to make them crispy, more green or red, or shiny. I would strictly avoid salad bars. I donŐt recommend much raw food, anyway.
Salad dressings and sauces. Dressings and sauces at restaurants are often the cause of food poisoning. Reasons for this are 1) they may be old, 2) they may be left out of the refrigerator too long, and 3) many are concoctions of chemicals and sugar that can ferment and support germs. If you want to put something on top of your vegetables, ask for some soy sauce, olive oil, or oi and vinegar, perhaps.
The Lowly Egg. Eggs are an excellent food, in or out of the home. Eggs are also one of the safest food to eat out, if you follow a few some simple rules:
1. Always order fresh eggs rather than quiche, for example, that may be old or made with processed eggs such as Egg Beaters, which are not good products.
2. Order eggs soft-boiled or poached, preferably. This does not overcook the egg. Next best is fried sunny side up or over easy. Avoid hard-cooked eggs, which are much harder to digest. Unfortunately, this is what is found in egg salad sandwiches and chefŐs salads, neither of which are healthful.
3. Avoid scrambled eggs and omelets because restaurants can add chemicals to them without your knowing it. This can include colorants, extra fat, which is cheaper than eggs, or spices that are mainly MSG that may give you a headache. They may also use powdered eggs or Egg Beaters instead of real eggs. They also usually overcook the eggs, making them very difficult to digest properly and ruining the quality of the fat in the eggs.
Meats. Meat, with its high sulfur content, high zinc level and many other nutrients, is an important food in a polluted world. Not all meat is good, but good meat is often an excellent food to eat out. Here are tips, however, about ordering meats and poultry in restaurants.
Order fresh meats. Avoid meatloaf, sausage or processed meats like bologne, salami, etc. It is impossible to know what is in processed meats, and most sausage uses pig intestines for the casing.
I would avoid turkey. It is rarely fresh, so avoid most turkey sandwiches, turkey salad or other turkey dishes unless it is fresh turkey. Most turkey in restaurants comes off a turkey roll that has added chemicals, glues and more.
Chicken is better. Especially good is a half-chicken, chicken thighs or legs, or even chicken wings.
However, beware of Ňchicken breastÓ. Often it is just glued together scraps that just looks like chicken. Also, do not order chicken nuggets for the same reason.
Lamb is often fresh and a good food to order at most restaurants.
Beef is okay once in a while, but it is too hybridized to be a healthful food to eat often. Beef at a fast food restaurant usually contains soy fillers and who knows what else. It may be horse meat, or something else. I would avoid it, but then I would avoid all fast food.
If you want beef, perhaps order a steak as this cannot be faked. Just make sure it is cooked well enough. Natural beef, lamb and chicken are best, but rarely available in restaurants.
Fish. Please avoid all fish at restaurants. It is a game of roulette. Most fish is very contaminated with mercury, even wild caught salmon or others. Salmon today is usually farmed and some is genetically modified, with fake red coloring added.
If you must order fish for some reason, only order very small fish to avoid mercury problems, and make sure it is cooked enough to kill parasites in many fish. Strictly avoid all shellfish such as shrimp, oysters and others, unfortunately, as they are much too high in toxic metals.
Fruit. I donŐtŐ recommend eating fruit, ever. It has too many problems today. It is often unclean, it is yin, and it is usually a terrible food combination. For much more about fruit, read Fruit-Eating.
Drinking water. If you are health-conscious, avoid tap water. Bring your own spring water to the restaurant if they allow it. Otherwise, you can order spring water at many restaurants. It is worth the cost compared to some tap water.
Tea. Tea is almost universally made with tap water, so you are getting flavored tap water, not the most healthful product. Tea made with filtered water may be better, but who knows when the filter was changed. A dirty filter is worse than none.
Tea is generally safe from bacteria because it is boiled, which also helps reduce the chlorine in the water. Bottled tea may be better, as this is often made with filtered water. However, most tea is rather junky and made with tap water and best avoided. This goes for coffee and soda pop as well. I realize this leaves little to drink in a restaurant. However, it is best not to drink with meals, anyway.
The best idea and one that I use is to drink a bottle of spring or distilled water of your own before you enter a restaurant. Then you will not be tempted to drink the tap water on the table.
HAZARDS OF EATING OUT
Here are important considerations when you choose to
eat out, whether at a fancy restaurant or a local bar and grill.
1. Hidden chemicals. Restaurants in general, and chain restaurants, in particular, often add many food chemicals to their meals. They often contain sweeteners, flavor enhancers and hundreds of other additives.
Some people do not realize how sensitive they are to chemicals such as sulfites, MSG, sugars, aspartame and many others. Your headache, upset stomach or aches and pains that are attributed to a flu or other cause may, in fact, be a reaction to a meal. More serious consequences can occur as well.
2. Unclean and spoiled food is dangerous. Eating out can cause illness in many ways. In many restaurants, food sits for several days in large refrigerators or worse, at room temperature for hours before being served. These items often harbor bacteria and other toxins. Food is often less fresh in restaurants because they buy more than is needed to avoid running out if they have a busy night. This means much is leftover, which increases the risk of spoilage.
For this reason, beware of specials at restaurants. While not always the case, when a restaurant has extra food that must be used up by a special date, it often ends up in specials. These sell well because they seem special when they are really just leftovers, reworked in some way to make them special. You may even pay extra for the leftovers, with the joke on the customer.
3. Unclean employees. Many restaurant workers are low-skilled employees who are in varying states of health. Most need their jobs and do not stay home if they are feeling ill. They may inadvertently sneeze, wipe their hands on their sleeve or take other actions that contaminate food, in spite of the apparent cleanliness of the establishment. Also, angry or dissatisfied restaurant workers have been known to toss food on the floor and then serve it, or worse.
Many today who work in restaurants, especially in large cities, may be illegal immigants who are recent arrivals and not familiar with our laws and the rules of cleanliness that we take for granted.
4. Substitution. In many restaurants, even expensive ones, you may not get what you actually ordered. Fish, for example, is a commonly substituted item. Pollack may be used when the menu states that it is serving more expensive cod or grouper.
In one study, four out of ten fish samples sent to a lab for identification revealed that a cheaper fish had been substituted at local restaurants. In the same study, the lab found that in 24 US cities consumers have less than a 50/50 chance of actually being served the fish they order.
Maryland crabs may be on the menu, but cheaper substitutes are used often for convenience and cost savings. This occurs up to 70% of the time with some rare and expensive seafood items, according to James Anderson, chairman of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Rhode Island.
An article I reviewed stated that one way to find out if something is fishy is to ask where the fish comes from. If the waitress is not sure, order something else. Another solution is to avoid all fish and seafood, as they are not part of a nutritional balancing diet. For more, read Fish-Eating on this site.
5. Hidden Calories. Hidden fats and sugars lurk in many restaurant dishes and sauces. At home you can read labels and know what you are consuming, but not at restaurants.
This is not just a fast food issue. At Ruby Tuesdays, for example, the classic burger has a whopping 1,013 calories. This makes a McDonaldŐs Big Mac at 540 calories look downright dietetic by comparison.
Fats and starchy fillers are added to give taste to
poor quality food, or to add consistency or bulk to the food.
6. Hidden Cameras. Your dining experience is often not as private or intimate as you may believe, as more and more restaurants are installing spy cameras. This goes for all types of eating establishments, from the 4-star dining rooms to the local grills.
The video cameras are used to help waiters and manager know when service is needed and to oversee the bars. Most often, however, they are there to help prevent employee theft, a growing problem that can also affect the restaurant customersŐ wallets and purses.
This is not a problem if you donŐt mind it. It is a hidden danger if you want
privacy in your life, however. If
you are discussing business or otherwise need a private environment, then
beware of many restaurants today.
7. The High Cost. Eating out is almost always more expensive than eating at home. There is some economy of scale by buying and preparing for many people.
However, the cost of the restaurant food is always half or less of the cost of a typical restaurant meal, according to the president of the National Food Service Advisors. You are helping pay the restaurantŐs overhead, payroll, advertising and restaurant profit. The restaurant industry brings in at least $250 billion annually in the USA alone.
8. Credit Card Theft. According to some experts, restaurants are among the most likely places to have your credit card information stolen. This occurs because in restaurants you actually hand over your credit card to a stranger.
This is much riskier than if you retain the card and swipe it at the supermarket. It is even riskier than making a transaction on the phone or even online.
Your name, address, card number and security code can be easily copied down by any number of people while processing the transaction.
One way to avoid this problem, of course, is to pay with cash or a check. Another way is to go up to the desk and watch your card as the restaurant cashier processes the transaction. This is the only way I suggest using a credit card in a restaurant, or anywhere that you must hand your card to an employee.
9. Identity Theft. This is far more serious and occurs for the same reason. Giving a credit card to a waiter and then turning your back just invites people to read the entire card and to gather whatever information, signatures, and other data that may be there.
Here are more suggestions to make eating out more enjoyable and more healthful.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
An important principle is that restaurant owners generally like to please the customers. So ask for what you really want, rather than limit yourself to the menu. For example, ask for double or triple orders of cooked vegetables, and no mashed potatoes or French fries. Ask to skip the pasta and salad, and replace it with more cooked vegetables, etc.
TAKE AWAY THE BREAD AND THE ICE WATER
When you sit down, ask that the waiter take away the bread that is often left on the table. Also, ask for water without ice, as it is easier on digestion. Preferably, bring your own spring water, and preferably do not drink much with meals.
DONŐT ASK ABOUT DESSERTS. EAT MORE OF THE MEAL INSTEAD
Plan to eat more of the meal and not hold back so you can have that big piece of chocolate cake.
SKIP THE PRE-MEAL APPETIZERS
Some restaurants fill you up on appetizers such as chips, shrimp, or hors dŐoeurves. Best to skip these, unless they happen to be on your nutritional balancing diet.
KEEP MEALS SIMPLE
Restaurants often want to tickle the palette, so they serve complex, multi-course meals with poor food combinations, along with too much food. This is very hard on the digestion. Attempt to limit your meals to two or perhaps three foods, at the most, for best digestion.
DO NOT EAT WHILE DRIVING OR EVEN RIDING IN CARS, PREFERABLY
Many people are tempted to eat while driving to save time, for example. This is somewhat dangerous, and bad for digestion, as well. Stop your vehicle to eat, and preferably rest for at least 10 minutes afterwards to allow digestion to begin, before resuming driving.
Even eating in a car as a passenger is not ideal, and is best avoided.
SIT QUIETLY BEFORE AND AFTER THE MEAL
Try not to hurry your meals. When you sit down, relax for a few minutes before even thinking about the meal. After eating, sit and relax for 10-15 minutes before getting up, if possible.
BRING YOUR SUPPLEMENTS TO YOUR MEALS
Supplements are very helpful for everyone. At the very least, bring a digestive aid with you to your meals. Ideally, bring all of your supplements, however. If you do not carry your supplements with you, you are likely to forget them.
THE FRESHEST VEGETABLES ARE OFTEN FOUND IN ORIENTAL RESTAURANTS
As mentioned above, the best restaurants are often those that serve fresh Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or East Indian food, providing they are clean and quiet. Here vegetables are often fresh and cooked to order. Just be sure the Oriental restaurants look clean, as some are not.
SUGGESTIONS FOR EATING AT OTHERSŐ HOMES
Eating at the home of friends or relatives can be awkward for those who follow a nutritional balancing program. A few ideas are:
1. Suggest menu items before the dinner party or event. Sometimes the hostess will be grateful you told her about your needs, instead of being embarrassed at the party when you donŐt eat much of her food.
2. You could say you are on a special diet as per ŇdoctorŐs ordersÓ. It is true, and it may help your host to make what you need.
3. Volunteer to bring a cooked vegetable dish to the party, so you know you will have something to eat.
4. If you know there will be little for you to eat at anotherŐs home, eat before arriving at the other personŐs house. This way, you might snack a little on their food, but you will not be as tempted to have a whole meal of poor quality or the wrong food.
5. Fill up on the main course, so you will not have room for dessert.
EATING ON THE ROAD
This can be challenging. The worst problems are often the temptations to have desserts, alcoholic beverages, and junky foods that are sold everywhere. To reduce temptations:
1. Follow all the rules above for eating out.
2. Eat your regular meals on time in good quantity
3. If possible, stay in condominiums or other locations where you can cook and store your own food
4. Keep busy enough so you are not thinking about food.
5. If possible, travel with others who want to eat the same food as you do.
6. Ask your traveling companions to help keep you on track.
7. Do not linger around food stands
8. When traveling, do not make eating one of the primary attractions or activities. Instead, look for genuine, fresh food prepared simply, cleanly and tastefully.
9. Avoid the fast food restaurants completely. Some people do not like or do not trust the local food when they travel. Instead, they seek out the fast food restaurants that are becoming more and more commonplace. There is an advantage, in that the fast food places are usually fairly clean. However, the food is of poor quality, in most cases.
Instead, I would seek out places that prepare the food fresh, and do not eat raw food at all when eating out.
10. Bring your own food or purchase your food when traveling. This is one advantage of automobile travel, which can allow you to bring a small electric steamer and bags of frozen peas or green beans, or even fresh vegetables. You can also bring cans of sardines, blue corn chips, or even a can or two of lentil soup.
Even better, travel by recreational vehicle, if possible, where you can bring your entire kitchen with you.