Grab the grub: Dieter's guide to eating out
You are on a diet and have just finished a helping of the green salad at a restaurant when your friend orders a cheesecake. To take or not to take a bite.... Here's help: Nutritionists and enthusiastic dieters share tips to keep the calorie count low without losing out on all the fun.
My friend, Vandana Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based banker is happy with her lunch outing today. She had a brown bread paneer tikka sandwich and a strawberry smoothie and has not just stuck to her diet, but is in the know of what she has eaten right down to the last bit of fat and fibre - because it's on the menu card. 'I wish there were more restaurants like this that clearly spelt out what is in the meal you're eating… it would make me feel so much better about eating out,' she says.
Vandana used to be one of those people who'd start getting guilt pangs on just hearing the words "eating out". Over time, she has come to realise that she can't give up on meeting friends or family for the fear that it'll wreck her diet plans. A few clever swaps, some prep before she leaves home and portion control have helped her sail through office lunches, vacations and family weddings.
However, for most of us, dining out is a 'slippery slope' - so says Dr Simran Saini, nutritionist, Fortis hospitals. 'It's easy to blame the binge on people and the surroundings - that there was nothing healthy on the menu or that my friends offered a bite of the dessert and I couldn't say no… these are all excuses. The first thing that needs to change is the very idea of being on a "diet". People need to look at it as a lifestyle choice and not as a temporary abstinence phase that'll end one day.' Agrees Ranjana Chandra, Delhibased creative consultant; she lost weight the right way - eating a balanced diet and roping in some daily exercise but still found it difficult to maintain her weight and cut the binge during outings. 'So the first thing I did was to tell myself that I'm not on a diet... I will just make sensible choices. So now when I go out, I choose a restaurant wisely and then check out the healthy choices on offer.'
That Healthy Option
'You should know how to exercise your right to choose,' says Dr Eti Bhalla, nutritionist, Paras Hospital, New Delhi. For instance, if you are at a wedding and that usual buffet with a row of greasy gravy-based dishes confronts you, 'head straight for the tawa counters and stock up on stir fried sabzis or to the live counter where you can customise everything - the kind of pasta, the amount of oil and the veggies you add,' says Dr Eti.
Any cuisine, whether it's Indian, Chinese, Japanese or Italian, has a lot of healthy options to choose from. Says Dr Lovneet: 'When eating at Chinese restaurants, the trick is to stay clear of sauces and condiments that accompany the meal. They are usually full of salt, sugar, fat and MSG (a harmful taste enhancer).'
In any cuisine, the key words to look out for are grilled, baked, boiled, poached, or steamed. Remember, anything on the menu that says fried, deep-fried, crispy or crunchy is a complete no-no.
Begin With Fresh Produce
The fibre content in soups and salads can be a saviour. Make it a point to have a glass of water or a bowl of soup/salad before ordering the main course - it will fill you up and help you pick healthier alternatives. But not every salad is healthy. So tread with caution. The ones that come with a generous dose of grated cheese, creamy dressings or croutons are best avoided. Pasta salad, potato salad and macaroni salad aren't too healthy either. Your best bets are sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens and cucumbers. 'With salad, the best part is that they are full of antioxidants and are not calorie dense. This, however,does not hold true for a Caesar salad, for instance, that could pack in a whopping 350 plus calories with the high fat dressings and croutons. Rocket leaves with balsamic vinaigrette dressing is quite the star in comparison,' says Dr Lovneet. As for soups - pick from broth-based options - minestrone, wonton or clear lemon coriander.
Stick To Your Resolve
'Don't hesitate to ask the server which/how much oil is used in the dish you're planning to order, whether a particular dish has "added" sugar, and if they are okay with giving you the salad dressing on the side,' says Delhi-based graphic designer, Priya Kumar.
Priya follows two basic eating-out rules. She makes sure that she adds more vegetables to her soups, salads, rice and pasta. And she doesn't give in when well-meaning friends urge her to take a bite of their totally irresistible unhealthy food. 'There's no need to have what the others are having just because of peer pressure. The people who are telling you to have that extra serving are also going to be the first ones to let you know that you've grown big. So stay firm.'
For seasoned dieter, Vandana, it helps to pick a table away from the kitchen. 'Then I don't get to see the waiter go by with all the wonderful dishes meant for another table - and it's easy to resist the temptation of ordering some more!'
Dessert Time Is Test Time
When you order dessert, share it! Ordering the one with lots of fruits or going for a fresh fruit platter (not canned fruits in syrup) is a good move. Remember, a "death by chocolate" sundae is just going to fan the death wish of your diet - instead skip the dessert and go home to a piece of dark chocolate ( just about 100 calories) as a reward.
Chew Every Morsel
Remember how your grandparents used to insist that you painfully chew every morsel? Looks like even modern day nutritionists are recognising that: 'The stomach actually takes 20 minutes to "figure out" that it's full,' says Dr Archana. 'So take that time to converse, stick to small bites and enjoy the company of your friends after you're half way done with your food. Often, you'll realise that you don't need to order more,' she adds.
Loosen Up (A Bit) On A Vacation
Vacation time is binge time and resisting good food at every step of the way will only make you a spoilsport. So do yourself and your companions a favour and cut yourself some rope. 'Vacations are meant to indulge yourself but if you think you've gone overboard for one meal, follow it with a light, fatfree meal,' says Dr Simran. The other practical thing to do is to refrain from wandering into the hotel restaurant after a swim or a trek - walk to the local supermarket or the fruit vendor instead. Rely on fruits, yogurt and nuts as your healthy mid-meal snacks and reduce portion sizes consciously. For the road journey, pack some roasted chana, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) and fruits,' says Dr Lovneet.
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