Eating out can lead to weight gain and increase people's risk for heart
disease, diabetes and other serious health issues because popular menu items
often have more fat, kilojoules and saturated fat than meals typically prepared at
That's according to an expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham,
and it's particularly worrisome since a LivingSocial Dining Out Survey revealed
Americans eat out, on average, four to five times each week.
"When you combine weight gain and the poor eating habits that can come along
with dining out, it could be a recipe for disaster for your heart health," Jody
Gilchrist, nurse practitioner at the UAB Heart & Vascular Clinic at Acton
Road, said in a university news release.
"If you eat out enough and are not careful about what you eat, you could be
looking at metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that raises your risk for
heart disease and other health problems, including high cholesterol and
diabetes," Gilchrist added.
Eating out tied to weight gain
One additional meal eaten away from home each week can add roughly two extra
pounds a year, according to the US. Department of Agriculture. There are ways
people can avoid extra calories and protect their heart health when dining out,
Gilchrist pointed out. She offered the following tips on how to make healthier
choices at restaurants:
- Be prepared. "If you know you're eating out, conserve
calories ahead of time," Gilchrist recommended. "Also, investigate where you are
going if you can. Use the Internet to look up healthy menu options, or download
a smart phone app that lists calorie counts for specific restaurants. See what
healthy menu options they have, and choose one of those instead of something
with more calories or fat."
- Limit portion size. The US Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention reports that eating meals in restaurants where portions are large is
linked to obesity. "If you have to eat fast food, choose something from the
kids' menu," Gilchrist said. "In a restaurant, pick an appetiser instead of a
full meal, or split an entree with someone to save calories."
- Consider how food is prepared. "Don't be shy about asking
how something is cooked or for substitutions," noted Gilchrist. "Key words to
avoid include 'fried,' 'batter,' 'creamy' and 'cheesy.' Stick with foods that
are baked, broiled, grilled, steamed or stir-fried." Replace high-fat dressings
with balsamic vinegar dressing on the side, or skip dressing entirely. Opt for a
vegetable or baked potato instead of french fries.
- Lighten up. "Try to get 'lite' cheese on pizza, and then
load it with veggies," Gilchrist advised. "Add as many vegetables to a meal as
you can, and eat them first. They will help you feel full more quickly, and you
get the bonus of added nutrition."
The American Heart Association provides more tips on how to eat
healthy when dining out.