Restaurants Serving Healthy Foods that Really Aren't So Healthy
Lots of restaurants seem to be listening to our plea for healthier options, and so they are introducing new food choices. But you may be shocked to hear that I am really not pleased with this! I am actually a bit frustrated.
Sonic has a new wheat bun for their grilled chicken sandwich, KFC has just introduced their new "Kentucky Grilled Chicken", and about every fastfood restaurant is claiming that their menu is "trans-fat free." So what's the problem?
I do appreciate the fact that restaurants are trying to move in the right direction when it comes to offering healthier choices, but sometimes I feel that these choices are very deceptive to the consumer. The wheat bun for the grilled chicken sandwich for example is "made with whole grain," but is not 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain. This simply means it has some whole grain flour mixed in with the white flour. And it actually has less fiber than their regular white hamburger bun! (The wheat bun has 2g while the white bun has 4g). As for the new grilled chicken at KFC, it is definitely a better choice than the fried chicken as it has significantly less fat and saturated fat than the fried version, but it is still pretty high in sodium, and I was disappointed to find out that the grilled chicken still has the skin on! Much of the fat in chicken is found in the skin, and this grilled chicken would really be a good choice if it was skinless. Also, what about this "trans-fat free" business? It is definitely a step in the right direction that restaurants are using less trans fat, which is a man-made saturated fat and is really the worst fat for you. But "trans-fat free" does not always mean "saturated fat free" and saturated fat is a bad artery clogging fat that has been shown to raise blood cholesterol more than anything else from food. So many times a product may be "trans fat free," but still have very high levels of saturated fat.
So does this mean that you should never go out to eat? Of course not! Eating out is often a necessary and enjoyable part of life, but we just need to be smart consumers and know what we are really paying for. Here are some tips for eating out healthfully:
- Try to limit eating out. As I mentioned above, even some of the healthiest choices possible at restaurants are usually not as healthy as what you could make at home. Eat out only when it is a special occassion or very necessary (like when traveling). My rule of thumb is to try and eat out no more than 1-2 times per week.
- Check out the facts. Many restaurants have nutrition information on their websites or you can use other sources, such as the calorie king website that I mentioned in this week's tip to look up nutrition information. But use this information carefully. First of all, it is important to look at the whole picture of nutrition, not just the calories. Look at all the facts and see what it provides (or doesn't provide) to you nutritionally. Secondly, beware, that sometimes these nutrition lists show the nutrition information for only one serving. They might consider just half of your burger a serving, even though the whole burger comes with the entree. So make sure you know what your looking at. Lastly, sometimes this nutrition information provides info for the main dish only, not the condiments and sides that come with the order. For example, you might order a salad that comes with dressing and a piece of garlic bread, but again the nutrition information may be for the salad only. So make sure you read the fine print.
- Enjoy yourself and pick out something you really like! I try to limit how often I eat out so that when I do go out to eat, I rarely worry about counting calories. But one thing I do follow; however, is the rule of favorites. I pick one thing out that is my favorite ("healthy" or not) and then the rest of the meal I try and stick with things that I know are good choices (such as steamed vegetables or fresh fruit). So I might spilit an appetizer or dessert with my husband, but not both. Or I might get a burger or fries, but not both.
- And last but not least, no matter what you choose, whether it be a favorite or something "healthy", watch your portion sizes. Most restaurant entrees have enough food to serve 2-3 adults. So I recommend spliting something (to save calories and money) or have them only serve you half and go ahead and wrap half up for you to take home.
If you follow these tips, you can enjoy eating out and make smart choices! And whatever you do, be a smart consumer. Decide for yourself what is a healthy choice for you, don't let the restaurant tell you what is "healthy" because it may not be exactley what it seems.