woman eating healthy at a restaurant If you’re like most of us, you eat out for lunch or dinner at least once a week.

The problem? Chefs don’t always have our heart health in mind when preparing their specialties – just look at those cheese-covered appetizers or half-pound burger next to a mountain of fries.

It can be a challenge to limit the amount of sodium, trans fats and cholesterol in your meal when you eat at restaurants, but it is possible. Southeastern Med offers the following advice for not blowing your diet up when you dine out.

  1. Plan ahead: Check out the menu beforehand to decide what you want, rather than making a poor choice when you’re in the restaurant, sniffing all the sinful scents wafting from the kitchen. Many restaurants also feature calorie counts and nutrition information on their online menus.
  2. Don’t be afraid to speak up: It’s your meal, so it’s OK to ask your server about how the food is prepared and if you can make healthier substitutions.
  3. Look for the “light”: Some menus feature terms such as light, fresh, skinny or vegetarian that may indicate healthier options.
  4. Avoid or limit the freebies: The never-ending, free supply of chips or bread seems like a good value, but it’s hard to meet your diet goals when you’re loading up on those in addition to your main entrée.
  5. Get your fiber: Fiber is an important dietary way of lowering cholesterol. Look for or ask for brown rice, whole-wheat pastas and breads, vegetables, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Choose This, Not That

Almost any restaurant has heart-healthy menu options, or at least “not as bad” options.

Here are some foods to avoid, along with healthier alternatives:

  • Skip the bacon, sausage and other fatty, salt-laden meats. Choose fish, lean meat or grilled chicken instead.
  • French fries are the go-to on many menus, but they pack on the fat and calories. Instead, select a baked potato or side salad.
  • Dishes that are billed as crispy, deep-fried or stuffed. Look for items that are grilled, steamed, baked or roasted.
  • Avoid cream-based or cheese soups, selecting instead broth-based soups with plenty of vegetables.

For more information about heart-healthy habits, talk with your doctor about making an appointment with a nutritionist at Southeastern Med.