Let’s be honest: No health or weight loss plan that tells you to "never order or eat out again" will last. We need our favorite restaurants and they need us - especially now. Read on to find out how to ensure you have a healthy takeout food order every time.
Relax, I’m not going to tell you to always get the salad, skip the pasta and wonder why you even went out in the first place. You absolutely do not have to get the drabbest thing on the menu and watch everyone gorge on plates of deep fried starches while you weep into your wilted greens.
I am going to tell you how to make choices that err on the side of nutrition and health, but support you in enjoying your life.
Here are the 5 ways to ensure a healthy takeout food order, every time.
Focus on fiber: Think about the things you get to add to your plate, not what you ‘should’ limit.
Love your proteins: Take it from a former vegan, I want you to go ahead and order the steak.
Go easy on sauces: The sneakiest of sneaks, sauces, dips and dressings are where a lot of the processed junk hides.
Treat grains like your younger brother: We love him, we let him come along sometimes, but he’s not allowed to tag along to every party.
Hydrate: I love wine as much as the next gal, and I fully support a glass or two with dinners a couple times a week. But I’m talking about that sweet sweet clear stuff. Water.
1. Focus on Fiber
Fiber lives in so many delicious foods. Focusing on the foods that we want to have more of, makes it less necessary to think about those we want to have less of. It supports our ability to feel full and satisfied, helps waste move through the GI tract and has been shown to positively affect insulin levels.
A 2019 study from the US National Library of Medicine concluded that “taken together, based on the long-term randomized control trials, there is strong evidence to indicate that intake of dietary soluble fiber is associated with improved lipid profile, inflammatory markers, and improved health.”
At dinnertime, I love to fill up more than half of my plate with fibrous veggies like a big, hearty salad, roasted broccoli and asparagus, or sautéed zucchini and brussels. Then I add some clean protein (usually baked or grilled with lots of seasoning), healthy fats (like the oils I cooked with or nuts / avocado / full fat yogurt, depending on the meal) and then sometimes use the room that’s left on my plate (and in my stomach) for starchy carbs, if I’m in the mood.
When I reference starchy carbs here, I’m talking about those that come from whole foods like sweet potato or cassava tortillas, not white bread, pasta or processed foods.
This method keeps me satiated, able to understand hunger and satiety cues, and satisfied with varied tastes and textures. All the while, I'm benefiting from tons of nutrients rather than empty calories.
At a restaurant, since I’m not cooking myself, I look for the dishes with lots of these fibrous options filling the plate. Maybe it’s steak with green beans and asparagus, maybe it’s a big salad for lunch (but with lots of goodies in it), maybe its seasonal grilled veggies with fish... You can always find something crave-worthy with lots of fiber in the dish.
2. Love Your Proteins
It’s hard to overeat protein (unless it’s covered in industrial oils and breaded with highly palatable grain products). Our bodies generally do a good job of telling us when we’ve had enough. For that reason, I don’t typically recommend a certain general amount, but more of a range based on each client's individual situation. They should also eat the amount that feels good for them and work with their doctor if they have any medical issues or concerns.
It’s much easier to overeat highly processed foods like crackers, breads, pastries and grains - so if we start with less of those on our plate, and more of the satiety-inducing protein, we are more likely to eat the amount of food that our bodies actually want and need.
3. Go Easy on Sauces
Sauces are certainly not off limits - I’m Italian after all, so telling you not pass up sauce (or gravy, as my dad's side of the family calls it), would be blasphemy.
The thing to remember here is that highly processed sugars and oils are often some of the highest volume ingredients in sauces and dressings from stores and restaurants.
When we make them ourselves, we can control the ingredients, but restaurants (especially those that are more casual) tend to use highly processed oils and sugars to save on costs. No shade against restaurants for doing this - they need all the cost savings they can get right now, so I fully understand. But, knowing this...we should keep these types of foods to about 20%, rather than the norm.
Most of the time, we should focus on simple sauces that might include less of that stuff like a simple red sauce without much added sugar, if any. Or we might choose a basic olive oil and vinegar combo for dressing (rather than vinaigrette's, ranches, aioli etc).
Like I said, we should enjoy life. Not every decision should be based on health. Some decisions are made based on the joy and fun we'll experience. So, sauce isn't off-limits by any means. We should just be more thoughtful about how often and how much we consume.
4. Treat grains like your younger brother
Grains aren’t as good for us as the government's food pyramid would have us believe.
An excess in government subsidies for foods and crops like corn, wheat, soy and dairy make those foods easier and cheaper to consume in huge amounts.
To exacerbate the problem, we are often eating them in highly refined forms like flours, corn starches and high fructose corn syrup that are lower in other nutrients and more palatable. It's no coincidence that these very foods end up in categories that are recommended to eat in the highest amounts.
The grains we eat today are much different than the versions of thousands of years ago at the start of the agricultural revolution. We have modified them to maximize for higher yields and resistance to bugs and disease.
That doesn’t mean they are necessarily toxic, but they don’t have the wide-reaching health benefits we’ve been told about and would love to believe.
I’ll say it again: your girl has Italian roots, and I’d never tell you to cut pasta out of your life completely. But it should be treated like cakes and cookies, remaining part of that 20%. Wheat is not the only offender, so I'd say the same for many other grains. However, less processed forms like quinoa (a complete protein) and millet (high in protein and without lectins) can be consumed more often.
Focus on the fiber, protein and fat first, then have grains in smaller portions if you're in the mood.
All day. With water. Not just during meal time - more on that in a second.
It keeps you more satiated throughout the day, as sometimes thirst is masked as hunger.
During meals, water actually changes the pH levels in your stomach and for some - especially those with heartburn - drinking it during meals can actually worsen acid reflux.
Another recent animal study notes that, “Increased water intake is associated with loss of body weight produced via two mechanisms, decreased feeding and increased lipolysis.”
When it comes to hydration, do what feels good for you. If you're thirsty during your meal, by all means, drink the water. But I’d advise focusing less on timing with water and more on simply consuming lots of it throughout the whole day.
Ordering out can be stressful, especially if you are working to get to and stay at your healthiest weight. But it doesn't have to be.
Take these tools and use them most of the time, but don’t stress about using all of them or doing these things all of the time. Over time, the consistency will pay off, and you still get to enjoy the more decadent foods you love in between.
So here's your plan:
Drink water all day - even when you aren’t planning to go out or order out.
When you’re scanning the menu, see what stands out to you and then choose something with lots of fibrous veggies, protein & healthy fats, less sauce or dressing, and just a bit of starch (grains, pastas, mashed potatoes etc) if you’re craving those. You definitely don’t have to have those at every meal.
And remember that it’s not about perfection, it’s just about consistency. Follow this most of the time, and let joy guide you the rest of the time. Every decision doesn’t have to be made with optimal health in mind. This discussion is meant to serve as a guide on how you can be sure that if you're not cooking at home, you have a healthy take out food order and ideas within your arsenal to continue that healthy lifestyle.
If you want support putting this and other healthy habits into action, schedule a consultation with me today so we can identify the next small, doable steps to help you get to your healthiest weight and stay there.
PS - My favorite local takeout order when I'm in no mood to cook:
A build your own salad from Alfalfa Hoboken with Alfalfa mix, quinoa, roasted broccoli & sweet potatoes, black lentils, buffalo cauliflower, avocado and roasted chicken. I add my own balsamic vinegar and a scoop of kraut from Cleveland Kitchen at home!