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Dining Out Guide

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Dining Out Guide

Okay, so when you think about eating healthy and staying fit, you might think that you’re going to have to give up all the pleasures in your life and lock yourself in your house with a stalk of celery and some apples. It’s totally not true. You can still enjoy the pleasures in life like going out to eat, but you have to be ready to make SMARTER decisions. Living a healthy lifestyle can provide you with some of the best tasting foods out there!


While the ideal is to avoid restaurants at all costs, that’s not a reality. Whether it’s a business luncheon, birthday party or a Friday date night, we all have obligations in life that we have to attend to, and most of these will eventually involve going out to eat. The good part is that restaurants are finally starting to “get it” and put nutritious and body-friendly foods on their menus. Still, not every restaurant creates well-balanced meals on their menus, so you’ll need to watch out for certain “trigger words” so that you can make better decisions about the food you order.


You might think that salad, chicken or soup would be okay, but restaurants have found a way to make even these options some of the worst choices on their menus by doctoring them up with hidden sugars, trans fats, industrial seed oils, unhealthy cooking tactics and more. Restaurants are notorious for adding ingredients to foods that make them more delicious, though not necessarily more nutritious.


How can you hide sugars from the consumers? Aside from being found in main dishes and desserts (obviously), most dressings are filled with sugar and unhealthy fat to make them taste better as well. These sugars are also found in your ketchup, barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, cranberry sauce, breaded dishes and hamburgers!

Did I just say hamburgers? Yes, that wasn’t a typo. Restaurants use sugar to reduce meat shrinkage, giving you a larger looking portion when the dish hits the table.


Industrial seed oils cause havoc in your body just the same as sugar does by increasing inflammation. Remembering which oils are healthy or healthier can be confusing. Only SOME oils are good for the body, like coconut oil, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil and the healthy omega-3 oils found in fish like wild-caught salmon. Most restaurants, on the other hand, use cheaper oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame, peanut and soybean oil. All of these oils are found in your chips, crackers, dressings and restaurant foods.


Trans fats are the unhealthy and far less expensive alternative to olive oil. Many restaurants use cheaper fat like Crisco lard to cook their food, which puts hydrogenated fats in your fried appetizers, French fries, cookies, cakes and more.


Some “Bad Trigger Words” on menus that you should avoid include anything that’s:

  • Battered
  • Buttery
  • Creamy
  • Cheesy
  • Thick
  • Smothered
  • Glazed

Additionally, avoid heavy creams, special sauces and gravies, which are all loaded with fat. You’ll be making a better, healthier choice by asking your server to remove these from your order.


If you’re somewhat physically active, you might wonder about pasta. I can tell you that most sauces are loaded with unhealthy fats, and most pasta is highly processed, losing its valuable nutritional properties! You should avoid any breads, breaded items, mashed potatoes, pasta and loaded rice that accompany most meals because your body easily stores these refined carbohydrates as fat. Remember that sweet potatoes and red potatoes are a great substitute for any white potato option. However, stay away from mashed potatoes, because they have hidden fats and are higher in sugar. Additionally, when you mash a potato, you start the digestive process, and the hotter the mashed potatoes are, the faster they digest. When you digest food too quickly, your blood sugar spikes, which causes a downward stream of negative hormonal effects.


One part of going out to eat that people struggle with is sitting at your table looking at that warm bread basket that is calling out, “Come on, throw some butter on me and eat me before I get cold.” If that bread basket is tempting you too much, don’t be afraid to ask your server to remove it from the table right when you sit down. Furthermore, don’t add any butter to your meals as this only adds unhealthy fats and unwanted calories to your food.


Most people start off their meal with an appetizer, but you should actually skip appetizers altogether, even if they have something seemingly healthy in them like artichokes. I say this because they’re usually filled with unhealthy trans fats and are one of the more deceiving types of foods that you see at restaurants.

How deceiving you ask? Let’s take those artichokes I mentioned for example. An artichoke heart salad from a restaurant can be just about 155 calories without a major amount of dressing. Not bad. Now compare that to artichoke dip from your favorite chain restaurant, which contains 1,510 calories, 99 grams of fat and 125 grams of carbohydrates. That’s enough fat for almost two days! 


Buffets are often one of the worst options for eating out, but they’re big at family parties, weddings and other events, and therefore unavoidable. First off, you need to resist the temptation to overeat in order to get the best bang for your buck. The fact of the matter is that the extra calories are going to force you to work harder to reach your health and fat-loss goals. Of course, there are some healthy – or at least healthier – options!

Hit the salad bar FIRST, but look out for low-fat or fat-free dressings since they have hidden sugar, bad fats and even processed GMO soy, which are all linked to a bunch of diseases1.


Choose as many veggies as you can and complement them with a small amount of lean protein such as chicken, turkey, beans or a small amount of nuts. However, don’t eat the skin of chicken, turkey or duck because it’s filled with fat. Additionally, steer clear from any carb-filled meal such as pasta or rice that could be mixed in with your meats. Stay away from soups that are cream- or sherry-based, and don’t have anything that contains pasta, white potatoes or white rice. Instead, look for soups that have beans, low sodium broth, lean meats, brown rice and, of course, veggies! Dessert is a very tricky part of eating out. If you must have a dessert, get fresh fruit. Or, better yet, make your own dessert at home, which is not only cheaper, but you can replace unhealthy added sugars and fats with healthier stevia or coconut oil, and it will still taste good!


Numerous studies have shown that drinking 1-2 glasses of water prior to eating your meal can curb your appetite so that you consume fewer calories because water gives your body a sense of fullness2. I always recommend drinking 16 oz. (two glasses) of water prior to going out to eat because it normally takes about a half-hour to flush out your hunger hormones, so you won’t feel like you’re starving by the time you have your meal!

Calories don’t come just from the foods that you eat, but from the liquids that you drink as well! Water contains zero calories, so you have nothing to worry about there. However, sweetened teas, sodas, beers, wines and hard liquors all contain liquid calories. If you don’t enjoy the taste of water, or you’re just in the mood for something a little more flavorful, consider enjoying sparkling water with a lemon – it’ll save you a lot of calories.


Now that we’ve established all the bad things to keep an eye out for, let’s take a look at some “Good Trigger Words” to look for, including:

  • Broiled
  • Steamed
  • Baked
  • Roasted
  • Light
  • Fresh
  • Grilled
  • Sautéed in olive oil



You can search most restaurants’ menus online before going out so that you’ll know ahead of time what’s healthy to eat even before you get there. Not only will you avoid making a poor decision by feeling rushed, but it will also cut down on the amount of time it takes to get your food. Who doesn’t love that idea?

If you know ahead of time, plan your day around your going out meal. Have a light lunch if you’re going to eat out at dinnertime, but don’t skip meals. If it’s more of a last minute decision, eat a light snack like some veggies or a handful of nuts to help satisfy your hunger before you even leave your house. Going out to eat hungry is only tempting yourself to order unhealthy or less healthy meals.  After putting in so much hard work throughout the week you don’t want to face a major setback because of just one meal.


Furthermore, request your dressing on the side so that YOU can control how much is added to your food. Try dunking your fork in the dressing to coat it with sauce before picking up any veggies in your salad. You can also skip the dressing entirely and just squeeze a lemon over your food to reduce your fat calories. No more soggy veggies!

Eliminate croutons, cheese, bacon bits and fried onions from your salads since these can add a lot of needless calories. Look for salads with beans, fruits, tomatoes, sliced carrots, cucumbers, snap peas and other fresh veggies. Avoid iceberg lettuce, which is low in nutrients, and look for spinach, romaine or any other mixed green to act as the base of your salad.

 Substitute a side of fries or battered onion rings for a house salad or mixed vegetables.


Most restaurants’ portions are enough for two, so remember to pay attention to your portion control! You can save on calories and money when you split your plate of food with someone you’re dining with or just as good, take half of it home in a doggie bag. Make it a point to pause when you’re halfway through your meal to sit back and ask yourself if you’re still hungry. You might be amazed that most of the time the answer is “no.” If you’re not feeling confident that you’ll be able to stop yourself halfway through your meal, don’t worry – ask your server to have half your food wrapped up “to go” when you put your order in.


As always, eating slowly is crucial. Not only will you enjoy the food thoroughly and be more likely to chew properly, but you’ll also feel fuller after eating less because it takes your brain about 20 minutes to notice that you’re full3. Concentrating on conversation with whoever you’re eating with and putting your fork down between bites to sip on water are good ways to pace yourself.


If you’re going out later at night, avoid carbs and alcohol as both can block your body from burning fat. Try not to eat within the three hours leading up to your bedtime, but if you do need to eat something, then choose green veggies or mainly green veggies with a small portion of a lean protein!


*The Rant: Making smarter decisions when dining out will help you attain your fitness goals – all while feeling satisfied by still being able to take part in the activity of dining out.


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Dr. Jack Kunkel offers alternative medical services that provides custom and effective solutions for your body and mind by using a three-step strategic approach based on key pillars such as nutrition, exercise, and herbs & whole food supplements.