Dining Out While Supporting Heart Health

by Christina Di Lieto, RDN, CDN

Eating at restaurants can be a daunting task when it comes to staying on track with your health goals. The good news is it only takes three steps to eat healthfully as you enjoy a satisfying and flavorful meal.   

Prepare- Setting yourself up for success happens before you enter the restaurant. Reviewing a menu online is an excellent way to become familiar with the different options the kitchen has to offer. Pay attention to keywords that describe how the food is prepared. Dishes that are fried, sautéed, or breaded, including a cheese or meat sauce, tend to be high in saturated fat, which needs to be limited due to its negative effects on our cardiac health. Low-fat cooking styles that we want to keep an eye out for include foods steamed, grilled, broiled, roasted, and poached.  

It is also important to check the sides section of the menu, looking for grilled or steamed vegetables, brown rice, and plain baked potatoes rather than macaroni and cheese, French fries, and mashed potatoes. Although we typically use these items as substitutions, it does not mean they can't be used as an appetizer or addition to any meal. For example, if you are looking into ordering a whole-grain pasta dish that does not contain any vegetables, a great addition would be grilled asparagus or broccoli from the sides section.  

Communicate- Now it’s time to order! Don’t hesitate to ask your server for help meeting your needs. Restaurants want to accommodate their customers’ requests, especially when it comes to their health. Politely ask if your meal could be prepared without any salt or fat (butter, lard, and oils). It is understandable if this feels uncomfortable, especially if you are part of a large group.  To make it more convenient, my recommendation is to call ahead or visit the restaurant beforehand. Keep in mind that your health is your priority! 

Plan your Meal- Start your meal with a low-calorie dense food such as vegetables. Low-calorie dense foods are high in water and fiber which will help take the edge off your hunger without ruining your appetite. Next, select an entrée with a lean source of protein; good options include plant-based proteins (beans, tofu), salmon, cod, tuna, and skinless white meat poultry. Keep in mind animal protein contains LDL cholesterol which we want to reduce for our cardiac health. As for side dishes, choose whole grain options and vegetables. These options contain large amounts of fiber and vitamins and minerals which are beneficial, aligning with our health goals. To end our meal, desserts such as fresh fruit or a cup of warm decaffeinated tea can be ordered in place of cookies and cake. 

By planning, communicating with servers, and making strategic meal choices, one can relish flavorful dishes while supporting a heart health journey. Making small, intentional decisions can have a significant impact on overall well-being.

To schedule an appointment with North Suffolk Cardiology, call (631) 941-2000.