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Handling the challenges of dining out

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Handling the challenges of dining out

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Are you able to stick to your low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet when eating out? If not, you will be able to if you follow these tips:

  1. Choose restaurants that have low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol menu choices. And, don't be afraid to make special requests-it's your right as a paying customer.
  2. Control serving sizes by asking for a side-dish or appetizer-size serving, sharing a dish with a companion, or taking some home.
  3. Ask that gravy, butter, rich sauces, and salad dressing be served on the side. That way, you can control the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol that you eat.
  4. Ask to substitute a salad or baked potato for chips, fries, coleslaw, or other extras-or just ask that the extras be left off of your plate.
  5. When ordering pizza, order vegetable toppings like green pepper, onions, and mushrooms instead of meat or extra cheese. To make your pizza even lower in saturated fat and fat, order it with half of the cheese or no cheese.
  6. At fast food restaurants, go for salads, grilled (not fried or breaded) skinless chicken sandwiches, regular-sized hamburgers, or roast beef sandwiches.
  7. Go easy on the regular salad dressings and fatty sauces.
  8. Limit jumbo or deluxe burgers, sandwiches, french fries, and other foods.

Reading the menu

  1. Choose low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol cooking methods. Look for terms like steamed, in its own juice (au jus), garden fresh, broiled, baked, roasted, poached, tomato juice, dry boiled (in wine or lemon juice), and lightly sautéed or stir-fried.
  2. Be aware of dishes that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Watch out for terms like butter sauce, fried, crispy, creamed, in cream or cheese sauce, au gratin, au fromage, escalloped, parmesan, hollandaise, bernaise, marinated (in oil), stewed, basted, sautéed, stir-fried, casserole, hash, prime, pot pie, pastry crust.

Specific tips for healthy choices

Here is a list of heart healthy suggestions you can order when dining out or ordering in. This list provides only a small sample of foods you can eat-you are not limited to ordering only these foods. And remember, don't be afraid to ask how things are prepared and make special requests.


  • Fresh fruit or small glass of citrus juice
  • Whole grain bread, bagel or English muffin with jelly or honey
  • Whole grain cereal with low-fat (1%) or non-fat milk
  • Hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, hominy) with non-fat milk topped with fruit
  • Omelet made with egg whites or egg substitute
  • Multigrain pancakes
  • Non-fat yogurt (try adding cereal or fresh fruit)


  • Water with lemon
  • Flavored sparkling water (non-caloric)
  • Milk, non-fat skim or low-fat (1%)
  • 100% fruit juice, regular or low-calorie
  • Juice spritzer (half fruit juice and half sparkling water)
  • Tomato juice (reduced sodium)
  • Lemonade
  • Iced Tea
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Iced Coffee with low-fat milk


Most bread and breadsticks are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The saturated fat and cholesterol can add up when you add butter to your bread. Calories and fat can quickly add up using margarine or olive oil on your bread. Also, eating a lot of bread in addition to your meal will fill you up with extra unwanted calories and not leave enough room for other low-fat, low-cholesterol foods, such as fruits and vegetables.


  • Shrimp * cocktail (limit cocktail sauce-it's high in sodium)
  • Melons or fresh fruit
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit cup
  • Bean or broth-based soups
  • Salad with reduced fat dressing (or add lemon juice or vinegar)
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Raw vegetables with lowfat dip or salsa
  • Pita bread with hummus or low-fat black bean dip

*Eat no more than 4 ounces of shrimp and other shellfish to limit your daily intake of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams.


  • Poultry, fish, and shellfish * are healthy choices.
  • Vegetarian dishes with pasta, rice and other grains, beans, and low-fat sauces
  • Pasta with red sauce or with vegetables (primavera)
  • Look for terms like baked, broiled, steamed, poached, lightly sauteed or stir-fried
  • Ask for sauces and dressings on the side.
  • Limit the amount of butter, margarine, and salt you use at the table.

*Eat no more than 4 ounces of shrimp and other shellfish to limit your daily intake of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams.

Salads/salad bars

  • Fresh greens, lettuce and spinach
  • Fresh vegetables-tomato, mushroom, carrots, cucumber, peppers, onion, radishes, and broccoli
  • Beans, chick peas and kidney beans
  • Skip the non-vegetable choices: deli meats, bacon, egg, cheese, croutons
  • Choose lower calorie, reduced fat or fat-free dressing, lemon juice, or vinegar

Side dishes

  • Vegetables and starches such as rice, potato, and noodles
  • Ask for side dishes without butter or margarine.
  • Ask for mustard, salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or butter.


  • Fresh fruit
  • Low-fat or non-fat frozen yogurt
  • Sherbet or fruit sorbet (these are usually fat-free and cholesterol-free)
  • Angel food cake
  • Fat-free cheesecake
  • Jello
  • Try sharing a dessert.
  • Ask for low-fat milk for your coffee (instead of cream or half-n-half).


  • Jams and jellies
  • Horseradish
  • Hot sauce
  • Salsa
  • Cocktail sauce (limit--it's high in sodium)
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Ginger


The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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