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Can Eating Out be Healthy?

London is now considered one of the culinary capitals of the world. The restaurant “scene” is burgeoning with new openings announced on a weekly basis. Tables can be impossible to secure with bookings often required weeks in advance. The diverse nature and new “foodie concepts” fuel the desire for all of us to try the latest offerings from upcoming chefs. From street food to Michelin starred restaurants, there is something for everyone.

The joy of eating for me is the possibility of discovering new cuisines in an exciting atmosphere. Moreover, we can dine with friends and family without the burden of cooking or clearing up. As someone in their 5th decade, eating out to me feels like what going “clubbing” felt like in my teenage years.

However, as someone who eats out regularly, I am aware of the potential ill-effects on your health. With the lure of multiple courses, sweet temptations, not to mention cocktails and wine, it’s easy to rack up the calorie count with consummate ease. As someone who tries to be proactive about their health, I try to accommodate my passion for eating out with behaviour that ensures what I eat is (at least partially!) healthy and nutritious.

Here are my 10 rules for healthy eating out: (please note these are personal opinions and do not constitute medical advice):

1) Look for a healthy option – one always exists! This is true anywhere you go. Kebab shops will have the option of a grilled chicken breast kebab. Load this with their salads and avoid the pitta (I am a low carb believer) and this would fit with most diets. Fish and chip shops have the option of grilled fish and salads as opposed to chips. Most high-street food chains now have the nutritional information appended to the menu and this is likely to become standard in all restaurants.

2) Don’t eat the bread and butter. We’re often offered this before starters. We don’t do this at home so why in a restaurant? Unnecessary calories, carbs and fat.

3) Ditch the dessert. Whilst debate rages on about low carb, high fat and fasting, nearly all healthcare professionals agree that sugar has no nutritional value. Low fat desserts are often high in sugar to compensate. This sugar is quickly converted to fat when consumed to maintain a safe level of blood glucose. A starter and a main course is what I stick to. Cheese is the only dessert I go for. For those who can’t resist their sweet tooth, I would advise that any other courses are “overly” healthy to compensate eg a salad or light soup to start and grilled lean meat.

4) Try and eat fish. Fish is high in protein, low fat and high in nutrients such as omega 3 acids which promotes healthy fat metabolism. We don’t eat enough at home so I always try and choose fish. Tastes great too…

5) Drive so you don’t drink. Wine is more calorific than most sugary fizzy drinks. Split a bottle of wine and that’s the same number of calories as that dessert you avoided. Having to drive home ensures you can’t consume too much. If I have overindulged, I take public transport home and run to the restaurant the next day to pick up the car. The exercise compensates for my excess.

6) Drink water. We’re always offered water. Take the offer (still, sparkling or tap) and drink at least one bottle between two. This aids digestion and helps you feel full

7) Side dishes – choose the right ones. Not chips, not mash. If these are included with your main course, then ask to swap for a healthier alternative. Go for salads and non-starchy vegetables which are low in calories, high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. They also keep you feeling full and prevents constipation(!). Finally, ask for dressings on the side and make sure your veggies aren’t drenched in butter and cream.

8) Don’t add salt. Food in restaurants are often already heavily seasoned. There should be no need to add salt. As well as increasing your blood pressure, you risk incurring the wrath of an insulted chef!

9) Watch the portion size. As time has gone on, portions have got both bigger and smaller in the restaurants we eat in. Like their US counterparts, London steakhouses now offer steaks weighing in at nearly a kilogram/over 2 pounds. Conversely, the introduction of “small plates” entices us to order multiple dishes that land up being more than we would normally eat from a conventional menu with a choice from 3 courses. If you do over-order then don’t overeat. You should never leave the table feeling stuffed.

10) Enjoy yourself. Having said all of this, what’s the point of going out if you’re not going to enjoy and indulge a little. It’s unlikely that any of us can comply with all the above suggestions every time but even achieving some of them may make the difference.

At One Heart Clinic, we offer a full range of assessments for a “heart check up”. However, all our Consultants fully appreciate the importance of a healthy lifestyle and are keen to discuss your diet and exercise programs with you.