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Master the Menu at Your Favorite Restaurants

Posted by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 6:24 AM
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from Magic Foods

If most restaurants offered menus full of Magic fare like lean grilled meats, whole grain side dishes, and fruit-based desserts, it would be a snap to eat out the Magic way. But they don’t. Nearly all of the most common carbohydrate rich foods on menus reflect those in the typical Western diet. In other words, they are high-GL foods. And at most restaurants, from fast-food joints to the fanciest white-tablecloth establishments, the food is floating in fat and stuffed with extra calories. Add to that the amazingly large portions that we have grown to expect for our dining dollars, and eating out seems impossible to do well.It can be done, though, and learning to do it is a survival skill. That’s because we eat out — or have takeout meals — so often now that it’s a staple of our lives.The first step is to accept how commonly you eat meals you haven’t made yourself, then plan to order better.

Be Careful Where You Eat
Make the challenge of eating out easier by being smart about what kinds of restaurants you patronize. Avoid the temptation of all-you- can-eat places, or buffet-style restaurants, where portions are hard to control. Avoid places known for enormous portions, like most steak houses.

Make Friends With the Waitperson
Once you’re in the right kind of restaurant, get ready to get friendly with the waitperson. Ask them to hold the breadbasket so you’re not tempted to fill up on usually high-GL carbs while waiting for your meal to arrive. Inquire about how a dish you’re considering is prepared (Is it swimming in butter? Are the vegetables present in only token amounts?) and find out how big the portions are.

Order Creatively
When you order, be bold: Order soup, salad, and an appetizer (not fried) for your meal rather than an entrée. Split an entrée and share a side order of vegetables to get more veggies into your meal — and fewer calories. If a main dish comes with a potato, ask if you can get an extra vegetable instead. (Especially if you’re a regular customer, you’re likely to get your way.) If you plan to order dessert, plan to share it, too. The best situation is when you get to know a restaurant’s regular fare, including how big the portions are, and use that knowledge to outsmart the menu.

Tips and Advice for Your Favorite Cuisines

Chinese Takeout

If you really want to make the meal healthier, order a plate of steamed vegetables and add them to other dishes.

The traditional Chinese diet is a healthy one, with lots of vegetables, stir-fries with small chunks of meat or fish, and soy foods. But that’s not evident in the typical fare in a Chinese restaurant here, where the meal is likely to be heavy on greasy meats and swimming in sauces with lots and lots of calories. Even the vegetables are usually in a fatty sauce.

Do you have to give up Chinese takeout? Of course not; that would be almost unthinkable. Here’s how to order carefully.

  • 1.

    Ask for brown rice.

    Most restaurants give you the option. Remember, white rice is a blood sugar disaster waiting to happen. And don’t eat the whole bowl or container of rice. Spoon a half cup onto your plate and leave the rest. Or do as a Chinese native would: Put a small amount in a small bowl and hold the bowl up, using your chopsticks (or fork) to eat a little rice in between bites of your main dish. Or be bold and don’t eat any rice at all.

  • 2.

    Start with soup.

    Start your meal with wonton, egg drop, or hot-and-sour soup. This will take the edge off your hunger without a lot of calories (avoid soups with coconut milk). If you want a ravioli-type appetizer, order steamed vegetable dumplings, but nothing fried.

  • 3.

    Look for light options.

  • When it comes to entrées, order from the “health” menu. Here is where you’ll find steamed chicken and vegetables with sauce on the side and similar low-fat choices. Another good choice is moo goo gai pan (chicken with mushrooms). If you like stir-fries, ask the waitperson to have yours prepared with less oil and more veggies, and get the sauce on the side.

  • 4.

    Make sure you order plenty of vegetables.

    If you really want to make the meal healthier, order a plate of steamed vegetables and add them to other dishes. Or ask for sautéed vegetables or Szechuan-style string beans.

  • 5.

    Take advantage of the bean curd (tofu).

    Include a heart-healthy, low-GL dish like bean curd with sautéed Chinese mixed vegetables (ask for sautéed bean curd, not deep-fried).

  • 6.

    Plan to take home leftovers.

    Portions are often large. Think of about a cup of a dish (without rice) as a serving.

Just Say No

  • Crispy noodles
  • Egg rolls
  • Fried wontons
  • Fried rice
  • Pan-fried noodles
  • Lo mein
  • Crispy beef or chicken
  • Sweet-and-sour pork, chicken, and other meat dishes
  • Szechuan spicy fish
  • General Tso’s chicken
  • Kung pao chicken
  • Spicy eggplant

    Pizza, Pasta, and Blood Sugar: A Guide to Italian Menus

If you want pasta, order a dish from the appetizer section of the menu, or share.

A single slice of pizza with vegetables is a fine choice, especially if it’s made with a whole wheat and/or thin crust. A cup of pasta with marinara sauce is all right, too. The problem is, few of us stop there. Ironically, southern Italian food, prepared the traditional way, is among the healthiest in the world. Unfortunately, Italian restaurants are often parlors for the presentation of huge mounds of overcooked pasta and pizza. And even before these arrive, you’ll have ample opportunity to eat bread. So unless you want to overload on carbs and send your blood sugar for a wild post-meal ride, tread carefully.

  • 1.

    Ask the waitperson not to bring the breadbasket.

    Instead, order minestrone or another broth-based soup to fill up on while you await your entrée. Pasta e fagioli, another Italian classic, is a delicious bean/pasta soup that’s also a good starter.

  • 2.

    If you want pasta, order a dish from the appetizer section of the menu, or share.

    That’s the traditional way — a small first course of pasta followed by simple grilled meat, poultry, or fish and a side of sautéed greens. As for pasta sauces, opt for those based on tomatoes (marinara), vegetables, white wine, and garlic — not cream. Watch out: Pasta primavera is often made with lots of cream.

  • 3.

    If it's on the menu, order simple grilled beef, veal, pork, chicken, fish, or shellfish.

    Add a side order of sautéed spinach or broccoli rabe (a slightly bitter Italian version of broccoli). Finish with a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing.

  • 4.

    For dessert, ask for fresh berries or fruit ice, if it's available, or a small plate of cookies to share.Stay away from the custards and cheesecake, the cannoli, and the tiramisu.Just Say No

    • Garlic bread
    • Fried mozzarella sticks
    • Fried breaded zucchini
    • Fried calamari
    • Pasta with Alfredo or other cream sauces
    • Pasta carbonara
    • Shrimp scampi
    • Eggplant, chicken, or veal parmigiana
    • Any dish smothered with melted cheese

      Eat Healthy at Mexican Restaurants

    • Skip the tortilla chips!
    Ordering from a fast-food Mexican place is about as big as a blood sugar challenge can get. Portions are generally huge, the tortillas used for burritos are larger than your head and filled with a cup or more of white rice (blood sugar enemy # 1), and the entrées tend to be loaded with cheese – and we don’t mean the Magic low-fat variety. Thread your way around these potholes, and you can arrive at a delicious, moderate-GL meal.

  • 1.

    Ask the waitperson to take away the tortilla chips.

    The Mexican equivalent of a big breadbasket is either a bowl of chips with salsa or nacho chips covered with cheese. Just say no.

  • 2.

    Order a healthy starter instead.

    Look for ceviches (marinated raw fish or seafood); guacamole, which is full of “good” fats (ask for soft tortillas instead of deep-fried chips to dip, and don’t overeat them); gazpacho, a spicy cold vegetable soup; black bean soup; and tortilla soup (chicken in broth with vegetables and thin fried tortilla chips). Ask for extra salsa for the table and eat it with a spoon rather than on chips.

  • 3.

    For an entrée, look to fajitas.

    These are made with lean beef (or chicken or shrimp) grilled with onions and peppers. Other good choices are grilled chicken or fish dishes.

  • 4.

    Order tacos or burritos without high-fat sour cream.

    Ask for extra salsa instead. Hard tacos are fried, so you’re better off with soft tacos; soft tortillas are even better. A small tortilla is the equivalent of a slice of bread. If you’re not eating rice, two or three soft tacos are fine, but stick to one or two if you are having rice. If you’re getting a burrito, ask for no rice and more beans.

  • 5.

    As a side dish, go for rice and beans instead of Mexican rice.

    Thanks to the beans, this dish has a lower GL than rice alone. But check first to be sure the beans aren’t refried. Refried beans are loaded with fat.

  • 6.

    Have dessert at home.

    Desserts at Mexican restaurants, such as flan and fried ice cream, are usually high in calories and fat, so skip them and eat something healthier elsewhere.

  • Just Say No

  • Tortilla chips
  • Nachos
  • Chimichangas
  • Quesadillas
  • Enchiladas (beef, cheese, or any other kind)
  • Chiles rellenos
  • Refried beans
  • Anything “grande”
by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 6:24 AM
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