When you eat at a restaurant, you don’t really know what you are getting, nutritionally speaking. Many people eat healthy at home, but treat themselves when they eat out. That works fine if you eat out as a special occasion. But if you eat out even a few times a week, this can really add up, sabotaging your diet and your health.
You certainly will be eating more fat, sugar, and salt than you would imagine — probably a lot more! If you are abundantly healthy this won’t be much of a problem. But if you are trying to manage your weight, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, triglycerides or cholesterol, even eating out once a week can sabotage your otherwise healthy regime.
My Big Fat Italian Lunch
Several years ago I regularly ate lunch at Macaroni Grill, a nice Italian restaurant chain (not a pizza place). I’d usually order a house salad (with lemon — no dressing) and chicken marsala, then share a piece of their “to-die-for” chocolate cake. This meal doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I think I should get a point for skipping wine and bread.
Here’s how the nutritional value of this meals stands up:
Nutritional information from CalorieLab.com (DV = Daily Value)
Each dish contained a big surprise for me:
- A salad with no dressing contains 460 milligrams of sodium which hardly seems possible. It must be the croutons.
- I didn’t expect the chicken to contain my day’s allotment of fat. And this fat is almost certainly all unhealthy trans fats.
- Cake is obviously nothing but sugar, wheat, and fat but I was still surprised at the calories, fat, and sodium in 1/2 a piece — I’m glad I shared! Learn how sugar harms your brain here.
In just one lunch I’d eaten my daily allotment for calories and salt and almost 3 days worth of fat. Holy stromboli!
Since I also ate breakfast and a light dinner on these days, my total calories probably would have been around 3,000 — 1,000 more than I ate on other days. Eating an extra 1,000 calories every week could put on 15 pounds during the course of a year. This is bad news for your belly and your brain, since being overweight is one of the worst things you can do to your brain.
Clearly, you should consider eating out an occasional treat or be very, very careful about what you order. For chain restaurants, you can look up nutritional content ahead at CalorieLab.com to help plan your meal.
If You Aren’t Big on Cooking
In his newest book, Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan points out a weird paradox. People are eating more restaurant and processed food than ever before, while food chefs on TV are elevated to celebrity status. Many people are cooking less but are watching others cook instead, to the detriment of their health.
There are many reasons people don’t cook — they don’t enjoy it, don’t have time, don’t know how, or aren’t very good at it.
If you fall into any of these categories, but really want to eat better, check out TheStoneSoup.com. Jules Clancy is the cooking dynamo behind this website.
Her website has recipes for every eating style from vegan (lots of veggies but no animal products) to paleo (lots of veggies and plenty of meat) and everything in between. She embraces minimalism so all of her recipes take little time to prepare using a small number of ingredients, yet are beautiful, delicious, interesting, and healthy.
Her highly popular food blog goes back to 2005 so there is a wealth of great content and recipes on her site along with gorgeous food photographs that she takes herself, like this one of chicken with pesto sauce.
Tim Ferriss, author of the “4-hour” books including The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, cites Jules as an inspiration and includes one of her recipes in his most recent book, The 4-Hour Chef.
Jules has a degree in food science and is as passionate about cooking as she is knowledgeable. She offers a selection of digital books, video cooking classes, and online cooking courses so you can either start small or dive right into her easy style of cooking.
My favorites are Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion for endless meal ideas that use less than 5 ingredients, and Love Your Waistline and Your Food, ideal for anyone who loves delicious food but wants to lose weight. There are also companion videos available so you can watch her prepare each recipe step-by-step.
Her online program, Mastering the Art of Cooking on a Budget, lives up to its name and is available for whatever you can afford to pay.
With hundreds of recipes that can be prepared in less time that it would take to drive to a restaurant, there really is no excuse not to get in the kitchen and do more healthy home-cooking!