Cholesterol watchers feel outfoxed when they find themselves in a restaurant. And given the agenda of the modern executive, for example, working meals are inescapable while we do business, and this can happen more than just a couple of times a week.
So what do you do when you find yourself staring at a flawlessly presented menu and the little voice in your head says: REMEMBER, YOU ARE ON A CHOLESTEROL-LOWERING DIET!
The key, of course, in a cholesterol-lowering diet is to lower LDL levels, or the “bad cholesterol,” (remember High Density Lipoproteins are GOOD, Low Density Lipoproteins are BAD) by following a diet that is low in fat, particularly saturated fat. Saturated fats and trans fats, in particular, raise the total cholesterol and LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels in the blood. This is the culprit that leads to plaque formation, which is the beginning of the slippery slope that results in heart attack or stroke. Transfats do more than just the dirty work, they even lower the levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”) in the blood.
We all know that cooking low-fat meals at home is one challenge, but on the other hand, ordering your meal in a restaurant is another ball game because you simply cannot control the ingredients the chef is using to cook the meals.
But don’t lose hope. Follow these simple tips and you could stay right on a heart-healthy track, even in a restaurant!
First, look for the dietary information right on the menu, (the better restaurants follow this practice) so that makes it that much easier. When you don’t have this advantage, look for clues in those flowery descriptions that follow the name of the dish. They are usually written to melt your willpower, but the better written they are, the more clues you have to ‘decipher’ them!
Anything breaded, battered or fried foods is high in fat. So, in the description, look for words like fried, deep-fried or batter-fried, pan-fried, crispy, golden. Stop salivating and start thinking. Look for the dishes that are described as: broiled or baked, braised, poached or steamed, roasted, barbecued, lightly sautéed or stir fried, garden fresh.
Now, you don’t really need to be reminded that you must avoid anything that contains heaps of cheese or cream. In Continental restaurants, a dish usually comes with a sauce … consisting mostly of butter, cream, oil or other fats. Request that that sauce be served separately. Here’s a great trick to not lose out on the taste: lightly dip your spoon or fork into the sauce before each bite: You will get the flavour and keep out the fat and calories.
Psst …. mashed potatoes. They are usually mashed with cream and butter. Don’t make the mistake of thinking ‘carbohydrate’ and end up eating stuff that clogs your heart. Go for the jacket potato, sprinkle it with lemon juice, disdain the butter, cream and salt.
Help for non-vegetarians:
Fish, which is naturally low in saturated fat, is the ideal main course. AS LONG AS IT IS NOT BATTERED OR FRIED. When ordering meat, request lean meat. Avoid cold cuts like salami, ham, hot dogs and bacon; they are high in fat and salt. Speaking of salt, if you are watching your blood pressure, salt is something you should keep your eye on.
Going with chicken? Good move, but when your dish arrives, check to see if your chicken came with the skin. Make it a point to remove the skin and keep it aside. Remember, most of the fat in chicken is in the skin. (If you are eating the skin, and telling yourself you are eating chicken because its idea in a fat-free diet, you are fooling yourself.) And remember to opt for white meat, like chicken breast, because it is lower in fat than the dark meat, like chicken thighs or drumsticks.
Ordering eggs? Eggs are a common part of breakfast all over the world, and one food that you have some control over in a restaurant! Don’t go for the ‘sunny side up’ eggs because these are fried. Opt for an omelet, because then you can request that your dish be prepared with all egg white. Egg whites (albumin) are an excellent source of protein, but those delicious, inviting golden yellow egg yolks are high in fat, including saturated fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels.
Many restaurants put a lot of yummy things like onion, tomatoes, parsley into an omelet. Good. Go with it. They also put cheese, bits of ham, salami and chicken … WATCH OUT! Better to walk upto the counter that makes the omelet and give the chef a few instructions yourself.
Now. Make it a conscious habit to FILL YOURSELF with fruits, vegetables or carbohydrates. Carbohydrates like potatoes and beans and bread are good and go for the ones high in fiber. Some forms of soluble dietary fiber, like isabgol, can help reduce blood levels of LDL. Pasta? Good by itself, dangerous with those white creamy, buttery sauces.
Beware of buffets. They sap the strongest will. Fill your plate with the healthiest options: simply prepared dishes, vegetables, fruit and other food items high in fiber.
For dessert, fruit is best. In fact, cheat well. Start your buffet raid with the fruits. Take the edge off your hunger with juicy, water-based fruit. Eat every colour of fruit you can find. The more colours, the better.
Okaaaaaaaaaaaay, can’t resist that sinful, gooey, sugary, chocolatey thing beckoning you? Share it with a friend. A sin divided is twice enjoyed. Don’t quote us. 🙂
AVOID ALL FAST FOOD. It is very high in fat and salt. Stuck in a fast-food restaurant? Look for the salads or grilled chicken sandwiches. With salads, request the dressing separately and ignore the creamy dressings. Choose mustard over mayonnaise. AND SPECIFY THAT YOU DO NOT WANT CHEESE.