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Eating out without the weight gain
By Amal Al-Sibai
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 27 - 06 - 2009

The weekend is a time for families to go out together for lunch or dinner and for mothers to take a break from cooking. An overwhelming dilemma these days is that most restaurants serve very large portions of food, and meals are too high in total fat, saturated fat, calories, and salt. If you do not control what you eat, frequent dining out can cause weight gain.
However, if you know where to go and make the right food choices, you can eat out and still avoid putting on those extra kilograms. Indeed, eating healthy does not mean that you should miss out on fun outings with your friends or family or that you should give up restaurants all together. You just have to be more aware of which food selections to make and which to avoid. Saudi Gazette conducted some research to guide you when eating out while maintaining a healthy weight.
No matter where you go, you should strictly avoid any deep fried foods: battered and fried shrimp, fish, chicken, and French fries. Fried foods soak up too much oil so they are extremely high in fat. Look at it this way: One gram of carbohydrates from a potato contains four calories. Then when you fry it, one gram of fat from the frying oil adds nine calories. In addition, the excessive heating of oils changes the structure of foods and produces potentially carcinogenic compounds, that can be harmful to one's health.
As a general rule at any restaurant, do not over-indulge in bread. If there is whole wheat or whole grain bread you can eat one slice without butter. A good tip is to order a salad before the main course to dampen your appetite. Select a fresh garden salad, Greek salad, or tabouleh, and ask for a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice on the side so you can control how much to use. Avoid creamy Caesar salads and any other salad with mayonnaise or other creamy dressings because they pack on too many calories. If there is a salad bar, fill your salad bowl with vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrot sticks, corn, beets, and some garbanzo and kidney beans.
To drink, simply go for water or unsweetened iced tea. Do not feel intimidated by the waiter who may persistently suggest you try a blended drink or dessert, as the chilled fruit smoothies are actually loaded with added sugar. Waiters are trained to persuade you to order more, and if you give in you will end up overeating, feeling bloated, and gaining weight. You are not “cheap” if you decline the offer to try dessert, you are just wise.
American/Mexican cuisine
At American/Mexican restaurants the favorite appetizer is tortilla chips with a dip, so order only the hot salsa or other tomato dip and steer away from the melted cheese, sour cream, and guacamole. Keep in mind that one basket of chips and salsa contains 480 calories, and compare that with an order of the nachos with melted cheese, sour cream, and other toppings that contains up to 1,450 calories.
For the main course, a grilled steak without bread is the healthiest way to go. Order the grilled sirloin steak with 540 calories and 42 grams of fat instead of the grilled rib eye steak with 960 calories and 87 grams of fat. For the side dish, request either steamed vegetables or a baked potato without the butter and sour cream.
A relatively low calorie and delicious choice in the Mexican cuisine is a chicken fajita. The entire skillet of roasted chicken, green and red bell peppers and onions has a savory taste and only 330 calories and 11 grams of fat. Keep away from the cheese, guacamole, or sour cream when creating your fajita wrap, and spice it up with salsa and chopped tomatoes and onions.
Chinese cuisine
Chinese food can be healthy because most dishes are stir-fried in a little peanut or sesame seed oil and are rich in vegetables. Pick the vegetarian spring rolls and not the chicken egg rolls and eat only one. The veggie choice has 80 calories per roll whereas one chicken egg roll has double the number of calories. Avoid the fried noodles such as chow mein because they are too oily.
Always order steamed white rice instead of fried rice, as while a personal order of steamed rice has 380 calories and only 2.5 grams of fat, the fried rice has 450 calories and 14 grams of fat. Your best option is to choose a vegetarian dish to accompany your steamed rice and Chinese restaurants offer a wide variety of excellent vegetarian choices: mixed vegetable chop suey, mushrooms and bamboo shoots, or tofu with sautéed vegetables.
Middle Eastern cuisine
Middle Eastern or Lebanese restaurants have plenty of salads to choose from: tabouleh, fattoush (but don't eat the fried bread), yogurt and cucumber salad, and watercress salad. Hummus is an excellent high protein, low fat food. Learn to eat hummus and the tasty eggplant dip with a fork or cucumber and carrot sticks instead of bread.
For the main course, opt for grilled fish or chicken. One grilled chicken breast – if you remove the skin – has only 142 calories. Skip the sambusa and fried kibbeh because they are too greasy. Middle Eastern restaurants are famous for their fresh juices high in vitamin C and beta-carotene, and the only problem is that one glass is too large which means too many calories. So, order a fresh pomegranate, orange, grape, or carrot juice but share it with someone else.
Italian cuisine
At Italian restaurants the breads and breadsticks served are very tempting, but keep away from them. Start with a salad. If you are in the mood for pizza order the crust to be thin and choose vegetable toppings. Strictly avoid pepperoni and other meat products as they are too high in fat, cholesterol, and calories, and do not order pasta dishes with rich creamy sauces – especially fettuccine alfredo - because they have an alarmingly high amount of fat and calories. One serving of fettuccine alfredo, for instance, has 850 calories and 48 grams of fat. Healthier possible toppings for your pasta are tomato sauce or pesto or garlic and olive oil.
Eating smart and watching your weight does not have to be limited or boring. You can go ahead and enjoy your life while enjoying a leaner body. - SG
Amal Al-Sibai holds a Bachelor's degree in Holistic Nutrition from the United States, and has previously worked as a nutritional consultant, helping women and teenagers with weight loss. __


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