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Key Strategies for Dining Out on The South Beach Diet

How to Make Healthy Food Choices When Eating Out


Updated February 16, 2006

Dining out is one of life's pleasures, but it's also a challenge when you're trying to maintain a healthy diet. At home you can control what you put on your plate, but when you eat out, you're bound to come up against some common pitfalls: oversized portions, tempting refined carbs, extra ingredients that add bad fat and bad carbs, and of course menus that don't offer many South Beach Diet-friendly options. The following tips will help you stick to your healthy eating plan.

  • Have a protein snack before you leave the house. By eating something with protein -- a hard-boiled egg or a piece of reduced-fat cheese, for example -- about 15 minutes before you arrive at the restaurant, you'll take the edge off your appetite. If you're not ravenous while you're reading the menu, you'll be able to make better food choices.

  • Banish the bread basket. And the tortilla chips basket. And the crispy noodle basket. They're all filled with bad (refined) carbs, such as rolls made from white flour or deep-fried tortilla chips. Eating these carbs will give you a glucose jolt that could raise your blood sugar, and you might end up feeling hungrier. If it's okay with your fellow diners, ask your server to remove the basket before you even have a chance to nibble. If not, wait until everyone has taken some and then ask the server to remove the basket. (If that's not appropriate for the group you're with, at least position the basket as far from yourself as possible.) Once you're on Phase 2 or 3, you can indulge in a slice from the bread basket -- as long as it is made from whole grains. To prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar, dip the bread into olive oil or even spread a little butter on it. The added calories are offset by the feeling of fullness that the fat adds.

  • Order soup. If possible, order a cup of soup -- the dieter's friend -- as soon as you're seated. Look for soups that are rich in vegetables and that aren't cream-based, or order clear broth or consommé. The beauty of soup is that it fills you up, so you're not so hungry when it comes time to order from the rest of the menu. It also sends a message to your brain that you're eating and will be full soon. Since it takes about 20 minutes for that message to travel from your stomach to your brain, by the time your main course arrives, you'll already be on the way to feeling satiated.

  • Ask for extra veggies instead of starches. Main courses usually come with starchy side dishes, such as white rice or mashed potatoes, which are undesirable foods for South Beach dieters on Phase 1 and 2. Ask instead for extra green vegetables, such as broccoli or string beans, or for a small green salad. Today, this is a routine request in many restaurants -- and your server should be happy to help.

  • Pick healthy cooking methods. Stay away from anything on the menu that appears to be coated or battered and fried. If the dish comes with a rich butter or cheese sauce, ask for it on the side. Stick to cooking methods -- such as roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, steaming, and even sautéing -- that don't add bad fats.

  • Have a (nonalcoholic) drink or two. When your server asks if you want something from the bar, order a glass of water or diet soda. Sip it instead of a mixed drink or beer, and order another to go with your meal. Beyond Phase 1, have a glass of red or white wine along with your food -- this is a form of alcohol that's not only acceptable but good for you.

  • Enjoy dessert -- within reason. The South Beach Diet is a lifestyle, and life without dessert would be no fun at all! But you have to make the right choices. Skip high-fat, high-sugar desserts. After Phase 1, if the menu offers fresh fruit, like berries or melon, that's your best choice. If you decide to indulge in something more decadent, use common sense. Ask the server to bring extra forks, limit yourself to three bites, and then share the rest with your fellow diners. After you've been on the South Beach Diet for a while, you may well find that your sweet tooth is more than satisfied with a small portion.

Arthur Agatston, MD, is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and has authored groundbreaking studies, as well as reviewed manuscripts for major medical and cardiology journals. He is the author of the best-selling books The South Beach Diet and The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide and has appeared on national television shows including Today, Dateline, Good Morning America, and 20/20. In addition, Dr. Agatston is frequently quoted as an expert in cardiac health and diet in the media. He maintains a private cardiology practice, focusing on prevention, in Miami Beach, where he lives with his wife, Sari, and their two children.

Copyright © 2006 Arthur Agatston

The South Beach Diet Dining Guide
by Arthur Agatston, MD
Published by Rodale; December 2005;$7.99US/$10.99CAN; 1-59486-360-1

Excerpt Published: 02/16/06

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