Americans spend more money eating out than they do buying groceries. Today, we rely heavily on restaurants and takeout meals not just as an excuse for indulgent behavior, but as a necessity due to our busy lifestyles. It is possible to eat these prepared foods without impacting your waistline.
More than ever, restaurants are catering to a healthier clientele, so it’s easy to stay in the Zone while eating out. Waitstaff are accustomed to answering questions about how foods are prepared so if you want to know the types of oils, if you can double the veggies, or add protein to your salad, don’t be afraid to ask. Here are some tips for navigating numerous cuisines while staying in the Zone.
Keep Dining Out Simple in 3 Easy Steps
The Zone Diet is easy to follow when dining out.
- Divide your plate into three equal parts. On one-third of your plate, put some low-fat protein that is no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand. That’s about 3 ounces of low-fat protein for women and 4 ounces of low-fat protein for men.
- Fill the remaining two-thirds of the plate with colorful, non-starchy vegetables, especially those from the Mediterranean region (e.g. tomato, eggplant, artichokes).
- Add a dash of heart healthy monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil, slivered almonds, walnuts or guacamole.
With these tips, you can successfully create a healthy Zone meal anywhere. Even if you deviate slightly, you can always get back on track at your next Zone meal.
Many American restaurants overdo it on the amount of protein they serve, especially when it comes to steak. When you order an entrée, ask for a to-go bag and immediately cut the protein in half and take the other half for a meal to enjoy later. Avoid the starchy sides like mashed potatoes, rice and French fries, and ask for double vegetables instead. Here are some menu items in a traditional steakhouse that are Zone Friendly:
- Seared Ahi Tuna appetizer with a side of vegetables
- Chicken or Shrimp Caesar Salad (dressing on the side)
- Grilled Chicken on the Barbie
- Atlantic Salmon or Lobster Tails with vegetables on the side
- Steak (consume in moderation, go for leaner cuts and try to avoid cream sauces on top.)
If you find yourself eating fast food, try a soup/salad combo. Broth-based soups that contain lots of vegetables and garden salads with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing on the side are good options. At McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy’s consider having a plain hamburger or grilled chicken sandwich without the bun and add a side salad. Wendy’s also serves chili, which is a good alternative too!
Asian Cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Taiwan and Others)
When eating Asian cuisine, hold the rice and noodles. No matter how healthy the rest of your meal looks, the starchy carbohydrates have a tendency to leave you feeling hungry shortly after you finish your meal. Instead, aim for foods that have a mix of lean protein and favorable carbohydrates like those found in fruits and vegetables. Entrées served in Asian restaurants are more likely to be larger than one portion, so consider splitting an entrée with someone else or taking the other half to go.
Use chopsticks. The chopsticks help you to eat slower since you can’t get as much food in each bite. You’ll be less likely to overeat because you'll feel fuller quicker. Try to avoid the sweet-and sour and coconut sauces and go for the ponzu, rice-wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger or low-sodium soy sauces instead. The following are menu items worth considering:
- Wonton, Miso or Hot-and-Sour Soup
- Cucumber Salad Chicken
- Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
- Lightly stir-fried entrees with lots of boiled, broiled, steamed vegetables
Although many traditional Indian entrées are prepared with clarified butter, fried or sautéed, it doesn’t mean you have to rule out this cuisine completely. Many entrées include legumes and vegetables with meat being used as a condiment. For appetizers, start with salads or yogurt dishes containing chopped vegetables. Choose chicken and seafood over beef and lamb, and try to keep it to one protein option. Here are some standard menu items to consider:
- Dal Soup
- Chicken and Cilantro Soup
- Vegetable Soup Garden
- Tandoori Tikka Salad
- Tandoori Grilled Vegetable Salad
- Three Bean Salad (avoid potatoes if included)
- Chicken Tikka
- Chicken Tandoori
When dining Italian, eat like the Italians. It is a misconception that the bulk of the diet in Italy is large portions of pasta and pizza. In actuality, pasta and pizza make up a small portion of their meals. The rest is lean protein and vegetables. Order dishes that contain lean meats, chicken or fish, and ask for extra grilled vegetables on the side. Avoid pastas and breads. When ordering entrées containing sauces, stick with marinara and tomato-based sauces rather than cheese and cream sauces. Here are some ideas:
- Caprese Salad
- Warm Spinach Salad
- Chicken Caesar Salad (avoid croutons and ask for dressing on the side)
- Insalata Blu
- Scallops and Spinach Salad
- Grilled Chicken or Shrimp Spiedini
- Grilled Salmon or Halibut
Enjoy the spices and heat of Mexican cuisine while limiting your intake of the starchy carbohydrates found in flour tortillas and rice. Many restaurants offer great choices for salads. Just avoid the fried tortilla shell they come in, and ask for a vinaigrette dressing on the side. Use lean meats, black beans, salsa and avocado for fillings, and go easy on the mixed cheeses and sour cream. Grilled chicken and fish are usually easy to come by, but instead of rice, have the black beans with extra vegetables. Here are some Zone favorable suggestions:
- Guacamole (swap out chips for Jicama- a crunchy root vegetable high in fiber)
- Chicken Fajita Salad (go easy on tortilla strips and bacon)
- Spicy Garlic and Lime Grilled Shrimp Salad
- Margarita Grilled Chicken
- Fajitas/Enchiladas (avoid the flour tortillas and taco shells and keep it to just the filling)
Eat Out Without the Guilt
If you follow the three Zone steps above, eating out is simple and allows you to navigate any cuisine. Even dessert isn't off the table—mixed berries with a little whipped cream is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you end up straying a bit, just remember you can get back on track at your next meal. Straying from time to time doesn’t have to be an excuse to give up on your commitment to healthier living.