How to Eat Healthy When Dining Out
“Eating healthy” means consistently making healthy decisions when it comes to your food. The decision process often starts with shopping. Your state of mind at the grocery store will affect your purchases. Feeling hungry or “off” can lead to emotional purchases that you may not necessarily want on your shelves at home. Try making a list (preferably incorporating items discussed below) and sticking to it when you are shopping. Buying locally at farmer’s markets or farm stands can also improve decisions.
Eating out at restaurants can make “eating healthy” trickier. If not planned ahead, the decision may come down to proximity or emotional state. Creating a strategy will help keep you on track with your healthy nutrition plan.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Deciding where to dine can dramatically impact the quality of the food you consume. Whether it’s a quick grab-and-go or a more refined “farm to table restaurant,” a little planning can change your outcome. The best resource for making a good choice is the internet. Using your browser or a mobile app (such as Yelp or Findmeglutenfree) can direct you to the right location. Most restaurants have menus available online so you can see your options beforehand.
If you know “Tuesday is pizza day at the office” or that everyone is going out for pizza after the game, not having a plan will leave you with no options other than pizza. While the occasional slice might not be a problem, weekly habits can derail your health goals. Rather than feeling deprived or regretful, planning ahead can lead to better choices. Meal planning the day ahead or at the beginning of the week can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
There are several solutions to the pizza conundrum:
- Eat something before you go. It will deter you from unhealthy options and overeating.
- Mentally commit to starting with a salad. Then if you are still hungry, be mindful of your portion.
- Be aware that the occasional “unhealthy choice” is okay, and if necessary you can plan for it and adjust your other food choices throughout the day.
- Give yourself a “reward” for eating well. Treats can help you find motivation for eating healthy. For example, rewarding yourself with a periodic massage may make it easier to turn down an unhealthy dinner option.
The enticement of restaurants not only comes in the food, but also with the ambiance and the company. Prior to making decisions about food, you can take a moment to put it into perspective. Ask yourself these questions prior to ordering or consuming any food:
- How am I feeling physically and emotionally?
- How hungry am I?
- What do I want from this food and this meal experience?
- How will I feel tomorrow about this food choice?
At its most simple form, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) nutrition is this mindful moment. Research shows that people maintain and achieve a healthy weight effectively with this MBSR nutrition.
Nutrition for its Nutrients
There are a variety of diets or nutrition plans out there – each with their own benefits, and it is important to find the right nutrition plan for you. This is can be done with the aid of a physician or nutritionist. No matter what nutrition plan you choose, mindful eating, and being aware of the benefits of each type of food will go a long way. It is easy to get caught up in what you CANNOT eat, instead of thinking about what you CAN eat!
It is important to focus on the nutritional value of your food. As they say, “knowledge is power,” so knowing what you may gain from certain foods may make it easier to choose them. Let’s look at some important nutrients:
- Iron is a key nutrient for carrying oxygen in your blood, making thyroid hormone, and repairing all the tissues in your body. Iron is found in meat and seafood. It is also present in beans and dark, leafy vegetables. Iron is best absorbed with vitamin C.
- Vitamin C is important for the immune system, wound healing, removing free radicals (which is both anti-cancer and anti-inflammation) and iron absorption. Sources include berries, citrus, leafy green vegetables, peppers, and melons.
- B vitamins such as B12 are important for blood cell and nerve function. Plants do not naturally have B12, but it is found in many food sources such as clams, beef liver, red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, soy bean, and dairy products.
- Vitamin A is also known as beta-carotene. It is important for vision, reproduction, and the immune system. Often considered the “orange foods,” including carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash, and cantaloupes. Leafy green vegetables are also high in Vitamin A.
- Vitamin E is also important to remove free radicals and assist with blood vessel formation. It is found naturally in avocados, fish, leafy greens, mangoes, nuts and seeds.
- Magnesium supplementation has been used to strengthen bones, lower blood pressure, decrease headaches, and for nerve and muscle relaxation. Magnesium is found in legumes, nuts (such as almonds and cashews), seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.
- Iodine is a mineral that is important for making thyroid hormones. Earths soil contains varying amounts of iodine. The best source for iodine is seaweed, sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, nori, kombu), but it is also present in fish.
- Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients that is difficult to get from food. Our bodies produce Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to UV rays. This vitamin is important for calcium absorption and promotes bone strength as well as reducing inflammation, improving the immune system and assisting with nerve and muscle function. It is found naturally in fishes such as tuna and salmon, beef liver, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
- A note on fortified foods: Some foods are “fortified” with nutrients. This means the food is enriched to provide additional nutrients to what is naturally there. Typically breads and cereals are fortified with different nutrients.
Certain foods such as leafy green vegetables are very nutrient dense. While shopping for home and eating out, it is important to focus on the goal and intention of your meals. Try to look at menus (or create your own at home) that focus on those foods that will best help you achieve your health goals. To summarize, plan ahead, be mindful of your shopping and eating choices, choose nutrient dense foods, and set yourself up for success!
Dr. Lauren Young is the clinic director of Collaborative Natural Health Partners, a medical center offering integrative primary care, naturopathic medicine and acupuncture. Dr. Julia Vitali is an Integrative Primary Care provider at the practice. The practice is currently accepting patients, is in network with most major health insurances and eager to join you on your health journey. To schedule an appointment, call (860)533-0179 or visit: ctnaturalhealth.com.