Heart healthy dining on the go

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:17 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:46 a.m.
Red Rock Grilled Shrimp is among the heart-healthy offerings at Outback Steakhouse.
Red Rock Grilled Shrimp is among the heart-healthy offerings at Outback Steakhouse.

You can eat out and eat heart-healthy, too. Lots of restaurants these days offer meals that are lower in fat, calories and sodium. But the very same restaurants also serve food extremely high in calories and salt. So it’s mainly up to you to decipher the best choices.

Fortunately, many restaurants now include nutrition information on their menus or posted behind the counter. Some have such information available but you need to ask for it. If you’re selective about both the restaurant choice and meal choice, you can even eat fast food minus the guilt.


Not all restaurants offer specifically heart-healthy meals but you can help yourself by choosing smaller portions, taking half home or sharing an entrée with a companion. You can also request to have food prepared with low-fat ingredients and less salt. Call ahead before you choose your restaurant to see which ones offer healthy options or are willing to prepare food to meet your needs.

Why go to all this bother? More than 700,000 Americans have heart attacks each year and a quarter of all people in the U.S. die from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s one reason why the American Heart Association (AHA) is trying to take the guesswork out of spotting heart-healthy food options. The organization’s Heart-Check meal certification program works with restaurants to label meals certified as heart-healthy.

Look for the AHA Heart-Check symbol on the menu. Those meals will have no more than 700 calories, 3 grams or less of fat and 800 milligrams or less of sodium. Compare that to the average of 1,500 calories and 3,510 milligrams of sodium in restaurant chain meals. In fact, sodium levels at restaurants typically exceed the daily recommended amount by 153 percent, according to a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Digital dining

You can also turn to the internet for help. Download applications for your mobile phone for everything from calorie counters to apps that scan package barcodes to give you nutrition information on a specific product. Or check out websites to help you find healthy meal choices.

The AHA website (www.heart.org) has loads of information on aspects of heart-healthy eating including diet goals, shopping, cooking and recipes. Start by clicking on “Getting Healthy,” then “Nutrition Center.” You can get the lowdown on a wide variety of cuisines by clicking on “Dining Out Tips by Cuisine.” This section has pages devoted to different types of cuisine such as Chinese, Indian, vegetarian and Mexican. Another section can help you find healthy fast food.

“Healthy Dining Finder,” (www.healthydiningfinder.com), a commercial website, can locate local restaurants that have healthy meals by plugging in your zip code. The site also includes restaurant recipes, restaurant reviews and a question and answer section. Those concerned with sodium can go to a special section for dishes that are low in salt.

Salisbury restaurants listed by Healthy Dining Finder include Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Outback and Cracker Barrel. Interestingly, the two steakhouses have the most health-friendly meals according to the website.

The AHA currently certifies 20 meals at Subway. Meals include salad or 6-inch sub, apple slices or whole apples and water. Look for the Heart-Check symbol on sandwiches including roast chicken or turkey, Black Forest ham, roast beef, and veggie. Salads with those ingredients plus Subway’s sweet onion dressing also meet AHA requirements.

Dining out do’s and don’ts

• No super-sizing. Ever.

• Take a pass on items fried, sautéed, au gratin or stuffed. Look for steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted food.

• Request meals prepared with vegetable oil instead of butter and use soft margarine on bread. And veto higher-fat muffins and sweet breads.

• Watch out for high-sodium foods like pickles, cocktail sauce and soy sauce. Ask for food without added salt or MSG.

• Ask for gravy, sauces and dressings on the side so you can control how much you eat. Or skip them altogether. Also request sandwiches without mayonnaise or other creamy dressings.

• Choose non- or low-fat milk, yogurt or cottage cheese.

• For your sweet tooth, opt for fruit, sherbet or nonfat frozen yogurt.

Healthy in a hurry

Avoid the line at the drive-through and make a quick run into the grocery store instead. Look for prepared entrees that can be a healthy alternative to fast food. Reading the nutrition label can take time, but knowing what’s in your favorites will speed the process in the future.

Ready-made meals, packaged salads and soups can be good options. Look for the AHA heart-check symbol on the packages. Or think outside the box and check out freshly made sandwiches of turkey and whole-grain bread. Add a piece of fruit and you’re ready to go.

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