It’s been long day. And an even longer week. When Friday rolls around, it’s natural to want to go out to eat. But should you now that you’re on The South Beach Diet? Without a doubt: Yes. In fact, you have to. On each Phase of the South Beach Diet, it’s your responsibility to prepare two DIY breakfasts, lunches and dinners each week, whether you cook it at home or go to a restaurant.
Why? It’s great practice for the real world. Going out to eat is a natural part of learning how to live a high-quality, heart-healthy lifestyle without hunger or deprivation. Plus, every restaurant menu—no matter how deep fried and cheesy it may seem—has something you can eat. So what are those “approved” foods? What kinds of things should you absolutely avoid?
Read on for some tips and tricks when heading out to eat:
When out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, start with salsa (that’s a free food on the South Beach Diet) and/or guacamole (just keep the serving size to ¼ cup). Ask the server to hold the chips. Request cucumber slices, jicama, raw bell pepper or even celery sticks for dipping. Gazpacho (a cold tomato-based vegetable soup) is another great starter.
For your entrée, order something like a black bean, grilled chicken or steak taco with lettuce, tomato and grilled onions and peppers. Top your taco with salsa or ask for a whole wheat tortilla. If you’d like sour cream, go for it—just stick to one Tablespoon. Sour cream is an “Extra” (a serving size = up to 35 calories). Stick with sides like fat-free refried beans, whole grain rice or an avocado salad.
Not sure of the Spanish lingo? “Asada” and “a la parilla” are your clues to grilled meats and poultry. “Con queso” means “with cheese” which can turn an otherwise healthy entrée into a calorie bomb. Always ask your server questions so you’re not inadvertently ordering something fried or stuffed with cheese.
Sodium. Sodium. Sodium. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day yet soy sauce, perhaps the most popular Chinese condiment, contains 879 milligrams of sodium per one Tablespoon.
Always request low-sodium soy sauce when out to eat, and watch both the salt and sugar levels from other condiments like sweet and sour or duck sauce.
When it comes to the menu, your safest bets are shashimi, sushi with brown rice, and stir-fried dishes with vegetables and lean meats like shrimp, chicken or tofu. Trade fried egg rolls for a cup of egg drop soup, which can run as few as 40 calories, but could help you save far more calories when your entree arrives. In a 2007 study, scientists found that having a low-calorie soup as a first course reduced the amount of calories participants ate at entree time by 20 percent.
If possible, ask the chef to use less oil during preparation and to even box up part of your portion before you ever see it. Chinese food portions are among the largest in the restaurant world. If you remove the temptation to eat more beforehand, you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
You can have pasta. Repeat: You CAN have pasta. Just make sure it’s wheat, rice, quinoa, soy or spelt pasta (cooked al dente), and you limit the amount you consume to ½ cup. You can also have a brick-oven veggie pizza (with a small sprinkle of cheese) as long as the chef used whole-wheat dough. Definitely steer clear of traditional pizza and pasta—you’ve worked too hard to rid your body of its dependence on refined carbs.
The beauty of Italian food is that you’ll find tomato sauce or pesto and a lean protein on virtually every menu. Instead of fried chicken parm, request grilled chicken parm topped with the house tomato sauce. Instead of pan-seared bronzino in a brown butter sauce, ask for the fish to be cooked in olive oil and lemon and served over a bed of greens. For a starter, avoid the garlic bread or fried calamari. A caprese salad, stuffed mushrooms or a fresh vegetable soup are good alternatives.
When out to eat, ask the server to skip the bread for the table and to not offer a second glass of wine (remember, one glass is just fine). You could also ask your server to not bring the dessert tray around so eye hunger won’t win. “The eye can convince the mind to override signals from the stomach and body, even when they are not at all hungry,” says Jan Chozen Bays M.D. in Mindful Eating.
You’ve got lots of flavorful, healthful options here. Virtually every Indian dish is flavored with plenty of spices, not piles of cheese or butter. There are exceptions to the rule of course (including creamy Chicken Tiki Masala or deep-fried samosas). But the Indian favorite Tandoori Chicken, for example, is cooked in a tandoor, a bell-shaped clay pot that can reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees. No oil, no frying. Chana masala is a spicy chickpea dish (remember: chickpeas are loaded with fiber) with onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger. You could also try lamb kabobs with onions, peppers and tomatoes. Delicious!
Don’t eat the Naan; order Roti (a whole-wheat version of Naan) instead. As for the Basmati rice, dig in! It’s South-Beach-Diet-approved. Just stick to ½ cup. Raita, the yogurt-based cream sauce with cucumbers and dill is also South-Beach-approved. Just be careful about how much of it you’re drizzling onto your food.
At the Steakhouse:
Don’t let the wedge salad fool you. It may be mostly lettuce, but it’s the blue cheese crumbles, bacon and dressing that make the appetizer high in saturated fat. Instead of a wedge or creamy lobster bisque, choose an appetizer like a seafood stack, shrimp cocktail, Ahi tuna or French onion soup without the cheese and bread.
A sirloin steak is a fabulous example of a lean protein, but beware of the 24-ounce porterhouse. That’s EIGHT times the recommended serving size for sirloin steak when you’re following the South Beach Diet. Filet mignons are often smaller cuts of meat and among the most tender. Look for a filet, order the six-ounce, and then cut your steak in half when it arrives. Enjoy some now; take the rest to go.
Steak and potatoes do belong together, but South Beach Diet recommends sweet potatoes because white potatoes are quite high in starch (which the body processes like a carb). If you’re not a sweet potato fan, order turnips, another fresh vegetable, a salad, wild rice or couscous.
At the Diner:
We’ve all seen those diner menus that are more like books than menus. From breakfast to dessert, diners specialize in variety and you can use that to your advantage to find something South-Beach-approved.
At breakfast, order a veggie omelet or bowl of oatmeal with toasted (unsweetened) coconut. Want a side of Canadaian bacon or turkey sausage? You’re cleared for three ounces of bacon or two ounces of sausage. You can also have a slice of whole wheat toast, half a bagel or English muffin.
For lunch or dinner out to eat, have a veggie burger, chicken salad (if the mayo is olive-oil based) or a grilled veggie pita. Grilled chicken or a pan-seared crab cake are also flavorful, healthful choices. Skip the French fries or chips; ask for a fresh veggie side instead. Do your very best not to let those heavy diner comfort foods lure you in.
At the Coffee Shop:
An Iced Chocolate Frappuccino at a popular coffee joint contains around 600 calories and 88 grams of sugar. What’s a coffee-drinker to do? Get plain old coffee or tea—zero calories. Or at least stay away from blended drinks, which are usually packed with sugar.
Remember the “extra” (sour cream) we talked about on Mexican night? Half-and-half is another “extra” and you can flavor your coffee with one Tablespoon. If you want a snack at the coffee shop, grab a pack of almonds or popcorn. Walk right on past the pastry case.