One of the finer pleasures in life is dining out. Letting someone else do the cooking and serving, not to mention the cleaning, can be a welcome treat after a busy day.
And Americans are taking advantage! There are almost a million restaurants in the United States, and on average, this country eats out about five times in a week according to the National Restaurant Association.
But there’s a downside to all this dining out. It can be dangerous for your diet.
Restaurants have some sneaky ways to get us to order the most fattening items on the menu. According to one study, diners were 27 percent more likely to order something called, “Triple-Chocolate Meltdown” compared to the same cake if it was called, simple, “Chocolate Cake.” 1
The deadliest word on a menu
I have found there’s one word in particular that you should avoid at all costs on a restaurant bill of fare. This one word can derail your diet in an instant.
I’ll tell you what it is later, but first let’s take a closer look at some other alluring words restaurants use and what they really mean.
The more familiar you are with them, the less likely they’ll sway you. Here are five likely suspects and healthier swaps to consider:
Breaded typically means the food is coated with flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. If that wasn’t enough, it’s then fried. Don’t be bamboozled by healthy words like shrimp or zucchini. When you add the bread and fry it, well that pretty much negates anything healthy.
Smart Swap: Try sautéed varieties. This high-heat method of frying seals in flavors using relatively little oil.
Crispy is stealth term for deep frying. But, submerging chicken, shrimp and other foods in hot oil to make it crispy also adds extra fat and calories.
Smart Swap: Try steamed instead. Ask your waiter if the chef can add some lemon, ginger, garlic or other herbs and spices to the steaming water for an extra flavor boost.
This is a popular cooking method for fish that requires pan-frying with herbs, spices and lots of oil.
Smart Swap: Ask for your fish poached. Many restaurants add fresh dill, pepper, wine and other flavorful ingredients to the poaching water to create a signature—and delicious—dish.
This dish is baked in a casserole with milk or sauce, usually with bread crumbs and piles of cheese.
Smart Swap: Lighten the fatty, cheesy load. Try a baked sweet potato instead of scalloped potatoes or steamed mushrooms, carrots and peas instead of a scalloped vegetable casserole.
Rich is often a code word for creamy or buttery dishes, especially desserts, which are loaded with fat.
Smart Swap: Order up a refreshing bowl of seasonal berries with a dab of whipped cream on the top as a treat.
Your Eating Out Game Plan
Of course, if your must-have entrée at your favorite restaurant starts with any of these words, you don’t need to banish it from your meal plan. Instead, enjoy it as an occasional treat.
Better yet, split your order with a dining companion so you can savor a perfect portion of your favorite, yet indulgent, dish… and still keep your dieting resolve high. After all, it’s the first few bites that make your taste buds smile. After that, we all get what experts call, “taste fatigue,” and those extra bites become less exciting and not worth the calories.
Passing on breaded, battered, crispy and other fried foods when dining out may be especially helpful for people who are genetically predisposed to obesity. One Harvard study found that people who have more obesity genes AND frequently eat fried foods tend to gain MORE weight than those who are less genetically predisposed to obesity. 2
The one word you MUST avoid
I promised I’d tell you the one word to avoid above all else, so here it is: “Endless” (and it’s equally troublesome cousin “Bottomless”).
Why is this word so wicked? These types of dishes keep on coming… plate after plate… with an over-the-top portion distortion. You’re probably so engrossed in conversation with your friends that you’ll keep eating and eating and eating. Long after you’re not hungry any longer because, well, the food just magically appears in front of you!
Have you discovered any fattening words on a menu that I haven’t discussed yet? Let’s talk about them here!
Dr. Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Wansink B, Painter J, van Ittersum K. Descriptive menu labels’ effect on sales. Cornell Hotel Restaur Adm Q. 2001;42(4):68-72.
2. Qi Q, Chu AY, Kang JH, et al. Fried food consumption, genetic risk, and body mass index: gene-diet interaction analysis in three U.S. cohort studies. BMJ. Mar 19. [Epub ahead of print]