Heart-health tip #1: Consider your restaurant choices
Before you head out for a bite to eat, take a few minutes to research the restaurants in your locale. Oftentimes, restaurants post menus on their websites, including notations on which dishes are low-fat, low-carb or heart-healthy. Further, many restaurants are proud to let you know that their meals are trans fat free. (Trans fat is considered a "bad" fat that can increase your risk of heart disease.) If you are unsure, you can always call ahead and ask about trans fat and consider frequenting restaurants that no longer use it.
Heart-health tip #2: Have a snack
A sure-fire way to throw caution to the wind and order unhealthy meals or eating too much is by arriving at the restaurant ravenous. Instead of letting yourself get to the point of feeling starved, have a small snack beforehand. An apple, granola bar or even a simple handful of nuts can bolster your willpower to order a heart-healthy dish and not overeat.
Heart-health tip #3: Study the menu
Afford yourself the time to really look over your menu choices and don't be afraid to ask your server how certain dishes are prepared. Ask about serving sizes — some entrees can literally feed three or four people — and don't hesitate to order a heart-healthy appetizer as your main meal since they are typically smaller in size.
Heart-health tip #4: Order broiled, baked, grilled, steamed or poached
Typically, these meals will have less fat and calories than fried foods. Ask for broiled chicken (be sure to remove the skin), a baked potato, grilled white fish, steamed veggies, or poached salmon, as opposed to French fries, chicken fingers or fried fish. In addition, be sure to specify that you want your dish prepared without butter or cream sauces.
Heart-health tip #5: Make healthy substitutions
If your entree comes with a side of fries, buttered vegetables, creamy pasta or another high-fat, high-calorie dish, request a side of steamed or stir-fried veggies. If your meal comes with a bowl of cream-based soup, like clam chowder or cream of chicken, ask for a broth-based soup, like minestrone or chicken noodle, instead.
Heart-health tip #6: Order dressings and sauces on the side
Many cream-based salad dressings and buttery sauces can add 100 calories per tablespoon (and a tablespoon isn't very much). Request them on the side so you can control how much you use. Try the dip and fork technique: Instead of pouring dressings or sauces on your food, dip your fork into them, letting the excess drip off, and then into your meal — you'll still get the full-flavor but for fewer calories and grams of fat.
Heart-health tip #7: Savor your food
Before you add dressings, sauces or other condiments to your meal, taste it first. And really taste it — use all of your senses and enjoy the many nuances your food has to offer. By slowly eating and truly enjoying every bite, you are more likely to take greater pleasure in your meal and even eat less. Savoring your food will give you time to recognize when you are full and deter eating too much.
Heart-health tip #8: Try a vegetarian meal
Due to patrons being more concerned about health, many restaurants have a delicious variety of meat-free meals. Try a meatless pasta, bean soup, veggie burger, tempeh tacos, vegetable stir-fry or grain and nut salad. Vegetarian meals are usually heart-healthy, lower in calories, chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, and a nice change from meat-heavy meals.
Heart-health tip #9: Enjoy fruit for dessert
Though that slice of triple chocolate cake or tiramisu may be tempting after dinner, order fresh fruit or fruit sorbet — you'll save calories, carbs and fat. Or if you absolutely have to have a decadent sweet, order one serving with a few extra forks and share with your dinner mates. And regardless of what you order, remember to eat slowly and truly savor every bite.
Heart-health tip #10: Take it home
Just because you are presented a large serving of food doesn't mean you have to clean your plate. Place half of your meal in a to-go box and enjoy it the next day for lunch or dinner. You can always invite one of your friends or family members to split a meal with you, too. That way, you both can enjoy a nice restaurant meal while still following a heart-healthy plan.
More diet tips for dining out
Diet-conscious strategies when choosing from a menu
Top 3 pitfalls of eating out and how to avoid them
How to eat healthy at a salad bar