When you're at home, eating right isn't too difficult. Hopefully, you've got a plethora of choices in your fridge or pantry so you can mix and match to create something both healthy and tasty. But when you go out to eat, you lose much of that freedom. You're at the mercy of the restaurant's menu, and you often might feel that you have no choice but to eat junky.
Avoiding eating out entirely isn't really an option. Sometimes you've got no choice but to eat out—you're either far from home, or your friends or family have decided they want to hit a restaurant and you're going with them. But the right course of action is not to ignore nutrition and scarf down food that makes you feel terrible. There are ways you can alter your order to ensure a solid balance between healthy and tasty. Try these five simple swaps the next time you visit a restaurant to notch up the nutrition of your order.
1. Swap Grilled Chicken for Fried Chicken
What it Saves You: 120 calories, 13 grams of fat and 590 mg of sodium
Swapping grilled chicken for fried chicken is one of the easiest and most effective substitutions you can make when eating out. Chicken's high protein content makes it awesome for athletes, but the preparation of chicken can dramatically change its nutritional profile. Grilling a piece of chicken is one of the healthiest ways to prepare it, whereas frying a piece of chicken significantly worsens its overall nutrition. One instance where this swap makes a ton of sense is when you're ordering a chicken sandwich.
Say you'd like a chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A. If you opt for the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the regular chicken sandwich, you'll save yourself 120 calories, 13 grams of fat and 590 mg of sodium. That's a big difference for such a simple swap.
2. Swap Veggies or Fruit for French Fries
What it Saves You: 375 calories, 20 grams of fat and 770 mg of sodium
Unfortunately for health conscious folks, French fries have become a standard side for most American restaurant meals. Sure, fries are delicious—but their nutrition leaves a lot to be desired. If you're ordering something that might not be the best nutritional option as your entrée, like a burger or a savory sandwich, swapping out fries for a veggie or fruit option can really help keep the meal under control. Almost every restaurant has some type of veggie side or some type of fruit side—many have both—and they're usually a heck of a lot better for you than traditional French fries.
If you order a burger at Applebee's, the default side will probably be French fries, but you should consider opting for either the seasonal vegetables or the fresh fruit. Those choices will save you roughly 375 calories, 20 grams of fat and 770 mg of sodium. That will greatly help you balance out that burger and give your body a ton more valuable vitamins and nutrients.
3. Swap Dark Leafy Greens for Iceberg Lettuce
What it Gives You: much more vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein and antioxidants
First, I commend you for ordering a salad. That has already made your order better than many typical restaurant meals. Second, although iceberg lettuce is a vegetable, it's low in many useful vitamins and nutrients compared to other options. Iceberg lettuce certainly isn't a bad choice—it's very low in calories, sodium and fat—but dark leafy greens contain more useful nutrients.
What are defined as dark leafy greens? Things like spinach, romaine, arugula and kale all contain a higher concentration of valuable nutrients than iceberg lettuce—such as vitamin A, vitamin K, iron and antioxidants. Mixed greens are also usually a superior choice to iceberg lettuce. Spinach is a widely available option, and it blows iceberg lettuce out of the water in nutrients like potassium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium.
4. Swap an English Muffin for a Bagel
What it Saves You: 170 calories, 500 mg of sodium, 35 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar
If you're grabbing breakfast at a restaurant, simply swapping in an English muffin for a bagel is a great way to save yourself some calories, carbs, sugar and sodium. An English muffin is significantly smaller than a bagel, yet it's higher in fiber, which helps you stay full longer.
Swapping in an English muffin is an especially good idea if you're ordering a breakfast sandwich. If you visit a Dunkin' Donuts and order your bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin instead of a plain bagel, you'll save yourself 170 calories, 500 mg of sodium, 35 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar. You'll also get 3 extra grams of fiber. The end result is a smarter breakfast and a better start to the day.
5. Swap Avocado for Mayonnaise
What it Saves You: 50 calories and 7 grams of fat
Everyone loves sandwiches. That's why its good to know that avocado is a smarter spread than mayonnaise. No one likes a dry sandwich, but mayo is a poor nutritional choice. It contains almost no beneficial nutrients, and it's the very definition of empty calories. Avocado, on the other hand, provides more flavor and a heck of a lot more useful nutrients. Due to the rising popularity of avocado, most major sub shops now offer plain avocado or guacamole as a sandwich spread option. Avocado is high in healthy fats, which help keep you full, lower bad cholesterol and promote lean muscle growth.
If you visit a Subway and opt to spread avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo, you're not only saving yourself 50 calories and 7 grams of fat, but you're adding much more vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants to your diet.
Learn more about why you should eat avacado.