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Heart-healthy dining out

If your favorite restaurant doesn't offer specific heart-healthy foods, you can make wise choices.

  • Study the menu and ask how foods are prepared. Good choices: steamed, meat or fish in its own juice, garden fresh, broiled, roasted, poached. High fat choices: fried, breaded, battered, melted cheese on top, creamed, escalloped, butter sauce, pan-fried, sauteed, au gratin.
  • Ask for substitutions. Instead of butter, can you get margarine? Is skim milk available?
  • Order salad dressings and sauces to be served on the side so you control the amount that goes on your food. Ask for light dressing.
  • Try lemon juice or vinegar and oil in place of salad dressings.
  • Ask for mustard or ketchup on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. If you have mayonnaise, order it on the side and use only a small amount.
  • Substitute fruit or vegetables for potato chips or french fries.
  • Order vegetarian pizza instead of pepperoni or sausage. Ask for half the cheese and more tomato sauce.
  • At fast food restaurants, order plain foods, such as a regular hamburger or a broiled chicken breast. Skip the bacon, cheese and sauces.
  • For dessert, try a scoop of frozen yogurt, sherbet, gelatin or fresh berries.
  • Be aware of your serving sizes. Larger serving sizes mean more sodium and fat.

Low-saturated fat and sodium guidelines for eating out

Use the following chart to help you make low-fat or low-sodium choices at eight types of restaurants.

Restaurant type

Foods to Choose

Foods to Avoid

Fast food

Order a prepackaged salad with low-fat salad dressing.

Order sandwiches without pickles, olives, mayonnaise, cheese and sauces (such as special sauce, tartar sauce, etc.).

Try roasted or broiled meat sandwiches.

A hamburger is a better choice than a fried fish sandwich.

Order submarine sandwiches with lean meats and add lots of vegetables.

Fast food is generally not your heart-healthiest choice.

Avoid breaded chicken, fried fish, onion rings and french fries.

Skip the cheese, bacon and large serving of hamburger.

Avoid malts or milkshakes.

Family style food

Choose grilled or baked chicken or fish, baked potatoes (without butter or sour cream), steamed vegetables and tossed salads with low-fat dressing.

Ask for a side salad instead of french fries or chips.

Choose low-fat or nonfat yogurt or sherbet for dessert.

Avoid dishes with lots of cheese, sour cream or cream sauces (such as Hollandaise, Bearnaise, Alfredo).

Avoid fried fish or chicken.

Avoid items that include the words: smothered, fried, breaded or creamy.

Avoid appetizer-type foods, au gratin potatoes, prime rib, cream soups and milkshakes.

Asian food

Choose menu items that are made to order and include a variety of vegetables, rather than ones prepared ahead of time (such as a buffet).

Ask that your food be prepared without salt, soy sauce or MSG.

Spring rolls usually are not deep fried.

Request steamed rice instead of fried rice.

Order entrees with vegetables and lean meat, chicken, fish or tofu.

Avoid deep-fried egg rolls, wontons, tofu, meats and noodles.

Skip curry sauces and gravies.

Mexican food

Choose items with a variety of vegetables and very little cheese.

Choose beans, rice, corn or flour tortillas, lean meat and chicken items (such as fajitas and chile verde).

Avoid deep fried tortilla chips and taco shells. Use very little cheese or sour cream.

Italian food

Choose items that are fixed to order. Or, order sauces on the side.

Choose items with tomato or red clam sauce.

Avoid items in heavy cream sauces (such as Alfredo).

Vegetarian food
and salad bars

Choose whole grain breads and other grain products, tofu, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Choose vinegar and a little oil or lemon juice as salad dressing. Or, select the lowfat or low-calorie dressing if available.

Avoid bacon bits, pickles, salted sunflower seeds, meat salads (such as tuna or chicken salads) and cheese.

Greek and Middle Eastern food

Choose lean beef or lamb, vegetables and rice.

Choose tabouli salad, shish kebab, souvlaki, couscous, rice pilaf and pita bread.

Avoid deep fried foods and oily dipping sauces.

Indian food

Ask that your food be made without salt. Many unique spices add flavor so you won't miss the sodium.

Choose dals (legume-based dishes), rice-based dishes, lentil dishes, tondoori chicken or fish, and salads or vegetables with yogurt dressing.

Avoid curry dishes because they are made with coconut milk.



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts