Have your cake and eat it too - A guide to eating out while Dieting

Eating out is one of the greatest pleasures we have in our everyday lives. It combines food, socializing with our partner, friends or families, and comes with the added bonus of someone else doing all of the shopping, preparation, and washing up!

But when you are committed to achieving a health goal like those we set in Maxine's Challenge, eating out can start to seem like a hurdle rather than something to look forward to. It seems as though every diet and health and fitness article written during the last 20 years about building muscle and losing weight includes the obligatory "avoid fast food" statement.

But in Australia, we are lucky that fast food and eating out have come a long way in recent years, and are not just limited to pizza and fried chicken. That means that it's entirely possible to enjoy all of the benefits of eating out without torpedoing your healthy diet plan and your workout goals. We've gone through a range of the most common cuisines and pinpointed the least healthy choices that are on the menu, and suggested some swaps you can make so that you stay on track but get to enjoy your night out without guilt, or needing to limit yourself to a side dish.

Thai, Chinese and Japanese

Asian inspired takeaway and dining options are among the most popular in Australia, with almost every suburb having a local favourite in one or more of these cuisines. For ease of reference, and because many restaurants have some degree of crossover between cuisines, we have grouped them together.

If you are out at a Thai restaurant, the most popular meals on the menu are often Pad Thai and the green and red curries. Unfortunately, Pad Thai is also one of the most energy dense foods on any takeaway menu. The combination of rice noodles, as well as oil, means that a single serve of Pad Thai usually contains enough energy for two people. Similarly, creamy Thai curries often utilise coconut milk as their base. While this makes for a tasty meal, the calorie count skyrockets as coconut milk is high in fat.

A healthier option could be a Thai Salad, which is often labelled as "larb" on menus. This fresh salad contains meat combined with fish sauce, herbs, lime juice, and other spices as well as peanuts. There are also usually several variations to suit most tastes.

Chinese foods, particularly fried dishes and those that are served with large quantities of fried rice or fried noodles, can quickly become unhealthy. Choosing a sizzling stir fry like Mongolian lamb or beef is a much better option.

Japanese food is often sushi, which is a great option if it is eaten in moderation. The white rice that is the basis of "western" sushi isn't ideal in large quantities. Try sashimi or nigiri instead, as these are both based more heavily around the protein rather than the rice. Miso soup and tempura vegetable sushi are also good options.

Indian

Indian food has long been the favourite takeaway food of our British cousins and is fast gaining popularity in Australia. The flavourful, spicy and colourful dishes of the subcontinent are delicious, but some are better than others for those who are trying to stay healthy.

Unsurprisingly, butter chicken is the main offender here. With plenty of clarified butter (ghee) and cream to develop the flavour, the calorie count of butter chicken is incredibly high, especially when served with a side of white rice or Indian naan bread. Indian entrée dishes like curry puffs and pakoras are deep fried in oil, making them less healthy options.

If you're enjoying an Indian meal look for dry curries like Vindaloo and Madras or meat that has been marinated in a spice mix then cooked in the oven, sometimes called the Tandoor oven or in the "Dishes from the Tandoor" part of the menu. Steamed rice in smaller portion sizes, as well as roti bread rather than naans, are a good accompaniment. Finally, daal is a type of rich lentil soup that is well worth trying out since it is high in protein and fibre.

Italian

Italian food is almost the perfect comfort food, so it is hard to avoid the less healthy options. Pizza, pasta, garlic bread and lasagne are all mouth-watering options but are packed with calorie dense simple carbohydrates because of the high white flour content of the base of those meals.

In addition, creamy sauces that are in pasta dishes like carbonara, as well as many lasagnas, are an extra source of calories. Pasta dishes with tomato, herb and chilli based sauces like amatriciana and bolognese are better options than creamy sauces. Italian restaurants also often offer thin crust pizzas and steaks on their menus, which are also both good alternatives to a thick crust pizza or a large bowl of pasta.

Fish and Chips

There isn't a lot of variation at a fish and chip shop, but grilled fish is always a better option for the diet conscious than fried or battered varieties. If you can substitute the chips for a salad or skip the chips entirely that is also worth doing.

A Word on Drinks

With the high energy content of the food on most restaurant menus, there is little need to add a high sugar or calorie drink to the mix. Try to avoid alcohol if you can, or stick to spirits without a mixer or a glass of red wine. If you are going with a soft drink option, then go with the "no sugar" options that many brands now offer, as these have virtually zero calories.

If you are taking Max's Challenge, that doesn't mean giving up socialising with friends or the occasional dinner at a restaurant. It does mean that you get access to a thriving community of people who are motivated and committed just like you, while also getting our online coaching, resources and workout plans. 


Sources:

https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/148615/wtmgt_takeaway.pdf