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How to choose healthier options when eating out

By Faeza
15 April 2016

Healthy tips for eating out

When eating out you’re not only faced with the temptation of the unhealthy, but also some seemingly healthy meals are not always as wholesome as you may think.

As if eating healthily isn't hard enough, the way prices are listed in the menu influences what you order. According to a Cornell study, people spend more when the prices are listed in numbers, as opposed to written out (twenty rand) or with a currency sign in front of it (R20).

Another study showed that people are least likely to order either the cheapest or most expensive items on the menu. Some restaurants list expensive items as a decoy, to get diners to choose middle priced items, which then seem like a bargain.

For those who frequent fast-food or chain outlets, many of which have started adding somewhat healthier options, sizes are also manipulated. Super-sizing is more profitable for them. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that, much like with prices, people opt for the middle sized portion. If you’re watching your weight, avoid that trap by opting for the smallest portion, even if getting one size up seems like 'a good deal'.

Food items which are described sell better and are rated as being of higher quality. Descriptions are important and if you read between the lines, you’ll be able to determine how the food was prepared, what are the ingredients and which option is more diet-friendly.

Descriptions to avoid

Crunchy, tempura, battered, crispy, breaded, roasted, crusted, golden, sizzling

  • Real Meaning: Fried therefor fatty
  • Fried foods are the most obvious no-no on any healthy eater’s diet. Especially when you consider that most restaurants use partially-hydrogenated oil, as it can be reheated and used again. Partially-hydrogenated oil contains the worst of all fats – trans fats. This increases your bad cholesterol (LDL), lowers your good cholesterol (HDL), and thus raises your risk of heart disease.

Loaded, stuffed, creamy, cheesy, gooey, smothered, melted, rich, velvety

  • Real Meaning: Fatty, high-calorie
  • These comfort foods sound delicious and evoke the feeling you get when you eat them. They’re also loaded and stuffed with added calories (and most often not from the good stuff). So it’s better to avoid them.

Teriyaki, BBQ, glazed, sticky, honey-dipped, maple-glazed

  • Real Meaning: High in sugar
  • These sauces are often loaded with refined sugar – a cause of many health issues. If you’re feeling tempted, ask if they’re made with sugar.

Descriptions to look for

Want to know what items to choose?

Go for the items described with words like baked, braised, broiled, boiled, poached, rubbed, seared, grilled, steamed, sautéed. They’re prepared with less fat, sugar and added ingredients. Spiced and seasoned items are dubious, as they may well be lower in fat and sugar (bad for weight loss), but almost certainly include chemicals (very bad for health).

And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your waitron about how the dishes are prepared.