Eat out well

There are several strategies that don't involve getting indigestion, driving the rest of your table mad, or a stand-off with the wilting salad bar. Either you can take pre-emptive measures, like watching your fat intake prior to facing the menu-to-die-for; or you can bypass the creamy numbers and head for the healthy menu items. While there are many chefs who cook with oil, cream, butter and wild abandon, more and more restaurants are acknowledging the drive towards healthy eating.

You'll have to be strong, though: "Once you enter one of these temples of grease, powerful emotive forces, olfactory assaults, and all the excitement and sense of occasion that swirl around such places undo your resolve in an instant," warns Sue Kreitzman in Low Fat Lifeplan (Piatkus). And there are other pressures: the waiter may not understand what you want when you ask whether a dish can be grilled, steamed or baked without fat; and you may feel embarrassment compounding if you have to ask to speak to the manager. One handy trick is to phone beforehand to get a copy of the menu, and to find out whether things can be done with less fat.

A word of caution here: some chefs may take exception to being asked to leave out the butter and cream in their award-winning creations, so use your discretion when you're in more formal, upmarket eateries. You could of course plead a medical condition or allergy problem and ask for their suggestion.

Don't forget alcohol. "If you plan on having alcohol with your meal, remember to count it as a carbohydrate portion," advises dietician Karen Protheroe in The Lean Aubergine (Random House). "To enjoy a guilt-free two or three glasses of wine, I suggest ordering a plain salad as a starter, followed by ostrich steak, grilled fish or calamari with fresh lemon and steamed vegetables, rounded off with fresh fruit salad and coffee." We don't think guilt should ever be part of the dining experience.

Follow these guidelines for various types of cuisine and celebrate eating out:

Italian
With olive oil virtually Italy's raison d'Otre, you will be hard-pressed (pun intended) to escape it. But there are ways of cutting back on fat:

  • Turn down cream-based dishes in favour of tomato-based pasta sauces and soups, high in cancer-fighting lycopene. Mussels in a tomato broth is another great option.
  • Salad with balsamic vinegar only, and fish or lean poultry, are all good. Ask for any sauce to be served on the side so you can test your options. Rather than sloshing sauce or dressing over your food, dip your fork into it and then spear your helping.
  • If you can't ignore the Parmesan, limit yourself to one tablespoon.
  • Pizza can be healthy if you are choosy about the toppings: cheese and meats send the fat quotient soaring. Seafood, tomato and veggie (bell peppers, artichokes, mushrooms). Or ask for no oil and half the cheese and don't be anxious about ordering them: pizzerias are used to it.

    Thai
    Coconut milk, the base of most Thai curries, is, sadly, very high in saturated fat. However, you can still have a sterling meal.

  • Tom yum (hot and sour) soups are low-fat wonders. Seasoned with fresh lime and spiced with chilli, tom yum is mouth- and tummy-filling, and low in fat.
  • A Thai salad dressing can make a salad into a meal. Made from lemon, lime juice and fish sauce, it is entirely delicious.
  • Steamed mussels or fish are brilliant. Rich in protein, low in fat and often cooked with chillies, lemon grass and other wonderful things, you'll have a meal in a million.

    Indian
    Most Indian meals are high in ghee (clarified butter), vegetable ghee (hydrogenated vegetable fat) or oils. But choose with care and you can still score high on flavour and low on kilojoules. Don't go near kormas and dhansaks, which are cooked with cream and/or nuts.

  • Order from the tikka or tandoori menus, especially in the chicken and fish dishes. Ask for it not to be sizzled in oil on serving.
  • Order plain rice, as pilau rice is oily.
  • If you can bear the loss, ask for your naan bread plain, without a brushing of ghee. You could also opt for plain chappati bread.
  • Remember that yoghurt-based dishes may not always mean low-fat yoghurt.

    Japanese
    You can hardly go wrong with this delicious, mostly low-fat cuisine, unless you order tempura.

  • Sushi, sashimi, chicken teriyaki, soups, vegetable dishes, rice and noodle dishes all get the low-fat nod.
  • Watch out, however, for fat-marbled beef.
  • If you are monitoring your salt intake, steer clear of the miso soup and the salted, smoked or pickled fish.

    Chinese
    If you avoid deep-fried sweet-and-sour chicken/pork/prawns and spring rolls, which do not do justice to Chinese anyway, you can have a fabulous low-fat food experience.

  • Request plain, boiled rice instead of the egg-fried variety.
  • Ask for your vegetables to be braised in stock or, better still, steamed rather than stir-fried. But the latter is still a healthy option, as cooking time is minimal and the ingredients are fresh.
  • The soups are generally low in fat: chicken broth with noodles is delicious.
  • Hoisin, duck and plum sauces are worth getting to know and are a treat when mixed with soya sauce for steamed fish, chicken or vegetables.
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