Understanding Healthy Eating:

Negotiating Restaurants

One of my favourite quotes regarding healthy eating comes from Beth Shaw’s book YogaLean, which says “you can out eat any exercise program.” That is so true!   There has to be a balance. You can exercise as much as possible, but you’re going to run into a wall if you don’t eat healthy, nutritious food that ultimately fuels the body and supports healthy metabolism.  So how can we balance healthy eating at home and eating out? The key is….


Understanding restaurant food

A number of research articles cited eating in restaurants to be associated with unhealthy food choices, weight gain and obesity. It isn’t just the quality of food choices, but the health value of them.  A study published in 2016 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that single meals (entrées and side dishes) from non-chain restaurants can contain more than 50% of the daily recommended calories for adult women (about 2,000 calories per day) and more than 40% of the average daily recommended calories for adult men (about 2,500 calories per day). Overall, 92% of meals contained more calories than experts recommend for a single serving.


Unfortunately, Canada currently does not have a standardized menu labeling policy and only a few provinces have menu labeling programs (i.e., BC and Manitoba with Informed Dining Program; Ontario with Healthy Menu Choices Act). Although a number of chain restaurants are providing calorie counts on their menus, it is unlikely that your local hangout is doing so. That means you're usually largely unaware of the number of calories that are being consumed when eating out. This is where understanding metabolism and macronutrients is important.


Health Canada, in collaboration with the US Food and Nutrition Board Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, provides recommendations for how much of each macronutrient you should consume in your diet (termed as Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range or AMDR). The AMDR is a range of intake for a particular energy source (protein, fat or carbohydrate), expressed as a percentage of total energy (kcal), that is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease while providing adequate intakes of essential nutrients.


What Is Metabolism?

Think about your body as a car. If you put gas in a car, it uses that fuel in order to move. In the same way, your body uses calories from food, or energy, in order for it to move, breathe and function. Metabolism is the process of your body utilizing the energy you put into it, or more simply, burning calories. You can also burn extra calories by adding activity and exercise, such as walking, running, cycling, etc. Your metabolism includes these functions that burn calories:

•  Basal or Resting Metabolic Rate (BMR or RMR): BMR refers to how much energy (or how many calories) your body burns just to keep you alive.

•  Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Your body needs energy to process the food you eat. The thermic effect of food (TEF) includes the calories you burn digesting food.

•  Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): NEAT refers to the calories your body burns through daily activities such as fidgeting, walking to work, or going up the stairs..


Tips for Making Healthy Choices

So ultimately, how do we use this information? You don't need to stop eating out and dining out doesn’t have to sabotage your diet. Try these smart tips to stay on track when dining out:

·       Look ahead. Ask for the nutrition information or visit the restaurant's website ahead of time. Look for healthier options that are higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and lower in calories, fat, sugar and sodium.

·       Ask how food is prepared. Look for food that is steamed, baked, broiled, grilled or roasted. Fat and calories add up quickly when food is fried, deep-fried or breaded. It’s best to stick with the less processed foods, and instead choose whole, fresh food.

·       Go for whole grains. Look for dishes made with whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley or oats. Many restaurants now offer whole wheat or whole grain buns, tortilla wraps, pasta or pizza crust upon request.

·       Focus on vegetables and fruit. Look for meals that make fruit or veggies the star of the plate – At self-serve stations, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.

·       On the side. Keep in mind that you can ask for more vegetables, smaller portions, sauce/dressing on the side, etc.

·       Keep it small. Portion sizes at fast food counters and restaurants are usually bigger than what you would normally eat at home. Ask for half portions, share a large meal with a friend, or pack up part of your meal to take home. When you receive your meal, decide how much you're going to eat and have your server wrap up the other part. Having food on your plate while you enjoy a conversation may result in extra nibbling.

·       Words to watch for – Menu items described as crispy, brined, pan-fried, alfredo or gratin may be higher in calories and sodium.

·       Track and plan your meals for balance throughout the day. An online macro diet calculator or meal planning app can also help guide you along the way, by giving you an easy place to log the foods you’re eating and to calculate how many macros are in them. Here are a few popular macro diet apps to try:

o   MyFitnessPal   

o   Lose It

o   Fitocracy

o   My Macros+


o   HealthyEater.com

o   Nutritionist


For a list of References and Resources for this article, go to https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Y7Kp5ml4GWSVtthTCb5EhjYsFnJ_nHOZZbmeV8jLgGo/edit



Renee Harrington is a team USA multi-sport athlete, with certifications in ERYT and RYT 500. She also teaches yoga and is a YogaFit Master Trainer. She holds a PHd in Nutrition and an MS in Exercise Science.

Categories: Healthy Alternatives