Following a heart healthy eating plan is more of a lifestyle than a diet. A heart healthy lifestyle may have been recommended to you by your doctor because you have, or are at risk for developing, cardiovascular disease. Conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity are all reasons that a heart healthy lifestyle can be beneficial. Even if you are not at increased risk for heart disease, establishing a heart healthy lifestyle can play a key role in maintaining a healthy weight and promoting an overall healthy body.
The main principles of a heart healthy diet include emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while minimizing processed foods, salt, and added sugars. Once you have a basic understanding of the recommendations, it’s relatively easy to follow at home and even while you’re eating out. After all, any meal plan that is viewed as a lifestyle needs to fit into your day-to-day life and be conducive to long term maintenance.
Follow These 5 Tips for Healthy Eating When Dining Out
1. ) Plan Ahead
When choosing a restaurant, use available resources such as online menus and nutritional fact sheets to help you plan ahead. Today’s technology is an advantage to you. Look for places that identify healthier meal options on their menus. Consider calling ahead to ask if substitutions are allowed or to inquire about the type of oil they use for cooking.
2.) Choose Baked, Broiled, or Grilled vs Fried
Choosing lean meats and proteins such as chicken, fish, and turkey is important, but so is the method of preparation. Be sure to select or request that your protein is baked, grilled, or broiled rather than deep fried. The breading or batter on the protein is heavy in carbohydrates and salt, not to mention the amount of fat that is added due to the deep-frying process.
3.) Stick to Healthy Fats
Not all fat is bad. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil are good for your heart. They help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which lowers your risk for heart disease. Ask the server what fat is used in the kitchen and order accordingly. This is where a special request may be made or, if need be, skip the unhealthy fat all together.
4.) Be Aware of Added Salt and Sugar
Things like sugary drinks, appetizers, and desserts are all extras and should be limited when eating out. Added sugars and salt can be found in excess in these items and commonly push an otherwise healthy meal over the edge. Be cautious of empty calories from beverages and avoid using the saltshaker at restaurants. Rather, chose water or unsweetened tea with lemon and flavor your dish with herbs or garlic for a punch of flavor.
5.) Focus on Fiber
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods are available at most restaurants and contribute to a heart healthy diet due to their fiber content as well as being naturally free of salt and saturated fat. Consider choosing fresh salad or steamed vegetables as complements to your main dish and requesting dressings, sauces, or gravy on the side. Create a plate that is balanced, colorful, and filling so that you enjoy every bite and feel good afterward.
Sarah Hammaker, RDN is a clinical dietitian working primarily in long-term care and acute rehabilitation hospital settings in Pennsylvania. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves running and being outdoors. Her hobbies include reading, planting and shopping.
If you have more questions about heart healthy nutrition choices, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!
Dining Out Doesn’t Mean You Have to Ditch Your Diet. Available at