Healthy eating is a big trend lately, and a ton of restaurants (fast food, AND full-service chains) have caught on and are hyping healthy-menu choices. Some (like Cafe Zupas) even position their entire menu and brand around the concept of healthy eating. The problem? About 98% of the time, the stuff these guys are trying to present as “healthy” is anything but.
This is actually a primary reason why some states now mandate that restaurants post the calorie-content of their food on their menus. People had no idea, for example, that the “chicken salad”, in some cases, had more calories than a super-sized McDonald’s Big Mac combo! Researchers discovered that people made very different choices about their orders when they knew the nutrition numbers on their food, in advance.
Just for fun, I’m going to pick on a few restaurants and their supposed “healthy” dishes, just to illustrate the nature of the problem:
I left the McDonalds Big Mac in there as the ultimate point of comparison. Notice that it’s substantially more healthy than their supposed healthy-choice chicken-wrap. But more importantly, notice that salads and sandwiches can be a terrible choice at any restaurant — even the healthy ones!
Side-note… I am being somewhat unfair to these restaurants in this comparison because all of the brands I mentioned DO have one or two TRULY healthy options on their menu (that’s it, though). But they are often not the items you would expect them to be. In fact, by looking at the menu alone, it’s usually VERY unclear which options are healthy and which are not. (Salads, in general, are among the WORST choices in most restaurants, FYI).
Some restaurants, like Cafe Zupa’s (very popular “healthy choice” restaurant in the Utah area), flat out refuse to publish or even discuss the nutrition information on their food. I can tell you by analyzing the ingredients of their salads and sandwiches myself, there’s good reason for this: You’re better off with a super-sized whopper combo than almost anything at places like this!!! Yeah, they serve mostly soups, salads, and sandwiches — but they aren’t amazingly delicious for nothing. Seriously… most greasy fast food wins the nutrition battle against this stuff.
My point is that if you’re going to be successful at getting into shape and losing weight, you need to take responsibility into your own hands for what you eat. Don’t assume that, because it’s a salad, it’s automatically good for you. Don’t assume that because you got “the chicken sandwich” instead of the double-burger, that you are somehow “eating healthy”. ALWAYS CHECK THE NUTRITION INFORMATION ON THE FOOD YOU EAT BEFORE YOU EAT IT! And if you can’t find the nutrition information, do not, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, give your money to that business or eat anything on their menu.
Your best bet is not to eat out at restaurants at all. That said, sometimes social requirements interfere and we’re required to do “lunch with some friends” or eat out for an anniversary. These situations are easy to deal with by planning in advance. (Know exactly what you’re going to order before you even walk in the door). Apps like MyFitnessPal have extensive databases of the nutrition information for these restaurants. We plan in advance so we’re not dealing with pressures from anyone else at the table to “just order” while we try to search (like a needle in a haystack) for the one healthy choice the restaurant probably has buried on their menu somewhere.
The good news is that almost every restaurant DOES have at least one.. sometimes two.. truly healthy options. You can also occasionally make unhealthy things, healthy. (Pro-tip: Sauces on sandwiches, and dressings on salads are often the key culprits). Be prepared to order the salad with no dressing (bring your own), or the sandwich without the bun or the mayo. Another caution? Often, restaurants are all too happy to serve you a “side of veggies” as the healthy-option — only to discover when it gets to your table that the veggies are dripping with butter.
Summary? Stop eating out — at least while you’re trying to LOSE weight (after that, you can make smart / calculated choices about what to eat when you’re eating out). But if you have to, plan exactly what you’re going to order in advance — and be prepared to annoy the waiter a little when they get your (extremely) customized order.
By the way, I explain all of this here..