As the weather starts to improve and covid restrictions start to lift, our social calendars will undoubtedly start to become busier. As we start to eat out more with friends and family, choosing a restaurant to eat at when you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet can become challenging. Many of us are faced with the dilemma of having to break our diets when we eat out or abstaining from eating completely, as restaurants are notoriously known for having a limited number of healthy options. So how can we remedy this issue?

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked at my integrative medicine clinic is which restaurants are the healthiest, or which ones cater to dieters most. The answer, more often than not, is that mostly all restaurants are guilty of adding unhealthy fats and sauces to foods without customers even knowing. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid eating out altogether–it’s unrealistic to limit yourself to eat nothing while friends or family you’re with indulge. Remind yourself of these pointers the next time you’re eating out, as they apply to mostly all restaurant fare and are helpful to keep in mind when you’re traveling or have limited food options.

• If possible, avoid gluten (found in grains like wheat, barley and rye) completely as they are often laden with oil and butter when prepared.  Choose complex carbohydrates such as quinoa and brown rice and always ask your server to not add butter to these dishes. Also avoid dairy-based sauces and creams as they too are packed full of sodium and butter.

• Choose lean proteins with minimal fat content like chicken breast, turkey breast and fish. Avoid sauces or creams on meats and avoid fried meats at all cost as they increase the risk of contamination with oil, fat and butter.

• Salads are the golden standard for dieters, but many don’t realize that salads at restaurants are often loaded with fattening cheeses, high-calorie dressing and additional high-calories toppings like candied nuts, croutons and bacon. Choose salads with fresh vegetables and fruit, but skip cheeses, dressings and any toppings. For dressing, ask for olive oil and vinegar or lemon on the side.

• As a healthy side dish, try steamed vegetables to go with your protein instead of starches or carbs. Be sure to skip any seasoning or butter/sauces that may come with your veggies and dress them with olive oil and lemon instead. Cooked beans are also a great side dish as they’re full of protein and very filling. Skip refried beans or any beans that come mixed with flavoring or sauces as they are a hiding place for salt, margarine and oils.

• For those of us with a sweet tooth, skipping dessert can be a challenge at restaurants that offer a plethora of tasty treats post-dinner. Indulge instead on fresh seasonal fruit; this will curb your craving for sugar without being overloaded with calories and fat.

• Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum as alcohol is very high in calories. Mixed drinks and liquor are especially dangerous to your diet as they are mixed with sodas or syrups that are high in calories and sugar as well. Drink unsweetened ice tea or ice water with lemon with your dinner instead.