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Dieters Can Draw Line When Eating Out

May 10, 1990|NANCY JO HILL | Nancy Jo Hill is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Terri Blackwell was eating out recently when she made a simple request. She wanted her fresh vegetables steamed without any butter or sauce added. At first, the response from restaurant personnel was an emphatic "no."

The vegetables were already prepared in a butter sauce, she was told.

But Blackwell, a registered dietitian who believes in maintaining a low-fat and low-sodium diet, stood her ground.

"I insisted and I got 'em," she says with satisfaction.

Blackwell, who works with cardiac and diabetic patients at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, teaches her patients to stand their ground.

She instructs them to make choices and special requests that will lower the fat and sodium content in their restaurant meals. And she says most restaurants tend to be surprisingly cooperative.

That's why she's "totally appalled" when she finds restaurants that are reluctant to comply with such requests. "It's such a healthy way to eat and everybody should be eating this way."

Eating out is a way of life in Southern California. It may be a quick meal on the run during your lunch hour, dinner out because you don't want to cook, a fast meal after a Little League game, a power lunch or sometimes all of the above.

Unfortunately, if you are not careful, too much of this can be hazardous to your waistline, your cholesterol count and your blood pressure.

But there is something you can do about it.

By improving your nutritional IQ with a few simple principles suggested by dietitians, it is possible to substantially reduce fat, sodium and calorie content in restaurant meals, and enjoy a healthier approach to eating.

More people are finding that by making the right choices, watching portions and being politely assertive, they can really have it their way when eating in restaurants.

And more restaurants are going out of their way to offer "alternative" or "light" cuisine for health-conscious patrons because it is what a growing number of people prefer. More than 100 restaurants in Orange County responded positively to American Heart Assn. inquiries about honoring special requests from patrons watching their fat and sodium intake.

Menu selections at the Newport Beach Four Seasons Hotel, for instance, include "alternative cuisine" that is nutritionally balanced, reduced in calories, cholesterol, sodium and has low fat levels. The idea of maintaining taste is at the heart of these dishes, according to Ali Kasikci, executive assistant manager at the hotel.

"In the early '80s, the company (Four Seasons) came up with the idea of developing an alternative cuisine, alternative to what restaurants normally served," he says, "which consisted of food items as good-tasting as any other items on the menu, but low on cholesterol, sodium, calories and fat."

Swallow's Cove in San Clemente offers American and Continental cuisine, with all entrees made to order, no sodium added in cooking and no butter added to pasta. The Revere House in Tustin has been a steak and prime rib house for years, but now offers broiled fish, chicken and turkey prepared per customers' requests.

Even Carl's Jr. is heavily advertising its "lite menu" items such as baked potatoes, salads and a broiled chicken sandwich. MacDonald's offers salads these days and both fast-food chains have brochures available that tell diners the nutritional content of menu items. These brochures can be eye-openers. You discover that a broiled chicken breast sandwich has one-sixth of the fat of a hamburger. However, when you add cheese and bacon to that chicken sandwich, the fat content takes a considerable jump.

Only a few years ago, people did find it a hardship to make special requests in restaurants, but now "restaurants are much more accommodating," says Kathy Hall, a registered dietitian who shows clients at La Costa Hotel and Spa in Carlsbad how to lower fat, sodium and calories.

She says most of her clients find information on how to cut fat and sodium when eating out very helpful. Many, she says, arrive at the resort thinking their fate is sealed because they have to eat out frequently for business reasons. They find out, however, that adjusting their restaurant eating is easier than they think.

First of all, Hall suggests limiting alcohol consumption to only one drink, because alcohol stimulates appetite. Next, read the menu carefully and ask waiters or waitresses any unanswered questions, such as how meat is prepared and the size of portions.

Select meat entrees--preferably fish or poultry--that are baked or broiled. If what you want isn't prepared this way, ask if it can be. And it's a good idea to ask to have any visible fat trimmed from meat before cooking. If you are limiting sodium intake, ask that no salt be added when your entree is being cooked.

"Dry broiled" is an important term to remember when ordering in a restaurant, according to Molly O'Hanlon, a registered dietitian with the Cardiac Rehab Program at Saddleback Memorial Hospital and Health Center in Laguna Hills.

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