Writing these tips make me laugh considering I just got back from Europe – where I went on a major bender. Letting very loose in Italy! We ate everything. Multi course meals twice a day. Lots of great pasta, pizza, desserts & lots of gelato – all incredible dishes and not a single bad meal. Usually I would always order my pizza back home with a 1/3 less cheese, but somehow I didn’t quite make the effort to translate that to the Italians. Must have been something in those Tuscan grapes!
Regardless of my recent lack of self control, these tips below are really ingrained in the way I live and are second nature to me. Balance is key, you can’t live your whole life with a drill sergeant going off in your head. Following these principles allow me to stay fit and healthy while still enjoying a great meal out.
1. Try to only eat out for special occasions or when you can afford to go to a good quality restaurant. This makes it special and why would you want to go out to spend money on food that isn’t nutritionally good for you? If you are going to eat junk – make it at home from scratch to minimize the damage on your health. Even when you are traveling, you don’t have to eat every meal out – consider eating breakfast in your hotel room or stopping by a grocery store and picking up some things for a picnic at lunchtime.
2. Order a salad for the first course with dressing & cheese on the side – this helps alkaline the body and get your digestive enzymes working to help digest your food easier. If the menu doesn’t indicate what kind of lettuce is used – ask and then request all mixed greens, arugula or romaine – tell them to leave the iceberg out! (there are no nutrients in iceberg). Do not pour the dressing on your salad, simply dip your fork in the dressing before each bite!
3. Quiz the server to see which dish they think is the most healthy– The server has probably seen all dishes brought out one time or another and can tell you if your fish is swimming in butter or covered in cream sauce.
4. Go as far as telling the server you allergic to butter and dairy, soy and corn. Butter really isn’t bad for you if it is organic and you use it in moderation – but restaurants can go crazy with it adding several hundred extra calories you can live without. Instead the chef can use olive oil to grill vegetables or fish. Soy and corn oil are the cheapest oils available so many restaurants use them. These cheap oils contain an overdose of Omega 6 fatty acids in your body and are probably not organic and have been genetically modified. When you have too much Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3, your body goes out of wack, which is why the typical American is Omega 3 deficient and why you see everything being supplemented with Omega 3 now. Americans are getting too many corn products throwing off the balance!
Update: I know this advice can be controversial, but as someone who has suffered from some of the worst allergies, have been hospitalized and have taken prescription drugs to control them, I take avoiding GMOs very seriously. When I removed GMOs from my diet, eating a majority of whole, unprocessed foods, my allergies improved and was able to stop taking several prescription medications to control them.
How GMOs can increase exposure to allergies (see links for scientific studies, summaries and source data):
- GMOs introduced novel proteins into our food supply that have the potential to be allergenic, and this is getting increased scrutiny by regulators.
- “Of particular interest is the ability of proteins from GMOs to elicit potentially harmful immunologic responses, including allergic hypersensitivity. The lack of information of the potential toxicity of these products suggests a need to identify the critical issues and research needs regarding these materials and to develop testing strategies to examine the allergenicity of these compounds”.
- According to the National Academy of Sciences, “Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Consequences”:
- “Foods produced through agricultural biotechnology may result in the expression of proteins new to the human diet. Some of these new proteins may induce an allergic response to sensitive members of the population.”
- “The nature of the compositional change merits greater consideration than the method used to achieve the change, for example, the magnitude of additions or deletions of specific constituents and modifications that may result in an unintended adverse effect, such as enhanced allergenic potential”.
- “Mice fed Bt-toxin showed significant immune responses… the Bt caused their immune system to become sensitive to formerly harmless compounds. This suggests that exposure might make a person allergic to a wide range of substances”.
- “Bt proteins could act as antigenic and allergenic sources” – U.S. EPA
- “Hundreds of agricultural workers are developing moderate or severe allergic reactions when exposed to Bt cotton. This includes those picking cotton, loading it, cleaning it, or even leaning against it. Some at a ginning factory must take antihistamines daily, in order to go to work. Reactions are only triggered with the Bt varieties…Cottonseed is also used for cottonseed oil—used in many processed foods in the US.”
- “The UK is one of the few countries that conducts a yearly evaluation of food allergies. In March 1999, researchers at the York Laboratory were alarmed to discover that reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% over the previous year. Genetically modified soy had recently entered the UK from US imports and the soy used in the study was largely GM. John Graham, spokesman for the York laboratory, said, “We believe this raises serious new questions about the safety of GM foods”.
- “Another study verified that GM soybeans contain a unique, unexpected protein, not found in non-GM soy controls. Moreover, scientist tested the protein and determined that it reacted with the antibody called IgE. This antibody in human blood plays a key role in a large proportion of allergic reactions, including those that involve life-threatening anaphylactic shock. The fact that the unique protein created by GM soy interacted with IgE suggests that it might also trigger allergies. The same researchers measured the immune response of human subjects to soybeans using a skin-prick test—an evaluation used often by allergy doctors. Eight subjects showed a reaction to GM soy; but one of these did not also react to non-GM soy. Although the sample size is small, the implication that certain people react only to GM soy is huge, and might account for the increase in soy allergies in the UK.”
- “GM soy was introduced into the US food supply in late 1996. We are left only to wonder whether this had an influence on the doubling of US peanut allergies from 1997 to 2002”.
5. Don’t order the meat unless you know it’s organic, if there are no organic choices – fish is better, but not farmed salmon, which is fed corn and dyed pink! Try a bean dish and mostly veggies. Goat cheese can add protein on your salad.
6. Before you order the soup – ask if it’s homemade or if it contains additives. Sometime last year it was a cold rainy day and I live right across from a gourmet food shop called “Dean and Deluca” – all of their soups sounded amazing and I wanted some soooo bad – but then I asked for the list ingredients and I was shocked! They get their soups premade from Sysco – a huge manufacture of processed foods. The first ingredient was Soy Oil and it contained MSG. MSG has so many negative side effects that I won’t go into here – google it – you’ll be shocked too. Another lesson here is not be fooled by fancy packaging and marketing – they are trying to dupe you in to paying more for the same quality food at fast food restaurants.
7. Drink hot water with lemon during your meal or hot decaf green or ginger tea – this helps digestion as you eat. Jugging any liquid during your meal slows down digestion which isn’t good – because you could easily feel the bubble gut – my word for the dreading bloating & gassy feel after a large meal with lots of drinks! Drink a large glass of water before you eat about 20 mins before or wait after for about 30 minutes to 1 hour after.
8. Mix and match – not seeing anything you like on the menu? Check out the specifics for each dish and ask the waiter to create you a plate. One time I remember I was stuck in an airport with one food option – Ruby Tuesdays! They had fresh guacamole served with chips and another platter that had shrimp. I asked them kindly to make me a plate of Grilled Shrimp and large scoop of that guac. It was delicious and satisfying and I made it home without biting the arm of the pilot.
9. Order off the menu – Ask the chef to create something for you – this is especially great at a more established or fancier restaurant where the chef is highly skilled and can test his creativity for you. I remember one time I was at a fancy steak place in a casino for a work function – I don’t eat steak and nothing else really was appealing to me – so I asked the chef to make me a vegetarian plate that only used light olive oil with some whole grains . It was so fabulous that one of my bosses who was sitting right across from me – looked over and said “Wow – I wish I had that.”
10. Create an old standby and build a relationship with the staff – I have my favorite standby restaurant when I am too busy to cook but still want to eat healthy. I’ve gotten to know the staff and they make everything perfect for me every time. At one of my standbys – The sushi chef makes me my roll just how I like it – a special roll with all veggies with no white rice or fatty sauces. He knows that I like my ponzu sauce on the side of my Ahi Tuna Sashmi to control the amount of salt that I eat. I always start with a big bowl of romaine with extra cucumbers and the ginger dressing on the side. They also have great hot green tea! It’s a fail proof meal, I don’t have to worry about it or stress over anything.
11. If you end up eating too much or not the right thing, follow the meal with fresh grapefruit juice. The grapefruit juice will minimize the insulin spike in your body (when insulin spikes rapidly, this releases fat storing hormones). Then take a brisk walk or do 50 air squats about 45 mins after. Some of the extra calories you just consumed will be used up and you’ll be able to sleep better. (I credit this tip to “4 Hour Body” by Tim Ferris – it really works)