When Eating Out, Avoid These "Free" Foods
Even though dieting can be very restricting, a healthy diet and exercise plan will let you splurge on some of your favorite foods every now and then.
“An effective diet will allow you to enjoy some of your favorite foods that you’ve had to sacrifice for weight loss,” says Christy Shatlock, one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD.
“In order to burn fat more effectively, our bodies need to re-train our metabolism to convert a variety of foods into stored glucose that we need for energy," says Christy.
"This requires a well-portioned diet with protein, carbohydrates and fat, but it also means we need to re-introduce some of our favorite foods back into our diet in order to stabilize weight loss.”
When given permission to indulge on your specific day, a majority of people will head right back to their favorite restaurant to get a taste of what they’ve been craving for since turning over a healthy new leaf.
Many of your favorite food cravings come in the form of “free” food that you are given before your main meal. You know, the garlic bread sticks, the cheddar bay biscuits, the chips and salsa.
We sent one of our expert dietitians out into the “restaurant world” to give us the low-down on the top 5 worst “free” restaurant foods you can eat, and what alternatives you can choose from to maintain your weight loss.
5. Tasty Biscuits, with Plenty of Fat: Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits
For eating one biscuit, you get:
8 grams fat
16 grams carbohydrate
“These biscuits are tasty, and they are unlimited in quantity, but they can negatively affect your weight loss if you eat more than one,” says Christy.
As far as chain restaurants go, Red Lobster actually has one of the healthier menus in the country, but the cheddar bay biscuits can add a lot more calories to your otherwise, low-cal meal.
“The cheddar biscuits may be hard to resist, but if you are craving them, try to limit the number you eat,” says Christy.
“If you are going to eat more than one, I recommend ordering something off the menu that isn’t fried, like grilled shrimp or fish. Red Lobster has a variety of low calorie menu options, but, if you want a salad with your meal, ix-nay on the dressing,” says Christy.
4. Want Endless Fries with That? Ruby Tuesday’s Endless Fries
For one handful, you get:
18 grams fat
50 grams carbohydrate
“Without a doubt, French fries in any form are one of the worst foods you can eat if you are trying to lose weight,” says Christy.
Ruby Tuesday's endless fries are no exception.
“Many of the entrees at Ruby Tuesday come with fries, especially if you order one of their highly-advertised gourmet burgers. Before you know it, you have just ordered a meal that can be well over 1,000 calories,” says Christy.
“Instead of filling your craving with fries, Ruby Tuesday has a fantastic salad bar that offers a variety of different foods to choose from. They have a vast selection of healthy greens, and even offer a variety of tasty, low-calorie appetizer options,” says Christy.
Having a few fries won’t do any harm; just make sure it is no more than a small handful. If you think the temptation to avoid an entire basket of fries is going to be too hard, then it’s best to avoid the salty, golden-fried sticks of potato altogether.
3. Chips and Salsa: No Matter What Restaurant it Comes From
On average, for one bowl, you get:
22-35 grams fat
52-65 grams carbohydrate
Chips and salsa taste great for free, but the high-calorie cost may not be something to celebrate.
“Many people pick chips and salsa, just because it is cheap, quick and convenient,” says Christy. “The problem is that the chips are often fried, and they aren’t filling, which tempts people to eat more and more."
Mexican-inspired cuisine is not very low-calorie either, with an enchilada or taco dish possibly running in excess of about 1,000 calories.
“If you are craving Mexican food, avoid the chips, and order something healthier, like a taco salad, or fish tacos. Just keep in mind that Mexican meals carry a lot of carbs too, so it’s important that you research healthier alternatives before you sit down to dine. This is also important to keep in mind if you are going to have a few margaritas, which have an average of 750 calories on their own,” says Christy.
2. Pancakes in the Morning, Guilt in the Afternoon: Stacks of Pancakes from IHOP and Denny's
On average, for 2 pancakes with maple syrup, you get:
4 grams fat
103 grams carbohydrate
A great breakfast is the best way to start the day, but only if it isn’t loaded with fat and calories.
“The best breakfast starts your day with an essential amount of protein, not with bad carbs served in large portions,” says Christy.
As a matter of fact, there are more calories in this one breakfast platter, than there are in one single serving of most varieties of ice cream.
“If you insist on having Denny’s in the morning, order some sort of breakfast dish that contains a good amount of protein, like scrambled eggs served with fruit, and a side of whole wheat toast. Use salt sparingly, and don’t coat your toast down with butter or syrup. This could easily add 200 calories or more to your dish,” says Christy.
1. Grazing for Food in the Garden: Olive Garden’s Free Endless Salad and Breadsticks
For 1 serving of salad with dressing, you get:
26 grams fat
22 grams carbohydrates
For 1 breadstick, you get:
2 grams fat
28 grams carbohydrates
You would think salad would be one of the healthier “free” food items out there, but it turns out that it can actually be one of the worst.
“Olive Garden’s endless salad and breadsticks takes the cake for being the worst free food you can get at a restaurant,” says Christy. “If you eat a ton of these breadsticks, and have more than one serving of salad, you could potentially take in about 25% of your body’s recommended daily caloric intake, just in one sitting.”
The sumptuous garlic bread, and decadent salad may be hard to resist, but you can still have some if you stay smart about your main entrée.
“Look for an entrée that is healthier and low-calorie, like eggplant, or crusted tilapia with steamed veggies. An entree like this is your best bet for maintaining your diet if you can’t resist the calling of endless salad and bread sticks,” says Christy.
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