Trans Fat Ban: What We Still Need To Watch Out For

Though it's great that a trans fat ban is taking hold in restaurants nationwide, don't think that trans-fat-free menu choices are necessarily healthy.

“A claim like ‘trans-fat-free’ doesn’t tell you the whole story,” explains Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “It’s never a good idea to evaluate a product based on one item. Remember ‘fat-free’ foods that were full of sugar and calories? To be truly healthy, a menu choice must pass several criteria, as you learned in label reading class at Pritikin.”

Trans Fat Ban – A Closer Look

With the trans fat ban, troublesome, too, are the ingredients that some restaurant chefs are replacing trans fats with, like butter or lard. They are just as artery-damaging as trans fats. Often, too, the calorie content of a menu item hasn’t changed.

In short, cautions Kimberly, “you can still do harm to your arteries – as well as gain weight – by eating foods marketed as ‘trans fat free.’”

Never before has it been so important that we watch what we eat when dining out simply because we dine out a lot. According to a report in 2006 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called “Let’s Eat Out,” Americans now get a whopping 32% of their daily calories from restaurant food, up from just 18% in the 1970s.*

Numerous studies, including the USDA report, have shown that the more we eat out, the fatter we get. No surprise, really. Restaurant fare tends to be far more calorie-rich than foods prepared at home partly because of richer, calorie-laden ingredients but also because portion sizes are often huge.

Many restaurant foods, especially soups and sauces, are also loaded with sodium, which increases the risk of a multitude of diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

To eat out more healthfully, here are five tips, from Kimberly’s “Dining Out” workshop at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa.

1. Surf the Internet to find restaurants offering healthful meals.

For instance, www.zagat.com and www.idine.com list restaurants in many cities that serve healthy meals.

In addition, many restaurants have web pages with online menus that can help you find healthier options and steer clear of pitfalls. (A slice of Starbucks crumb cake, the company’s website will tell you, packs a waist-expanding 670 calories. That’s more calories than a Big Mac!)

2. Be very specific when ordering.

Ask servers to repeat your order back to you to make sure they understood your needs. It is often helpful to tell servers you have food allergies; allergies are often perceived as a serious and “must act upon” concern by restaurant owners and staff.

3. Eat something before you go to avoid having to fight both temptation and hunger.

If not, order something healthy as soon as you are seated, such as a salad, a crudite, some fruit, or even a baked potato.

At steakhouses, for example, you’re much better off with a baked potato and salsa (less than 200 calories) than cheese fries and ranch dressing (a belly bulging, artery-clogging 3,000 calories), states Restaurant Confidential,** a very useful guidebook for what to order and what to avoid in many U.S. restaurant chains.

4. Split entrées.

In today’s world of “supersizing,” many entrees can easily feed two people. Order an extra salad and/or vegetable side dish (or three or four vegetable side dishes – the more veggies, the better!) to make a complete and satisfying meal.

5. If you want a dessert, order one.

Not ordering dessert when everyone else does is usually a mistake. Order something healthy such as fresh berries, fruit cocktail, or a little sorbet with some fresh fruit to avoid “tasting” from other people’s fat-laden choices.

Or, instead of ordering dessert at the restaurant, get some exercise after dinner and walk together to an ice cream parlor for a nonfat frozen yogurt. What a difference there is between a slice of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake (710 calories and 49 grams of fat, 31 of them saturated) and Haagen Daaz sorbet (120 calories, 0 grams of fat).

And what a difference it can ultimately make to your heart and waistline!

Bottom Line:  The trans fat ban is a good thing, but don’t stop there.  Take good care of your body in every nutritional way.   Steer clear, as much as you can, of virtually all hyperprocessed foods.  Center your daily diet on whole, from-the-earth foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

* http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib19/eib19_reportsummary.pdf

** Michael F. Jacobson, PhD and Jayne Hurley, RD, Restaurant Confidential. Workman Publishing, 2002.

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