For some, dining out is a special occasion – a time to let loose, have fun, and throw all nutritionally-minded caution to the wind.
It’s frankly more convenient and enjoyable to leave diet restrictions behind when you’re traveling, vacationing, or just having a busy night. But, as we all know, eating what everyone else is eating gets you the same results as what they’re having – bloating, weight gain, inflammation, and even uninvited guests like food-borne bacteria and parasites – with all their unpleasant symptoms.
Travel has been an integral part of my career for 4 decades now, and I have dined in countless restaurants over the years – while sticking to my healthy eating guidelines. Like you, I’ve faced the temptation to indulge, or felt too uneasy to ask the hard questions of my waiter about the quality of my food (especially when the restaurant is busy). But all of that changed when I met my mentor, Dr. Hazel Parcells. Once she explained in detail about what happens behind the scenes in a restaurant, and brought up concerns over everything from food quality to food safety, I honestly couldn’t even eat out in restaurants for years afterward.
Fast-forward to today, and I now have a set of standard questions I unabashedly ask of any wait staff, chef, or kitchen staff to be sure the food I’m being served meets my healthy standards. And thanks to a new guide that’s out, I have a list of restaurants from around the country that have already been surveyed for their food quality. With a little careful planning, you can sidestep the belly bloat and weight gain and enjoy your healthy meals out.
Tips for Healthy Meals in Restaurants
In my mind, eating healthy starts before you ever get to the restaurant. Here are the things I do before I even leave my house to make sure I stay on track with my eating plan:
- Incorporate Eating Out into Your Menu Plan. Whether you are on vacation or at home, menu planning saves time and money, and is essential to staying on a healthy diet. My Radical Metabolism plan and Fat Flush family of plans all have sample menus included, and there is a multitude of menu planning apps you can use on your phone or computer to plan your meals ahead of time. When you plan your meals and snacks, it often means with a little prep time in advance, you can pack healthy snacks or already made meals in a cooler and bring them along, avoiding the need to eat out. When eating out is inevitable, you can research local restaurants ahead of time and plan to eat where there are options that fit your healthy diet.
- Plan Ahead to Avoid Temptation. Whether you’re going on a cruise with unlimited food, sugary cocktails and decadent desserts, or grabbing a quick bite while shopping, it’s important to plan ahead and make smart substitutions. Replace sweet drinks by making my cran-water with sparkling water, or, if you really want to have a drink at girls’ night out, choose a gluten free, non-GMO vodka with sparkling water and a squeeze of lime instead of wine or cocktails. If you are traveling and want to sample the local cuisine, make smart substitutions and wise choices. For instance, if seafood is the specialty of the area, choose steamed or grilled over fried or raw, and substitute steamed or grilled vegetables as the side.
- Avoid Uninvited Guests. Clean water and food-borne parasites are issues whether you are in the heart of the city or out in the country. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water database, levels of contaminants in almost 50,000 public water utilities are high enough to pose health risks. And parasites are a fact of life everywhere, not just in countries with poor sanitation. This means the restaurant salad bar you just ate could be contaminated with parasites, while that local water you just drank could be tainted with health-compromising chemicals.
Any raw food or unfiltered water (or ice) puts you at risk for parasite and chemical exposure, even in the nicest towns. This is why I question the restaurants I eat in to make sure the water is filtered and the food is kept either as cold or warm as it needs to be to avoid food-borne illnesses. I also won’t travel anywhere without Para-Key from UNI KEY Health. I take half the recommended dose whenever I eat out or travel, to prevent unwanted hitchhikers.
- Use the Templeton Wellness Foundation’s Restaurant Guide. James Templeton healed from Stage IV Melanoma cancer naturally, and has been cancer-free for more than 3 decades. He wrote his inspiring new book,I Used to Have Cancer, and started this Foundation to help others be cancer-free, too. He surveyed hundreds of restaurants and asked 7 very important questions to determine whether their food is healthy, and created this guide from the results. I have found it to be an indispensable resource when planning my meals out – I simply enter the city I want to dine in and the list of healthy restaurants available to me comes up, with a star rating and list of criteria they meet.
How to Use the Templeton Wellness Foundation Restaurant Guide
The Restaurant Guide has several features I’d like to highlight for you. First, you enter the city you’re interested in, with how big of a radius you’re willing to travel for good food. Once the list comes up, each restaurant is listed with a star rating. If a restaurant meets all 7 criteria for ingredient, preparation, and environmental guidelines, then they are given 5 stars. The rating goes down based on how many criteria are missing.
Here are the 7 criteria used, and a brief description of each:
- Food is locally sourced. Restaurants have more control over food quality when it comes from a local supplier than they do from a nationwide source. Often the person who is delivering it is close to the one who grew it, and can detail exactly how it’s been grown and what’s been used on it. Food that travels less tends to be more fresh and less of a drain on the environment. It also supports local farms and suppliers and is good for the local economy.
- Food is organic, free of pesticides and chemicals. Food that isn’t organic is often genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate, which is currently under fire for causing cancer. Clean, organic food is a relief for your liver, the organ that has to process all the toxins you come in contact with, which allows your cells to produce energy.
- Uses Healthy, non-Hydrogenated Oils. Hydrogenated vegetable oils like soy, canola, and vegetable are the oils that give Omega 6 fats a bad name. They are inflammatory and are linked to major health issues, like cancer and heart disease. They tend to be rancid and may contain trans fats, another known health risk. There are many things I can compromise on when I’m eating out, but hydrogenated oils are a guaranteed deal-breaker for me.
- Uses and Serve Filtered Water. Clean water is a nationwide issue, and the current standards in place for municipal water supplies are not enough to prevent disease risk. Drinking water (or ice) that has not been filtered not only faces contamination issues from where it’s originated but also how it’s been stored. The ice at fast food restaurants is just one example of how quickly stored water products become contaminated. Good filtration is a must.
- Uses Real Butter and Absolutely No Margarine. Margarine falls under the category of hydrogenated oils, inflammatory and unhealthy for you. It is also one of the most poorly understood criteria by waitstaff, so you must be specific when asking about it. Many people have been raised to think of “butter” as including margarine, butter, or any other butter substitute, so the Templeton Wellness Foundation was careful to be very clear when asking about this issue.
- The Restaurant is GMO-free. There were restaurants who answered “yes” to the food being organic and “no” to being non-GMO. The reason for this is that while their menus are as organic as possible, they weren’t able to source all of their ingredients from organic sources. The remaining ingredients they either aren’t sure of their GMO status or know that some GMO foods were unavoidable. The primary reason foods are genetically modified is to be tolerant to chemical exposure, especially from glyphosate, a known cause of cancer. This means GMO foods are very likely to be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides.
- The Restaurant is MSG-free. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) originated in Japan as a flavor enhancer, and is used today in many restaurants and processed foods. Consumption has been linked to several neurological symptoms, obesity, cancer promotion, cardiovascular disease, and found to excite brain cells to death. MSG is one of the most harmful food additives today, and should be avoided.
You have a right to know what’s in your food, and the Restaurant Guide can help. If you have a restaurant you frequent that is not part of the guide, I encourage you to ask them these 7 important questions before you dine there again. It’s not only an opportunity for you to educate yourself, but you also have a chance to teach them about healthy eating. One thing I appreciate about the guide is their desire for feedback, so if your favorite restaurant says yes to most of these questions, please feel free to submit this information to them in the section where they ask for feedback, and you may just see your restaurant on there the next time you look!
NOTE: The Restaurant Guide is a work in progress with many more new restaurants being added every week. I encourage you to check it out, save it to your “Favorites” and come back often to see what healthy restaurants are located in your area or your next travel destination.