Make smart choices when dining out

  • June 28, 2013
Jacqueline Ely, RD, LDN, nutritional counselor at Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center

Many restaurants and fast-food establishments are now providing customers with nutrition information on their products. How many people really study this information prior to making a decision? Most probably look at this after the fact and think, “Let’s see how far I strayed off my diet with this meal.”

Instead, take advantage of the wealth of information prior to making your selections, and you’ll know what you are indulging in and be more accountable for your actions, says Jacqueline Ely, nutritional counselor at Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. This may help you make better decisions at that meal or later that day. Keep in mind that becoming aware of what you are doing or eating will impact your health and your waistline!

You also need to know the recommended amounts for certain nutrients in order to determine if you’ve made a good choice. Use the nutrition label on foods as your guide. The recommendations below are general and based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Your recommended intake of these nutrients may be higher or lower depending on your specific caloric needs. A registered dietitian will help you determine your individual needs.

Use these general guidelines to help determine if a food item is a good choice. (Or, follow specific recommendations from your dietitian.) For example, some items may have more than your daily recommendation for fat and sodium packed into just one meal — not a good choice for heart health and weight management. Be sure to look at the whole picture and make the best decision to reach your health goals.

Check out some common foods and what they offer:

Panera Smoked Ham and Swiss

700 calories

10g saturated fat (half the recommended daily intake)

2,350mg sodium

Better choice – Half sandwich and a half salad

Olive Garden Pork Milanese

1,510 calories

87g fat

37g saturated fat

3,100mg sodium

Add-in the salad: 350 calories, 1930mg sodium

And the breadstick: 150 calories, 400mg sodium

Better choice – Take half of the meal home or share it, choose the salad with dressing on the side, and skip the breadstick.

McDonald’s Frappe Mocha (small)

450 calories

20g fat

13g saturated fat

1g trans fat

56g sugar

(56g of sugar looks like 14 teaspoons of sugar if you measured it out)

Better choice – Iced latte with sugar-free syrup (60 calories, 3g fat and 4g sugar)

Recommended Intake for 2000-Calorie Daily Diet

Total fat – Less than 65g

Saturated fat – Less than 20g

Cholesterol – Less than 300mg

Sodium – Less than 2,400mg

Total carbohydrate – 300mg

Dietary Fiber – 25g

The take-home message is be accountable for your choices and become aware of what you are eating. This will help you to make better decisions for a healthier you.

To learn more, contact Jacqueline Ely, nutritional counselor at Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. Visit


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