Eating Out Right

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Eating Out Right

Sunday, 17 October 2021 | Excerpt

Eating Out Right

Weight loss is a journey that must be traversed with patience, over time. This festive season, when you are most likely to eat out, keeping a few things in mind while selecting the dishes should do the trick, writes author Kavita Devgan in her new book The Don’t-Diet Plan, An edited excerpt:

Eating out is a part of life, be it for leisure or due to travel. However, the more frequently you eat out, the more calories you ingest, getting heavier in the bargain. You don’t need me to tell you that, you know it already.

Besides, every time you eat out, you ruin your happiness guessing, wishing you knew everything you were wolfing down-fat, calories, sodium, etc. and wondering if you had made a wrong choice and sabotaged your heart’s health yet again.

Faced with an extensive tempting menu, it’s easy to get carried away and forget all about healthy eating, but making healthier choices need not be a nightmare. Let me show you how.

Get Cuisine Wise

Here is a brief ‘eating out manual’ to help you navigate these four very popular cuisines when you go out to enjoy them the next time.


Here the basics are trim and healthy but the offenders to look out for are surplus oil, cream and butter (which are poured freely into most dishes).

Are you wondering what to pick then? Learn to differentiate between Northern and Southern Italian cuisines. Southern Italy traditionally follows a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in grains, fruits and vegetables, contains very little meat and uses olive oil in place of butter. Northern Italian cuisine, on the other hand, is heavy on the beef, butter and cream. Start with plain Italian bread rather than buttered garlic bread. Be careful of fresh Italian bread soaked with deliciously flavoured olive oil too. Salads can be a good starter and filler but make sure that you ask for the dressing and vinegar on the side. An all-vegetable antipasto, insalata-green salad, Panzanella, a tomato and mozzarella salad and fish in cartoccio are some good options. Do you want to eat pasta? Then skip cheese-filled ones in favour of those with red clam sauce or meat sauce. Classic pasta with marinara sauce is a lean choice. And if you want to have a heavier entrée like lasagne, then have only half of it. At the end of the meal, skip the dessert, resist the cannoli or cream-filled pastry and have a decaf cappuccino, made with low fat milk or have fresh fruit.


In Mexican cuisine, the common offenders to look out for are enchiladas (tortillas fried in oil) and tacos (deep-fried tortillas), chimichangas, chilli rellenos, tostadas and flautas-all of them are deep fried. Cheese and sour cream toppings add extra fat and calories, so do the side-dishes like chips and nachos.

Are you wondering what to pick then? Take your cue from the names of the menu items. Foods that are prepared ‘asada’ are grilled, which is a non-fat cooking process. ‘Fajitas’ are made up of grilled meat or chicken. Use salsa on your main course instead of sour cream and cheese, as ‘salsa’ made with tomato, onion, chillies and herbs is virtually fat-free and bursting with vitamins A and C. Be extremely careful of the portion size. Choose the dessert carefully-a fruit plate of mangoes, guavas and papaya tastes as good and is far less calorie-dense than sopapillas (deep-fried sweet pastries) or fried ice cream.


Greek food is super healthy and comprises of grains, fruits and vegetables, olive oil and very little meat. Sauces are based on wine, stocks, tomato and yoghurt, rather than milk or cream. Lentils, beans and vegetables are commonly used in soups, appetizers and main courses. So far so good, but still, you can’t be careful enough.

Are you wondering what to pick? The signature of a Greek salad, the ‘Greek’ olives and feta cheese, are very high in sodium, so go easy. You can even ask to have the feta rinsed before it is served to limit your sodium intake. Be wary of taramasalata, a delicious, though calorie-rich, cream-based dip. Instead, have pita bread spread with a yoghurt-based dip like tzatziki, made with yoghurt, garlic and cucumber. Breadsticks dipped in hummus (sesame paste and chickpeas) or baba ghanoush (eggplant and olive oil) are other good options. For soup, skip the better-known avgolemono soup, which has a lemon and egg base and go for torato, chilled eggplant, peppers and yoghurt soup as this has more fibre and less cholesterol. If you’re watching your fat and cholesterol numbers, then pass up moussaka and pastitsio casseroles made from eggs and cheese, and opt for grilled or broiled meat, poultry or seafood.

Some more good options are fish in ‘plaki’ sauce (broiled with tomato sauce and garlic), souvlaki (lamb marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and herbs, and then skewered and grilled) and dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and pine nuts). These are all steamed or baked dishes. And if you will simply perish without baklava for dessert, remember that the usual single portion size can serve two or three people more than adequately. Therefore, order accordingly.


Chinese food has its share of offenders-hefty sodium content, high fat and big portion sizes, usually due to the Indianization of the Chinese recipes-the so-called ‘Indian Chinese food’ (because traditional Chinese cooking is rather light and healthy).

Are you wondering what to pick? Oyster, black bean and soy sauces are full of sodium and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Look out for these words on the menu card and don’t hesitate to ask the chef about the ingredients before ordering anything. Deep fat frying is very common, especially in the appetizers, so go easy on fried wontons and egg or spring rolls. Instead, try steamed egg or spring rolls. Order steamed white rice or plain noodles instead of the fried versions (steamed Chinese brown rice is tasty and filling). Be wary of the word ‘crispy’ as this indicates that the dish is usually deep-fried, as is most of the meat in any dish labelled ‘sweet and sour’. Instead, choose a roasted or grilled meat with the sweet and sour sauce on the side (always order sauce on the side and just drizzle some on top).

Eat the way the Chinese really do to stay healthy for the long haul-eat a lot of vegetables. Besides, nowhere else do vegetables taste as delicious as they do in Chinese dishes. Always start with a soup, especially a vegetable base one and round off with a cup of Chinese tea to help wash all the food down.

Excerpted with permission from The Don’t -Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss by Kavita Devgan, Rupa, Rs 295

Are you diabetic?

Look for high fibre, low-fat dishes. A few great choices are beans, peas and lentils, and dark green vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, spinach and kale. Choose whole grain foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta and opt for fruits. Everyone, including people with diabetes, should eat three servings of fruit a day.

Are you watching your heart?

Skip foods high in saturated fat-foods that are fried or have a crispy coating, cream-based soups and salad dressings, and creamy cheese sauces and gravies. Don’t add extra salt anything.

Are you watching your waist?

All the above rules apply. Also watch your portions, skip the desserts and go slow on carbs (breads). Load up on fibre (salad and grains) and protein (lean cuts).

Do you have a long day ahead?

Add nuts to your salad and an olive oil-based dressing; have a decent-sized helping of whole wheat bread or brown rice and substantial amounts of grilled chicken or fish.

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