How to Eat Out on a Low-Carb Diet

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Talk to your waiter about what options are low in carbohydrates.
Talk to your waiter about what options are low in carbohydrates. (Image: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Getty Images)

If you're eschewing carbs to lose weight or improve your health, you might be on the right track -- a study published in 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found low-carbohydrate diets to be more effective than low-fat diets for shedding pounds and decreasing cardiovascular risk factors. However, when you head to a restaurant to eat and leave your meal preparations in the hands of someone else, it's tough to ensure that your food adheres to your diet. With a little preparedness and some smart ordering tactics, however, you can stay on your diet without concern.

Be Properly Prepared

It's easy to go in blind and be swayed by the tempting photos and descriptions on the restaurant's menu. To avoid this, check out the restaurant's menu online. In some cases, you can find specific nutrition information; however, even when that's not available, simply knowing in advance what's probably the best option can stop you making a last-minute unhealthy decision.

A light snack before you head out can also keep you from falling prey to a high-carb meal. Try a ham or turkey roll-up or some vegetables with guacamole. If you're not famished when you arrive, you'll be less likely to go crazy over the complimentary bread or tortilla chip basket.

As you head out, tuck a packet of low- or no-carb salad dressing into your bag, since restaurant dressing can contain added sugars or other carbs.

Order Smartly

Skip pasta, pizza and carb-laden sandwiches in favor of protein-based dishes such as grilled steak, chicken or fish. A salad is often a low-carb option, as long as you don’t order one that comes in a shell, such as a taco salad, or is topped with croutons, noodles or tortilla strips. Double-check with the waiter that any meat you order isn’t breaded. Although it seems like a smart option, be wary of meals that claim to be “high protein,” as it can still be high in carbohydrates. When you’re going out to eat for breakfast, your best low-carb options include omelets or other egg-based dishes. Skip the toast, breakfast potatoes and hash browns on the side.

Make Substitutions

If a burger seems like your best bet, ask your waiter what substitutions can be easily made. For example, ask if the burger can be served on a lettuce leaf rather than on a bun. Otherwise, simply toss the bun to the side when it arrives to save a hefty number of carbohydrates. Ask if your entree can be served with a side salad or nonstarchy vegetables such as broccoli, rather than fries, coleslaw or pasta salad. At breakfast, ask for a side of fresh berries in lieu of higher-carb options.

Skip the Sugar

At restaurants, hidden sugar lurks in every corner of the menu. A healthy grilled chicken breast could be high in carbohydrates if it’s glazed with barbecue sauce, and a number of Asian dishes have sugar or brown sugar as a staple in their ingredient list. Ask your waiter to serve all foods with a sauce on the side -- or skip the sauce entirely. When choosing your beverage, water is, of course, always the best choice. If you want a cocktail, though, stick with the classics. Vodka, rum, gin, bourbon and whiskey are carb-free, as are diet mixers, but sweeter liquors, fruit juice, regular soda, tonic and sweet and sour mix are all rife with sugar.

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