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Eating away from home? Here are a few ideas to help you make healthy choices

A healthy diet is an important cornerstone of good health. Picture: Askar Abayev/Pexels

A healthy diet is an important cornerstone of good health. Picture: Askar Abayev/Pexels

Published Feb 15, 2023


Every year, we celebrate significant occasions like birthdays, promotions, baby showers, Christmas, and New Year's—you get the gist—and the food is almost always the main attraction.

But it's during moments like these when most people stray from eating healthily out of a sense of celebration, which for the majority is a slippery slope to re-engaging in poor eating habits.

A healthy lifestyle is a combination of what and how much you eat. Picture: Pexels/Cats Coming

And with today’s hectic lifestyles, most of us end up grabbing a sandwich from the deli counter for lunch, ordering takeaways for dinner, or eating out at least once a week.

The focus on healthy living goes beyond just attaining hourglass figures or any beauty standards in general; it's about curbing the increase in lifestyle diseases such as depression, hypertension, and obesity, to name just a few that threaten our life expectancy.

A healthy diet is an important cornerstone of good health, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It protects you against many chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Eating a variety of foods and consuming less salt, sugars and saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats is essential for a healthy diet.

A study by Discovery Vitality on nutrition and women's health found that the fast food and restaurant industry in South Africa has grown by 10% year-on-year, according to the 2017 Vitality ObeCity Index, with nearly half of the adults dining out at restaurants and takeaway outlets on a regular basis.

Authored by Discovery Vitality dietician Terry Harris, the study found that even the portion sizes have gradually increased over the years, with servings in restaurants and takeaway outlets being double or even triple the size of what is appropriate for one person

“Since restaurant food is much more likely to be high in calories, bad fats, and refined sugar than wholesome home-cooked food, the effects of this growth are frequently seen in our waistlines,” wrote Harris.

Meals away from home make it harder to control ingredients, calories, and portions. This can be particularly challenging for people who are actively trying to avoid developing NCDs, which are largely influenced by our lifestyle choices.

The following tips will help you enjoy eating out without abandoning your efforts to eat well:

Manage your portions when eating out. Keep it small. Generally speaking, portions at fast food outlets and restaurants are larger than those you would typically eat at home. Request half portions, split a huge dinner with a companion, or take some of your meal homes in a takeaway container.

Ask how food is prepared. Order foods that have been steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, or roasted.

Avoid up-sizing your meal. It might seem like a good deal, but it's not.

Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you're no longer hungry. Fast eaters are often overeaters, while slow eaters tend to eat less but are still satisfied.

Ask for veggies with your meal. Order sides of leafy green salad or cooked vegetables. Substitute your fries with vegetables. Whole foods are a super great way to load up on fibre. Your digestive system will thank you!

Get the sauce on the side. You increase the fat and sodium in your food by using sauces, condiments, dressings, and spreads. To add flavour, use a small amount after asking for these on the side.

With the above in mind, you can still maintain your health when dining out – you don’t have to quit eating out altogether.

For additional information on how to simplify your diet, the DASH diet for South Africans recently launched the “Cooking from the Heart 5” cookbook, which is available to the public free of charge.

The cookbook serves as a valuable resource for people to learn more about the kinds of food to avoid, what to include, and how to prepare tasty meals that are easy to follow and budget-friendly.