How can I eat lower cholesterol foods when I eat out?

Many restaurants now feature low-fat, low-cholesterol choices. Some display the heart symbol or may indicate in some other way that certain items are heart-healthy. When you see this on a menu, it means the restaurant has made this statement on its own. There's no program that certifies such claims. However, if you ask, the restaurant should provide you with an accurate nutritional analysis of the item, so you can see for yourself whether it meets your dietary goals.

Here are some tips for heart-healthy eating away from home.


First, go to restaurants that offer menu choices that are low in fat and cholesterol. This may mean exploring some new restaurants. Ask friends, family, and coworkers to suggest places that they like.

Scan Menus and Order Carefully

Use the following strategies when you make your menu choices.

  • Scan the menu for words like baked, broiled, poached, roasted, boiled, steamed, lightly sauteed, or stir-fried. Then choose your order from this selective list rather than drooling over the other, less healthfully prepared items. Avoid dishes that are deep-fried or panfried. If you're not sure how an item is prepared, ask. To see how well you can do at picking out the healthier choices, practice with our interactive menu.
  • Avoid foods described as breaded, fried, deep-fried, creamed, au gratin, buttered, panfried, crispy, scalloped, and in its own gravy. These tend to be high in fat. Instead, give yourself a chance to enjoy the healthier choices listed above. Once you try them, you're apt to like them and to feel so good about yourself that you won't miss the less-healthy options with higher fat.
  • Ask for substitutes or lower-fat preparation methods. You may feel awkward at first, but a little awkwardness is better than the dangers of heart disease. Rest assured that you are not the only person who asks for healthier meals. When you do this, you're identifying yourself as someone who cares about your health - and you can be proud of that.
  • Ask that salad dressings be served on the side or not at all. Then only use a few teaspoons. Substitute vinegar for salad dressing, or choose a low-calorie dressing. If you're the kind of person who only likes salads that are dripping in salad dressing or who leaves half the salad in the bowl, you're not doing yourself any favors by eating salad. Consider asking for a fresh vegetable side dish or a soup that is not cream-based instead of the salad.
  • Request that sauces, gravies, and butter be served on the side or not at all. Then try the food without the topping first. You might find you like it on its own. If you decide to add the topping, use just a little.
  • Ask for a baked potato, vegetables, or a salad in place of fried potatoes or fried onion rings. Avoid adding high-fat toppings, such as butter, cheese, or sour cream, to your potato. Instead, ask for salsa, cocktail sauce, or fresh horseradish - all are delicious and healthy choices on baked potatoes.
  • On pizzas, ask for less cheese and more vegetables. Avoid high-fat toppings, such as pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese.
  • If you're in the mood for dessert, order fruit, sorbet, sherbet, or low-fat frozen yogurt. Or split a dessert with friends.


Focus on the Healthy Foods

Make these choices when you eat in a restaurant.

  • At salad bars, enjoy all the greens and vegetables you'd like. They are good for you and have little or no fat and no cholesterol. But pass up or go easy on high-fat or high-calorie items, such as eggs, bacon, cheese, fried noodles, and salad dressings. Avoid mayonnaise-based salads, such as macaroni salads. They are very high in fat.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy conversation with your dinner companions. This will help you notice when you are getting full so that you don't overeat.
  • Watch out for large portions. If portions are large, ask for a container so you can take some home for another meal. To decrease the temptation to overeat, avoid entrees that are labeled deluxe, supersized, large, jumbo, or extra-large. Or order an appetizer for your main course.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol increases appetite and may decrease your willpower to resist high-fat items. It also adds calories without providing nutrients.
  • At a buffet, scan the entire table before you choose anything to see what low-fat items are available. Eat some of these first before trying higher-fat foods. This will help you eat smaller portions of fattier foods.
  • At a potluck, bring a low-fat dish that you really enjoy. Then choose your low-fat meal over other higher-fat alternatives.
  • At parties, focus on socializing rather than eating. If you're enjoying the company of your companions, you won't be tempted to eat as much.
  • If you do overindulge at a restaurant or party, don't feel guilty and punish yourself. Simply eat lower-fat foods the following day.