If you are trying to lose weight and feel better but still find yourself eating out a lot and not having any success, it’s probably because trying to eat healthy in a restaurant is much harder than you think! There are a lot of hidden sources of gluten at restaurants.
Restaurants can be tricky. If you have any kind of health issues, or have a goal of losing weight, it’s important to educate yourself about what’s really on the menu, so you don’t inadvertently eat something that is not in line with your goals or throws you off track.
The safest thing to order and stay as healthy as possible, regardless of the restaurant, is a piece of grilled or boiled protein with a salad (adding only lemon juice and olive oil as dressing!) or a plain baked potato. If you want to go beyond these basics, it is possible to do so and stay healthy, but diner beware! There are a few key items found in many restaurants that are always a no-no if you want to stay healthy.
Here are my top five choices for unexpected calorie-packed restaurant items:
Soups can have loads of hidden gluten! People who aren’t chefs in their regular daily lives don’t realize that a great way to thicken soup is to use the same water used to boil pasta. It’s true! When pasta is cooked, the water isn’t thrown out. This water is prized in the restaurant kitchen for the extra flavor and body it can add to other meals. So, if you are concerned about gluten, confirming that an entrée is entirely gluten free is key. This “pasta water” can be used in anything and everything—to sauté vegetables, steam food items, make sauces—but mainly to thicken soups, so be aware.
These chips, despite being made from corn, are often cross-contaminated with wheat products that they come into contact with. So if you have a strong reaction to gluten, you might have the same reaction to these corn products. The next time you dig into your table’s nachos appetizer, see how you feel the next day and that will probably tell you if that restaurant’s corn chips weren’t entirely gluten free.
As a whole, dressings and their ingredients are rarely healthy. Many use wheat and other grain by-products as a thickening agent. Many others use sugar to make the dressings more palatable and tasty overall. And just about all of them use sub-par oils that are either made from vegetables or are highly-processed. So as a general rule for dining out, the best alternative is to go simple and dress your salads with just olive oil and lemon. Restaurants know some people like to do this, so it’s not uncommon for individuals to ask for salads without dressing and just add a bit of their own that they bring along once it comes to the table. Trust me, you won’t be the first one to do this and certainly not the last!
Most commercial soy sauces all contain gluten, MSG, sodium, colorings and flavorings. However, there’s a great alternative for that soy sauce taste with none of the extra additives – Bragg’s Amino Acids. You can find it in most specialty food stores and some grocery stores. It’s a natural product that is truly fermented and I bring a small one with me to restaurants often, whether it’s Chinese or sushi. Stay away from the bottled soy sauces on the tables at restaurants if you want to stay healthy.
Purees, Glazes & Sauces
Many of the sides and sauces that come with foods contain added sugars and gluten that people don’t even realize. These hidden sources of gluten at restaurants can stifle your weight loss goals. Mashed potatoes and Benedict sauce are two examples that both contain flour, which chefs use to thicken and give some added flavor to the dishes. So any time you can’t see every single ingredient clearly on the plate (like steamed broccoli, a baked potato, broiled carrots, etc.), ask if there are any thickeners or other agents used to create the dish.