Eating Out and Food Labelling

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Eating Out

If I eat out once in a week, I will count that as one of my 20% “treats”. The reason being that the other 80% of the time I know exactly what is in my food and stay within my food and weight personal happy medium!

However, if you are trying to lose weight, then you have to be especially careful here. Although many restaurants do now provide a calorie count against their meals, many (usually the non chain ones) do not.

Firstly when you look at the menu, although there are many tempting items, consider do you actually need to have a starter course, a main course and then a dessert course? I would generally have a starter course, a main course, and then a coffee or a main course and then a pudding. However, if you are trying to lose weight, miss out the pudding and have the coffee instead.

Next look specifically at each menu item and read the description of what the specific ingredients are. Try to decide for yourself what is good and what is not. Look for dishes highlighted as “Healthier” or “Lighter” options. Don’t be afraid to ask the serving staff what exactly is in the dish. Also, you could use the information on my Healthy Living pages to help you make those choices. Remember portion control!

Try to avoid items that are deep fried, have creamy sauces or meats that still have their skin on. Go for pulses, tomato based sauces or vegetable sauces. Choose vegetables or a salad over high GI rated foods such as rice or pasta. Or if you really want rice then choose rice that is steamed instead of fried and wholemeal pasta, if available.

Remember the eatwell plate. Eat a quarter size plate only of less favourable carbohydrates. A quarter size plate of protein and a half size plate of vegetables or salad. If you wish to have a pudding maybe you should consider removing the carbohydrate option altogether and opting to replace that with a further side vegetable or salad dish.

Remember to avoid buttery sauces with vegetables, choose them plain. And with salads remember to watch out for those hidden oily or mayonnaise type dressings!

Some other simple tips / adjustments to eating out:-

• Avoid eating the bread rolls whilst waiting and ask for a small side salad instead.
• Share a starter with a friend.
• Choose dishes that are grilled, boiled, poached, steamed or stir-fried.
• Choose lean meats such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, prawns or fish.
• Avoid chips and buttery or creamy potatoes such as dauphinois.
• Share a pudding with a friend.
• Choose a fruit or sorbet type pudding. Avoid cheese and biscuits.

Food Labelling

In the UK, the Food Safety Act (1990) and the Food Regulating Act (1996) state that all manufactured food stuffs (including ready-made meals, tinned and bottled foods, breakfast cereals, ready packaged food etc.) must be marked or labelled with the following minimal information:-

• name of the food
• a list of the ingredients
• the amount of an ingredient which is named or associated with the food
• an appropriate indication (best before, use by date) to reduce the risk of food poisoning
• any special storage conditions
• the name of the business and manufacturer
• the process used in manufacture
• instructions for use

This labelled information is invaluable whilst shopping for foods in order to follow a healthy balanced diet. It is essential that you check the content of fat in the food.

Generally foods which contain less than 3g of total fat per 100g are considered “low fat” and foods with anything over 17.5g of total fat per 100g are considered high fat.

For saturated fat foods which contain more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g are high content, whilst foods that contain 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g are low content.

For salt, foods which contain more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) and too high in salt whilst low salt foods are those that contain 0.3g salt or (0.1g sodium) per 100g.

Many food labels may contain information about RI (reference intake) on how a particular product fits into a daily diet. Normally, unless otherwise specified, in the UK those values are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity. Reference intakes are therefore:-

• Energy 2,000kcal
• Total fat 70g
• Saturated fat 20g
• Sugars 90g
• Salt 6g

However, it should be noted that foods which claim to be “Lite” or “Light” can be misleading. This could mean, reduced fat, sugar, alcohol, salt or even just be describing the texture. Similarly foods described as low fat, can also be misleading as there are currently no UK restrictions on how manufacturers make low fat claims.

Note. In the U.K Food labelling is currently being looked at and changing. Hopefully in the future all manufacturers will be required to specify a particular set of essential dietary values by law, and in a particular way that we can all understand. All of my menu dishes contain such a nutrition guide to help make healthy eating decisions when cooking. I choose to cook and it is very rare we will buy anything pre-packaged. Again, this way I know exactly what is in my food.

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