MASTER CLASS: Eating out doesn’t have to hijack your health – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Posted: January 24, 2022 at 9:59 am

My family and I have always enjoyed dining out. Whether we are at a two-star pancake house or a five-star restaurant, it is always a memorable occasion.

At the same time, there are drawbacks to dining out. Unknown ingredients, high calorie meals and general over-ordering can create unintended consequences. This week, I will discuss some dining out strategies to help reduce the downside while preserving all the things I love about restaurants.

It's no secret that restaurant meals are, in general, higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt when compared against home-cooked meals. There are certainly exceptions, but by and large restaurant meals are less healthful. So, the first tip for dining out relates to frequency.

A 2021 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who dine out twice or more per day showed an increased risk for premature death. The study included 35,084 adults who reported their dietary habits via the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey from 1999-2014.

How many Arkansans dine out two times every day? My guess is not many (especially not lately). But there are lessons to be learned here. We should think about how often we eat out. It's not only healthier to cook at home but one's appreciation for a nice restaurant meal will be greater when it's less frequent. That's just human nature.

The other factor to consider is what to order when dining out. If our frequency is low, I think it's fine to splurge once in a while. But this strategy can backfire in terms of after-meal effects (you know what I mean). I like to find a balance by ordering a main dish that is grilled, roasted or baked. I also try to enjoy vegetables in different forms (soups, salads and side dishes) so that I'm not consuming a lot of starches or high-fat items.

These strategies have allowed me to maintain my enjoyment of dining out with very few negative side-effects. But barbecue is my guilty pleasure and it probably always will be. That's one type of meal that I find difficult to "throttle back," especially with all the great barbecue restaurants throughout the Midwest.

Now that my mouth is watering, it's time to introduce an exercise to help tighten up the midsection. Of course the best "exercise" for reducing excess belly fat is push-aways, as in push away from the table. But the Decline Plank Jack requires total body engagement, so it's a perfect addition to a "day after" routine.

1. Set an aerobics step on the lowest height.

2. Get into the "up" phase of a pushup with both feet on the end of the step.

3. Jump both feet out sideways so they land on the floor.

4. Jump them both back onto the step.

5. Continue this pattern of movement for 12 repetitions, and do two sets.

I know there will be readers who scoff at the notion of bringing any sort of discipline to dining out, especially in these pandemic days, when it's been such a special treat. For some, letting loose is part of the enjoyment. I get that. I just find a lot more enjoyment in sticking to a plan while enjoying a nice meal that I select with my health and longevity in mind. But even I am faced with kryptonite from time to time it's called brisket!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column 20 years ago at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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MASTER CLASS: Eating out doesn't have to hijack your health - Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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