The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

If you assume that choosing vegetables over carbs and going straight to the salad section on the menu is being kind to your waistline, you may be in for a shock. We bust the menu myths and explain how to place a healthier order…


1 YOU THINK: Fish is fail-safe

Think again
Health experts recommend we eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oil-rich fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel or fresh tuna. And as many people are unsure how best to cook fish at home, it’s a popular choice when dining out. However, many fish dishes come with a butter-based sauce or have been cooked or fried in oil. When paired with chips or sauces such as a mayonnaise or aioli, the fat and calorie content of that seemingly healthy choice can rocket.

The healthier alternative
Look for steamed, baked or grilled fish dishes, as well as fish carpaccio or ceviche. Stews, paella and steamed mussels can be a good choice, too. Add a healthy side salad or a couple of servings of steamed vegetables and ask your waiter if sauces and dressings can be served on the side, or just replace them with a healthier option.

2 YOU THINK: All vegetable side dishes are good

Think again
Of course, vegetables are a good choice, but any chef will tell you fat is used to add flavour, so be aware that butter or oil may be added to otherwise healthy options. Any veg that’s described as sautéed, roasted or crispy will probably be cooked with extra fat (and often batter, if it’s described as crispy), and glazed veg may have sugar or honey added. It’s also normal for veg to be cooked with salt.

The healthier alternative
Steamed veg will provide all the nutrients – and taste – without any extras. Ask for side dishes to be served without oil or butter, and request any salad dressing on the side so you can decide how much, if any, to add.


3 YOU THINK: I’ve saved myself all day for a blow-out meal

Think again
Arriving at a restaurant really hungry is a big mistake. You’re likely to over-order, opting for whatever starter and main course catches your eye, and then mindlessly pick at the bread rolls and olives. You’ll also be more likely to drink your wine quickly while waiting for the food to arrive. And then, because you feel that you’ve been ‘saving yourself’ all day, you’ll probably feel justified in ordering a dessert, even if you’re full.

The healthier alternative
Don’t skip lunch even if you’re going out to dinner. If you’re going to be eating late, add a small low-GI, high-protein snack in the afternoon so you’re not ravenous when you get to the restaurant. A tub of fruit salad or pot of fat-free fruit yogurt should take the edge off your appetite.


4 YOU THINK: I’ll just steer clear of carbs

Think again
It was common to think like this a decade ago when the Atkins diet was at the peak of its popularity. But the main trap here is that by avoiding carbohydrates completely when you order your starter and main course, you’ll feel deprived and therefore more tempted to blow all your good intentions by the time the dessert menu is put in front of you. It’s really not necessary – or that healthy – to avoid them altogether. Having said that, don’t go overboard – it’s all too easy to attack the bread basket while waiting for your meal, then still eat everything on your plate when it arrives. The result? More calories consumed overall. Carbs are also a vehicle for adding fat, and therefore calories, to your meal (think chips fried in oil, potatoes mashed with cream or butter, special fried rice, pasta drizzled with oil, and bread with butter or oil). Added to that, many of the carbs on offer, such as white rice, white bread and potatoes, are high-GI, so don’t keep you full for long.

The healthier alternative
Passing on the white bread at the start of your meal will allow you to enjoy carbs with your starter and main course. If you do choose bread at the start, reduce the quantity of carbs you have during the rest of your meal. Think, too, about the portion size – carbs should fill around a third of your plate so don’t be afraid to request a smaller portion. And favour lower-GI options, such as sweet potato purée, new potatoes, basmati rice and rye bread.


5 YOU THINK: Salad will be better than a steak

Think again
Choosing a salad can be a great way to boost intakes of fibre and nutrient-rich vegetables, but don’t fall for the ‘health halo’ of this angelic-sounding choice. Indeed, research has shown that simply naming a dish as a salad tempts more of us to choose it. In one study, healthy eaters were more likely to order a dish described as a salad than they were to choose exactly the same dish described as pasta. The bottom line: you need to look past the name on the menu and check out the ingredients mentioned in the description. Those that are high in calories and/or fat include cheese, bacon, lardons, pancetta, croutons and oily or creamy dressings. And while the fat in nuts, seeds and avocado is heart-healthy, they’re still high in calories. Salads can also be loaded with salt, with the addition of olives, anchovies and Parmesan, for example. Finally, if the word ‘drizzled’ appears, chances are the dish will be drowning in oil.

The healthier alternative
Garden, bean or Greek salads are versatile options that can be ordered as side dishes or modified to form a more rounded main meal. While the feta in a Greek salad will provide a relatively high amount of fat and salt, it’s a good source of protein, which will help to fill you up. Don’t be afraid to ask for additions like grilled chicken or prawns to an otherwise low-protein green salad, either – this will add flavour and leave you more satisfied. Of course, there’s no point selecting healthy base ingredients only to ruin it with a poor choice of dressing. Vinegar and citrus-based dressings are better options than creamy or oily ones. Always ask for them to be served on the side so you can control the portion.

Discover six questions to ask your waiter for a healthier dining experience.

*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.