The Perils and Pitfalls of Eating Out

By Amy Campbell | February 25, 2008 10:57 am

Valentine’s Day was earlier this month. How many of you enjoyed a romantic dinner with a loved one, perhaps dining on shrimp scampi, filet mignon, or fettuccine Alfredo?

OK, so you probably consumed at least 2,000 calories, including that molten chocolate lava cake washed down with a chocolate martini. Hey, that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about, right? Nothing wrong with that.


But for many people, dining out isn’t just limited to special occasions and holidays. Eating out has become an everyday occurrence, often thanks to people’s busy schedules and lack of time (and desire) to prepare a healthy meal at home.

Eating out is big business, too. The National Restaurant Association has some interesting statistics on their Web site[1]. For example, on a typical day in 2007, sales in restaurants averaged $1.5 billion. And the average household spent about $2,600 on meals away from home in 2005.

Eating out presents many challenges, especially for people who happen to have diabetes[2]. Portions tend to be large, and food is often laden with fat and salt. And woe to the person who frequents fast-food restaurants: A study published in this month’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who live in areas with more fast-food restaurants compared to full-service restaurants were more likely to be obese. (A restaurant was considered to be a fast-food restaurant if you pay before you eat, whereas a full-service restaurant was one where you pay after eating.). This study looked at responses from more than 700,000 people over five years who participated in a telephone survey. What’s not known is if people consumed fewer calories at full-service restaurants or if they chose a full-service restaurant over a fast-food place because of the availability of healthier options.

Admittedly, some restaurants are making an effort to offer healthier, lower-fat choices. Others are offering smaller portions. And while fast-food restaurants do have their pitfalls, most chains provide nutrition information, if not in their restaurants, then on their Web sites. However, while it is nice to be waited on and not have to deal with the decision of what to prepare (and the cleanup afterwards), eating out can wreak havoc on your blood glucose and cholesterol[3] levels, along with your waistline. One solution is, of course, to limit how often you eat out. If you’re not quite willing to do that, consider some of the options below:

  1. Web site:
  2. diabetes:
  3. cholesterol:
  4. insulin:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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