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  • How The Most Fit Person You Know Reads a Menu

By Ned MacPherson, Head of Health

Editor's Notes: Ned MacPherson is a fitness guru and long-time advocate of understanding what's on your plate. Below are Ned's thoughts that we think you will enjoy. ;-)

Deciding what to eat when evaluating the typical restaurant menu can be a daunting task. With so many options, folks typically implement a process of elimination based on their palette profile.

Coming to one sole dish decision among dozens (or more if you're at a Cheesecake Factory) is a heavy process, in and of itself. And, trying to identify “what’s healthy for me??” makes it a virtually impossible task.

As someone who paid no mind to my diet for the majority of my life, I’ve experienced first hand the grueling attempt to shift diet habits with a fleeting expectation of results. Healthy restaurant dishes? That seemed out of the question.

Until someone much fitter than me, taught me their tricks. They showed me a 3-step process to navigate the complexity of a menu, and guarantee that you arrive at a clean, healthy, diet-appropriate, tasty dish decision.

I’m not saying this formula is easy. In fact, without fundamental knowledge of nutrition, metabolism, and food composition, it can still be hard.

Curious how this formula works? Let’s dive in:


Step 1: Spot the proteins first

Utilize a process of elimination by negating any of the “bad” proteins (i.e. high in animal based fat). Despite what else goes along with the dish, if the core protein is considered ultra fatty, or otherwise “not clean,” then the dish is eliminated, no matter how much you manipulate the rest of it.

Examples of proteins to stay away from: High-fat red meat (such as a Ribeye or chuck steak); pork; dressed chicken (fried chicken, beer-battered, etc), dressed seafood (fried shrimp, fried calamari, etc).

Examples of proteins to include: Most fish such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, sea bass, Etc; non-dressed poultry (seared organic chicken, chicken strips, lightly seasoned breast, most types of turkey, etc); occasional lean red meat such as bison, buffalo, filet mignon.


Step 2: Make or break it with the carbs

Carbohydrates are arguably the most misunderstood macronutrient in the diet profile. Some say avoid them at all costs, others say their benefits are undeniable (even for fat loss)…the truth?

Carbs are OK! Just make sure it’s the RIGHT type of carbs.

That being said, some folks are adamantly committed to a carb-full or carb-less diet. So for the sake of universal application, I’ll give you two routes to follow below:

Option 1 - Carb-full diet: Your carb sources should come exclusively from complex carbohydrates. Examples of this are: quinoa; farro; wild brown or black rice; sweet potatoes; yams and ALL vegetables. Fruit is ok, but the sugar content brings up a concern, so let’s avoid that for now.

Carbs to avoid: ANY pasta or bread; white rice; anything with flour like cakes, pastries or anything with refined sugar

Option 2 - Carb-less diet: Admittedly, being on low-carb or carb-less diet makes dish identification significantly easier. Once you've selected the healthy/clean protein of your choice, simply omit any carbs (including complex) from the dish, and substitute with extra vegetables.


Step 3: Fats and “the extras”

OK! You’ve now nailed down your clean protein, and healthy carbohydrate (when applicable).

But you're not quite in the clear yet!

The fats and “extras” when eating out, are what make or break a dish.

You can order a wild-caught piece of salmon over a bed of organic kale and side of asparagus…but throw some foie gras and a heavy dressing on top of that, and the dish becomes as healthy as a Big Mac ;)

Here are some general Do’s and Don’ts to follow for step 3:

DO try to add in some extra plant-based fat sources, especially when on a low carb diet. Additions such as extra olive oil or avocado, are fantastic for achieving satiety and keeping the meal ultra clean.

DO always ask for dressings, glazes, Jus’, or any sort of sauce on the side. Typically, restaurants give an unnecessarily large portion of such dressings and sauces. I’ve found, that you can enjoy the taste of such dressings with only a fifth of the amount needed, and not sacrifice your diet.

DO NOT assume the “extras” on a dish are healthy, just because the base protein or carb source is clean (or the dish has lots of veggies on it). When in doubt, omit the extra’s or ask for them on the side.

DO NOT select a dish if it requires you to make three (3) or more modifications to it. At some point, you need to just call it what it is - an unhealthy dish.

DO NOT get roped into splitting a dish with a fellow diner who is not health conscious at the moment. Don’t be afraid to keep your own plates to yourself, and modify as you see fit. People often get edgy when you manipulate a dish to keep it healthy. Pay them no mind and enjoy your evening!

DO plan ahead! Take a quick look at the menu before going out to meet friends or family. Don’t see anything remotely clean on the menu? Try and eat something healthy BEFORE you head out, as this will keep your “cheat meal” at a minimum.

Healthy eating is tough, I will admit it. But following these steps should absolutely turn some of those regrettable evening meals out, into just another healthy meal, with a bit of a fancy twist.

Even still, if this is too much to grasp, then use a shortcut that literally eliminates every step I just told you? Simply download Menud, pick an influencer who inspires you, and EatLikeThem! Problem: Solved.