How to eat clean while eating out
Brunch. It’s one of the ultimate Australian past times.
From the lazy maple syrup pancakes, to the oozing aioli and bacon club sandwiches and the toasted granola with honey and fruit. Just typing it makes me happy.
But unfortunately, our great love affair with eating out is sabotaging our healthy habits.
A new study has revealed Australians make 51.5 million visits to fast food restaurants each month. And cafes are the leading outlet of choice, according to the Enhanced Media Metrics Australia report.
It makes sense. We’re busy, stressed and who wants to spend time grocery shopping when you can nab a bite to eat with friends, no effort required? Not to mention, a fifth of Australians aren’t confident in the kitchen, according to the EMMA study.
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But while getting out and about can put you high on the social radar, it can also be a killer for clean eating habits.
A new Australian Health Survey revealed we’re eating 30% less fruit and vegetables than we were 15 years ago and fast food (in any shape or form) has eclipsed produce as the leading dietary staple.
So, unless your local happens to source fresh produce and have a penchant for listing bare minimum ingredients or ‘gluten-free,’ ‘dairy free,’ ‘vegan,’ labels, it can be hard to know just what to steer clear of in order to stay healthy.
Scott Gooding, a Sydney-based personal trainer, health coach and co-author of the Clean Living cookbook series, says just like fitness, clean eating begins with a decision to stick with it.
“Eating at home you know exactly what’s in your food but that’s the disadvantage to eating out – there’s no short cut. It takes discipline and consistency,” says Gooding.
He recommends thinking about it in a primal way.
“To get off processed food and begin buying food in its natural state look at the ingredients list and think – ‘can I have picked it, hunted it, gathered it?’ and if the answer is no or you can’t pronounce the ingredient then chances are it’s not good for you.”
As for the lazy Sunday brunch? Gooding says it’s the ultimate food trap.
“Australia seems to be in line with the States – more and more waffles and pancakes are on breakfast menus feeding the sugar cycle,” says Gooding.
Gooding says while some suburbs might have a healthier brunch culture, it’s not indicative of the rest of the country.
“When you think of road side cafes, it’s often a door stop choice of toast, eggs and sugary options, so more poor choices tend to fall more at breakfast – despite it being the most important meal of the day,” says Gooding.
Gooding believes one of the biggest barriers though is being our own worst enemy on those days where all our efforts seem a little too hard.
“There’s a counter culture where people are starting to say – “Stuff it who cares, if I’m going to go there, I’ll go there to the max and have the triple maple syrup, coconut pancake stack,” says Gooding.
We do care though, so it’s time to get confident about making the right healthy choices.
Kim Figl, nutritionist and manager of Pressed Juices Bondi, says timing is key.
“Often people leave it too long between meals and by the time they get to the restaurant they’re so hungry they decide it’s a good idea to order two entrees, a side of chips and a bowl of pasta covered in creamy sauce,” says Figl.
“Being in a starved state leads your hunger hormones, particularly ghrelin, to drive your food choices. Snack three hours before you arrive at the restaurant to curb your appetite and to avoid big drops in blood sugar levels,” says Figl.
“If you’re having alcohol, be sure to have food in your belly before your first drink. Order a side of salad or greens to share first.”
Want to be confident choosing your next clean meal? Read on for our expert’s recommendations for the foods to avoid when eating out and about.
The surprisingly not-so-clean choices
1. White rice sushi
“The biggest component of sushi is white rice – but it’s packed with sugar and rice vinegar. Add in the sugary Japanese mayo or salty soy sauce and it’s even worse,” says Figl.
2. The middle aisles of the supermarket
“True clean eaters know not to bother with the middle aisles – that’s where you find sugar laden pasta sauces, processed rice crackers and muesli bars with seven teaspoons of sugar,” says Figl.
3. Sweet smoothies
“A banana, date and honey smoothie is cranked up with so much sugar you may as well as have a Mars bar. Your body doesn’t translate where the sugar comes from, it still has the same response. You don’t need three sweeteners,” says Gooding.
4. Banana bread
“It might look like a healthy option because it’s made with real fruit and all but unfortunately most banana bread comes with refined white flours, added sugars, trans fats and preservatives. It contains enough sugar to really be classified as a cake, not bread,” says Figl.
5. Fruit juices
“They might be the rage because they’re served in jars but often they can cause strain on our blood sugar because they contain fructose, minus the fibre. Fruit was designed with fibre to stop fructose spiking our blood sugar so when you take it away, it causes it to spike after all,” says Cumbers.
6. Acai bowls
“Acai bowls are more a dessert than breakfast. Most use frozen Acai packets packed with additional sugars and thickeners. Cafes typically blend two of these packets with more fruit and top it with muesli, giving it the equivalent sugar content of a typical dessert,” says Figl.
7. Large portions
“Meals at cafes or restaurants aren’t constructed around healthy portion sizes – an entree, main and dessert is too much food for our body. Share entree and dessert with friends so you can experience the taste without the size,” says Cumbers.
8. White bread
“White bread doesn’t carry much flavour or nutrition whereas Paleo bread – made using coconut flour, zucchini or pumpkin has very different makeup. It’s more of a quiche but in essence it’s a tasty alternative that steers away from processed grains,” says Gooding.
“Thai and Japanese food are often laden with sauces and because of the sugar culture we’ve created, sweetened sauces seem more appealing to our taste palette. Food in its natural state isn’t that sweet so when you add up the teaspoons over a day it can be overwhelming,” says Gooding.
“A common way to sabotage healthy eating is choosing the wrong beverage. Fruit juices, soft drinks, cocktails, beer and wine lead to an overconsumption of calories. Remember – alcohol is kilojoule dense so paired with a meal, the excess kilojoules from food will likely be converted to fat. Stick to water,” says Figl.
11. Paleo labelled products
“Yes it’s the buzz word on the menu but when you break down these meals and look at the menu description, just because it says ‘paleo’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Use your discretion when choosing from the menu,” says Cumbers.
“A bowl of pasta might be super fresh but on its own it’s useless, it’s only with herbs and meat it becomes appetising. Pasta itself strips nutrients from your body. So when I have Italian I ask for a ragu or meatballs on their own,” says Gooding.
13. Grain fed beef
“This can sound fancy and cuts are usually bigger, but we should be aiming for grass fed meat as the fat content is healthier and more beneficial to our bodies. Grain-fed meats have a higher arachadonic acid content which increases inflammation in our bodies,” says Cumbers.
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