Restaurants’ Dirty Little Secrets

The Editors at Sharecare
Healthy Living
November 27, 2012

By Rachael Anderson

Are you getting more than you bargained for when you eat out? Mehmet Oz, MD, and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais take you behind the swinging kitchen doors to reveal the secret health hazards restaurants are hiding and share their six top tips to help you enjoy your meal without regret.

1. Look for these hints that the kitchen's dirty
"Just because the place looks great does not mean the same for the kitchen," says Blais. To make sure that a restaurant's kitchen is clean without barging through the doors, Blais says you need to pay attention to these subtle signs. If you see a bus bin next to a food prep area, crust around ketchup bottles, or glasses stored upside down on a counter, these are red flags that the kitchen might be a mess. And if the bathroom is dirty? The kitchen probably is, too, says Dr. Oz.

This is the dirtiest thing a restaurant serves

2. Order your meat "medium"
According to Blais, an old restaurant trick is to keep steak that is past its prime and wait until someone orders it well done. The more the meat is cooked, the more the flavor is disguised. "Always order your steak medium," says Blais. "That way they have to use fresher cuts of meat." Another tip: If your meat is covered in sauce, it could be an attempt to mask the flavor.

3. Avoid foods that glisten
Ever wonder why your veggies look so shiny when they're put in front of you? Blais says they're probably prepared in a glaze of butter and sugar, two substances restaurants love to add to your food. Solution? Ask for them steamed. Also ask for your steak to be prepared without spices, since most blends include sugar. (If it's fresh, high-quality meat, it will still taste delicious.) And that pasta dish with red sauce? It probably contains sugar, which restaurants often add to cut the bitterness of tomato sauce.

Make smart restaurant picks

4. Bypass the buffet
"Buffets are a breeding ground for bacteria," says Oz. "Part of the danger is that food sits out at inconsistent temperatures." Sometimes the bottom is burnt while the top is cold. If you want to enjoy the buffet, Oz recommends going when it first opens, before the food has a chance to spoil.

5. Skip the special
The special might sound delicious, but according to Blais, it's usually not worth it. "What you're getting is food the chef needs to get rid of," says Blais. "The chef may have ordered too much of one particular food and now he needs to move it fast." Be especially sure to avoid the special on a Sunday; restaurants rarely get food deliveries over the weekend, which means the "special" is even less fresh.

6. Slow down and enjoy
Overeating is par for the course when most people dine out. One reason: "If a restaurant is playing loud music, you feel like you have more energy," says Blais. "That makes you order more and eat faster." Remember, it takes up to 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you're full, so put down your fork and give it time.

Test your portion control IQ

Rachael Anderson is an Associate Editor/Web Producer at Sharecare.

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