This or that: The best things to eat at a restaurant

Shine On

Is salad always best? Is red meat always bad? Is a thin crust pizza better than a bowl of pasta? Are appetizers ever appropriate? There are so many things to consider when trying to order healthy off a restaurant menu. All the questions can make a casual night out feel like a crap chute. In part two of my healthy restaurant rundown I’m taking a look at which popular dishes are the more nutritious choices.

Caesar salad vs. cobb salad

Why: People often assume that when in doubt, the best nutrition decision is to opt for a salad. But, that is not always the case. In fact, some salads have the same caloric and fat quantities as a Big Mac meal. From the toppings to the dressings to the cheese sprinkled on top, what first seems like a low-cal option can quickly turn into a dieter’s worst nightmare. Two of the more popular salad options are the caesar and the cobb; with the creamy garlic dressing and less of an assortment of veggies, most assume that the caesar is the king of unhealthy options, but let’s take a closer look. On average a large serving of chicken caesar salad can boast a calorie count anywhere from 800-1000 calories, a lot more than most salad lovers bargain for. As for the cobb, though it looks a little more nutritious, it is actually quite close in the calorie department. Thanks to the cheese, avocado, egg and bacon and the blue cheese dressing, this dish can often push the 1000-calorie mark as well. The only difference? The cobb packs a mean protein punch with close to 70 grams, a number that will add value to long-term energy and feelings of satiation.

Bottom line: The cobb has more overall benefits but if you’re going to order it, swap the creamy dressing for a vinaigrette on the side and opt out of the cheese – there will be enough richness in the bowl as is.

Steak vs. grilled chicken

Nutrition-conscious patrons often avoid the red meat in favour of grilled chicken. But, at closer inspection, it appears that the carnivorous option may have been given an unfairly bad rep. In fact, depending on the restaurant, a nice piece of grilled meat – say, a 9oz sirloin – can have anywhere from 250-450cals – which is actually less than the average grilled chicken dish. The reason? Steak needs very little marinade to taste good. On the other hand, restaurants often add a lot of oil and sauce to make the chicken tender and tasty.

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to order that lean juicy steak – it’s not as bad as you think. Just be careful not to add any of those sauces or carby sides.

Pizza vs. pasta

Don’t worry, carb-lovers I didn’t forget about you! Now, although I don’t recommend either pasta or pizza as a go-to grub for those watching their waistlines, it isn’t all bad. While both can skyrocket up to 1,500 calories depending on the toppings, there are also ways to reduce the fat and caloric values. If you’re looking for a low-cal bowl of pasta, you’ll be hard pressed to find an option with less than 800 cals. But to stick to the lower ranges, stick to tomato sauce instead of anything white and creamy. Also opt for chicken or shrimp instead of something like sausage, and say no to the extra topper of Parmesan (don’t hate me!). These switches can save you up to 700 cals. One more thing: did you ask if they have whole grain pasta? Switching from white to brown noodles makes the dish a little healthier. The circumstances are similar when ordering a pizza. A plain old margarita pizza (no extra toppings) might only cost you around 650 calories but, the minute anything is added on top, the values shoot up. Just like with pasta, add chicken instead of dried meats like salami or prosciutto and avoid adding any extra cheese. Also asking for the thin crust or whole grain option will help keep your 'za in an acceptable caloric range.

Bottom line: If you must, there is a way to order your pasta and pizza dish to help avoid unwanted calories. Just don’t make it a habit!

Fried calamari vs. bruschetta

When opting for an appetizer, calamari and bruschetta are two of the most popular options. Despite being very different dishes, they have a similar calorie counts. Both boast approximately 600-700 for a regular sized portion. Because of their similarities, it’s important to dig a little deeper into the nutritional values to determine which one to avoid and which to order. On one hand the calamari is deep fried, giving it high fat contents – think approximately 45g – not ideal. But, while the bruschetta is lower in fat, it has nearly twice the amount of carbohydrates and half the amount of protein, making it a less balanced option.

Bottom line: Despite the calamari spending some time in the deep fryer, it is a healthier option because the nutritional content is more balanced, giving a little bit of everything you need to feel full and satisfied. An even better bet? Get the calamari grilled instead of fried.

Caleigh Rykiss is a boxing coach, personal trainer, nutritional consultant and TV producer.