Restaurant Quiz: Do You Know How to Avoid Empty Calories?

19 Nov
 Posted by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND  2 Comments


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The choices you make when you eat away from home can have a huge impact on your waistline. Can you spot the best choices in restaurants? Take this quick restaurant food quiz and find out if you’re savvy when you dine out!

The typical American eats in a restaurant about four times a week. And, even if you’re not sitting down at a restaurant, there are plenty of other times when you may be picking up foods prepared away from home—your mid-morning coffee drink, your afternoon snack from the vending machine, or the prepared meal you pick up on the way home. When you add up all of the calories Americans eat in a day, nearly one-third of them come from foods prepared away from home. That’s why making careful, wise choices when you eat away from home is so important.

RELATED ARTICLE: Six Restaurant Diet Traps

Think you know the best choices when you dine out? Take my restaurant quiz and see how savvy you are!
(Note: Portion sizes and calorie counts for foods vary from restaurant to restaurant. The suggested “best choices” in my restaurant quiz below will generally be the lowest calorie choice, as well as the choice that provides the best nutritional value. Examples are not meant to represent any particular dining establishment or restaurant chain, but are used to highlight typical choices you might face when dining out.)

Dining Out Quiz: What’s the Best Choice When You Eat Out?

You’re meeting a friend for coffee. You decide to skip breakfast at home and plan to eat at the coffeehouse. Which of the following would be the best choice?

a. a low-fat muffin and some nonfat hot cocoa
b. half a multigrain bagel with light cream cheese and a small nonfat latte
c. a slice of coffee cake and black coffee

Answer = b. Don’t be fooled by the low-fat labels on the muffin and the cocoa. Many low-fat baked goods often have nearly as many calories as traditional items—even though they have less fat, they often have a lot more sugar. Typical coffeehouse muffins—even low fat ones—can have nearly 500 calories because they’re enormous, and a medium-sized nonfat cocoa can have nearly 200 calories because of all the sugar. A slice of coffee cake and black coffee sounds light because it’s relatively small, but it could still run you at least 400 calories. The bagel and the nonfat latte would be the best choice of the three. Half a bagel with cream cheese has about 200 calories, and the nonfat latte would cost about 100 calories more. You’d also be getting some protein from the latte, too.

You’re running late to pick up a friend at the airport and you’re starving. The only place to stop is the drive-through window of a hamburger chain. Considering both calories and nutrition, which would be the best choice under the circumstances?

      a. a fish sandwich without mayonnaise and a diet soda
      b. a hamburger with mustard and ketchup only, and iced tea
    c. a green salad with two packets of Ranch dressing and water

Answer = b. In most fast food places, the fish on the fish sandwiches is fried, so the calories can climb as high as 400 per serving—without any mayonnaise or spread. Your best bet of the three selections above would be the hamburger, which would have about 300 calories. Why not the green salad? The salad alone has a low calorie count, but adding the two packets of dressing dumps about 350 calories of fat onto your greens. And, without any protein in your meal, you’ll be hungry again in no time.

After a busy day of shopping at the mall, the Chinese food at the food court smells good to you. Which of these items would be your best choice?

      a. Stir-fried vegetable chow mein
      b. Chicken and broccoli with half a bowl of steamed rice
    c. Two egg rolls and a bowl of wonton soup

Answer = b. Chicken and broccoli would be your best bet of the three. Stir-fried vegetable chow mein is typically very oily because the noodles soak up a lot of grease—this dish at one popular chain adds up to about 500 calories (and, there’s almost no protein to satisfy your hunger). Two egg rolls and a cup of wonton soup sounds like a light meal, but the two fried egg rolls add up to 400 calories and the soup adds another 300 or so. Chicken and broccoli with a small portion of steamed rice offers protein and vegetables and not nearly as much fat as the other two options—this meal adds up to about 450 calories.

The appetizer offerings at your favorite steakhouse all sound tempting, but you want to be sure you have calories left over to spend on your main course. Which of the following would be the best appetizer choice?

      a. Chicken wings with barbecue sauce
      b. Sliced tomatoes and mozzarella with basil
    c. Spinach dip with pita chips

Answer = b. The sliced tomatoes and mozzarella is probably your best bet of the three. Mozzarella is a low-fat cheese and does contribute some protein, and the tomatoes contribute a vegetable serving at a low calorie cost. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the dip is healthy because it contains spinach—typically, spinach dip is loaded with rich, creamy ingredients and is very high in calories (and, a single pita chip will cost you about 12 calories, so even a few handfuls can bust your calorie budget in no time). Chicken wings—while small—are usually fried and the portions are often generous. At one popular chain restaurant, an order of wings with barbecue sauce has about 500 calories.

After finishing up a restaurant meal with friends, you’d like some dessert but don’t want to go overboard. Which of these would have the fewest calories?

      a. a slice of strawberry cheesecake
      b. a scoop of ice cream with berries and a drizzle of chocolate syrup
    c. a slice of carrot cake

Answer = b. Of the three, the ice cream is probably your best choice. A single scoop of ice cream will have about 150 calories, the fruit doesn’t add much, and chocolate syrup has only about 50 calories per tablespoon—so you’re looking at around 250 calories total. Even a small slice of cheesecake can have close to 500 calories because it’s so rich. Carrot cake is loaded with oil and is typically frosted with sweetened cream cheese, so the calories are comparable to the cheesecake—sometimes even higher!

You’re on a vacation, and you head down to the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Which of the following would be the best choice?

      a. 3 large pancakes with no butter—just syrup—and a large glass of orange juice
      b. 2 scrambled eggs with diced ham and some fresh fruit
    c. a bowl of granola topped with raisins and low-fat milk and a glass of cranberry juice

Answer = b. Don’t be fooled by the healthy-sounding granola. Some granolas have as much 450 calories a cup, so unless you really control your portion, you could run up a hefty calorie bill by the time you add raisins (at 30 calories per tablespoon) low-fat milk (120 calories) and wash it down with a glass of cranberry juice (160 calories). The pancakes with syrup and orange juice could cost you nearly 600 calories, and with almost no protein in the meal, it won’t have much staying power. Ham is a relatively lean meat—so the calories aren’t nearly as high per serving as fatty bacon and sausage—and the fresh fruit adds fiber to help keep you full. This meal adds up to about 400 calories, making the egg breakfast the best choice of the three.

Written by Susan Bowerman, Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife.

Are You Getting Enough of These Five Nutrients?

01 Nov
 Posted by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND  0 Comment


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Not eating enough fruits, vegetables and dairy products? You’re not alone, and you might be missing out on some important nutrients.

Unfortunately, many people are eating too much, yet getting too little nutrition. Many of us are eating too many calories from foods that are loaded down with fats and sugar, but these may also lack important vitamins and minerals. At the same time, we’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which are some of the richest sources of vitamins and minerals. And, because many of us don’t consume enough dairy products, it’s tough to meet needs for calcium and Vitamin D.

Related Article: 4 proven tips to help you unlock food nutrients and reap the benefits

So, it should come as no surprise that the vitamins and minerals that are often lacking in many diets are the same ones that are abundant in fruits, veggies and dairy products. Are you eating enough to meet your needs for these five nutrients?

Folic Acid

Why you need it. Folic acid – or folate, which is the form in which it exists in foods – is one of eight B-vitamins that are needed for the manufacture and maintenance of cells, particularly during periods of rapid cell growth, which is why it is so important that women consume adequate amounts both before and during pregnancy. Folic acid is also used to manufacture genetic material, as well as red blood cells, which help carry oxygen throughout the body.

Where you find it. The words folic acid and folate derive from the Latin word folium, which means leaf, and for a good reason. This vitamin is abundant in green leafy vegetables. You can also find folate in asparagus, broccoli, avocado and citrus fruits, as well as nuts and beans.

Vitamin A

Why you need it. A key function of Vitamin A is to support proper vision. It is a critical player in the transmission of electrical signals from the eye to the brain. Vitamin A also supports the health of skin and mucous membranes, which act as barriers against infection, and also supports reproductive and immune system function.

Where you find it. Vitamin A is found in its active form – a form that the body is ready to use – in a few animal foods, such as liver, eggs and butter. But most people get the bulk of their Vitamin A in the in the form of beta-carotene, a compound that provides deep green, yellow and orange color to many fruits and vegetables, which the body can easily convert into the active form of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in many colorful foods, including carrots, winter squash, peaches, apricots, papaya, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and broccoli.


Why you need it. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and nearly all of it is stored in your bones and teeth. Most people know how important calcium is in keeping these tissues healthy, but it plays other critical roles: calcium plays a role in muscle contraction and helps to regulate your heartbeat, and helps cells in your nervous system to communicate with one another.

Where you find it. Although most people look to dairy products first – and they are the richest sources of calcium – you can also find it in leafy green vegetables, tofu, beans and almonds.

Vitamin D

Why you need it. Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the digestive tract, so it is vitally important in helping the body to form and maintain healthy teeth and bones, where these minerals are stored. Vitamin D is also necessary for proper muscle function and it supports activity of the immune system.

Where you find it. Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body is able to manufacture this vitamin in the skin when it is exposed to sufficient sunlight. However, many people may not have adequate sun exposure due to many factors, including lifestyle or use of sunscreen, to produce adequate amounts. There are only a few natural food sources of Vitamin D – the primary ones being fatty fish, egg yolks and liver, which is why milk can be a valuable source. In many countries, milk is fortified with Vitamin D.


Why you need it. Potassium helps the central nervous system send its impulses throughout the body, it helps maintain healthy blood pressure, and it also helps you to efficiently extract energy from your food. And, all your muscles, including your heart muscle, need potassium in order to properly contract.

Where you find it. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with potassium. The best fruit sources include melons, bananas, avocados, apricots, citrus fruits and strawberries. The highest potassium vegetables are tomatoes, carrots, spinach and broccoli. Milk, along with its calcium and Vitamin D, is also a good source of potassium.

Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.