Pros: Fabulous information and advice; realistic
Cons: Rambling style that obscures and confuses content; inconsistencies
Rating: 3 out of 5
First posted 1/20/2005
Review book courtesy of Surrey Books
First Hope Warshaw’s “Eat Out, Eat Right” provides us with some general guidelines on healthier eating at restaurants. This is followed by chapters on different restaurant and restaurant food styles: Mexican, Italian, Pizza, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Continental, Seafood, American, Fast-Food, Breakfast/Coffee Shops/Brunch, Salads, Soups/Sandwiches/Subs.
Each chapter on a particular style follows a handy format. It begins with a few words about that type of restaurant or style of food. This is followed by “The Menu Profile,” which discusses some general rules of thumb about the healthfulness of that cuisine. For example, the chapter on Chinese restaurants notes that while Chinese food as it is eaten in China is generally healthier than American food, the Americanized food served in restaurants is often very fatty. She then gives some guidelines for choosing foods that will have less fat used in their preparation.
Next comes a typical “nutrition snapshot” for several typical menu items. This gives information on calories, fat, saturated fat, and sometimes carbohydrates for various items, as well as basic recommendations on whether the item in question could fit into a healthier meal at that restaurant and if so, how (for instance, beef with broccoli notes, “Request more vegetables and less beef. Complement with a vegetable-focused dish”).
This is followed by “green flag words” and “red flag words”–ingredients, cooking styles, and so forth that signify or indicate healthy or non-healthy foods. Many of these are obvious (many vegetables get listed under green flag words; varieties of “fried” get listed under red flag words), but some are definitely handy.
“Special requests” gives you specific requests you can make of the waiter to make your meal easier on you, health-wise. For example, “Please remove the crispy fried noodles from the table,” or “Would it be possible to use less oil in the preparation?”
A “Typical Menu” lists a handful of typical menu items and puts check-marks next to acceptable ones, while “May I Take Your Order” lists a sample low-calorie meal and a sample moderate-calorie meal with a rough nutrition summary. Finally, some chapters include a glossary of terms (usually chapters that deal with ethnic foods).
While some of this should be pretty obvious (if it’s fried, it’s fatty, for goodness’ sake!), there’s a lot of very helpful information in this book. Ms. Warshaw doesn’t just limit herself to which foods are less fatty, but also provides concrete psychological strategies for making sure you eat less and eat healthier. One of her more creative suggestions, I think, is to get the waiter to bring you a to-go box along with your entree so you can immediately package up half of it, thus making it much less likely that you’ll eat the whole thing. Or alternatively, eat appetizers as entrees or split entrees with other people. Eat “family style,” as is traditional in, for example, Chinese restaurants, and order fewer entrees than people.
Ms. Warshaw is very realistic, and doesn’t expect us to give up every delicious morsel or stop eating out altogether as a cure for unhealthy restaurant food; instead she concentrates on ways to minimize problems and maximize our healthier options. She points out hidden sources of fat and suggests ways to enjoy them while cutting back on them; for example, you can ask for your salad dressing on the side, order a few lemon wedges, and cut your fatty salad dressing with fresh lemon juice.
The nutrition snapshots will really open your eyes in some instances. It does help to keep in mind a few additional details, however. For example, the fat and calorie information on the Chinese dishes looks utterly devastating until I remember that I can often get several meals out of one dish at most restaurants.
Unfortunately the communication of all of this wonderful information is marred by poor presentation, to the extent that it muddles the usefulness of the information in places. By far the biggest problem I saw is a lack of consistency in the level of detail presented. This may take me a moment to explain, so bear with me. I’ll use an example.
In the opening general information, Ms. Warshaw gives a list of examples of healthier foods you can eat when at places like the zoo or the football field. On that list you’ll find pizza. My first reaction was to stop dead in my tracks. But–I was thinking–the pizza available at most such places is utterly laden with cheese and grease. How can that be healthy?!
Of course when you get to the chapter on pizza she does address all the qualifiers that are required for pizza to be healthy, but if you were just looking up that one list for reference, you wouldn’t get any indication that pizza as a whole might not be healthy.
And this is repeated over and over again as a pattern in this book. Many times she’ll specify in text somewhere that something can be eaten healthily under certain circumstances, and then in a list somewhere else she’ll indicate it as a healthy or reasonable choice without mentioning the qualifiers. Worse, in some places she mentions the qualifiers and in others she doesn’t, so you can’t even be sure what’s going on. Half the time I can’t tell if you’re meant to assume that, for example, you should be leaving the peanut sauce out of a Thai dish in order for it to qualify for that check mark it got, or she meant you to understand that even with the peanut sauce it still isn’t that bad and would just be better without it.
Another gripe is her reliance on suggesting artificial sweeteners as a cure-all when discussing the calories present in beverages. This completely ignores two facts: that some people can very distinctly taste a particularly unpleasant bitter/sickly-sweet aftertaste with these sweeteners (gee, guess which group I fall into), and that some people still have concerns over their potential health impacts. For some of us artificial sweeteners simply aren’t an option, and a wider discussion of possibilities would have been nice.
There’s no real discussion of carbohydrates in here where health is concerned. I’m no Atkins follower, but the book was revised in ’03, and it seems like not having at least a brief discussion on the subject is a glaring omission, whatever conclusions she ultimately would have come to.
I do believe that there’s a whole lot of value you can take away from this book, as long as you’re certain to read entire chapters rather than relying on looking up individual charts and samples as references. Just remember to use some common sense and not simply assume that in any given chart you’re being given all the information you might need.