Health & Fitness

Eating Out Healthier

By Rubina Ali

Let’s start with a few tips to remember when eating out:

  1. Do your research. The smartest way to eat healthy is to go online and look up the nutrition information for restaurants you frequent most. Almost all restaurants will have a nutrition guide on their website and the ones that don’t can usually be found on calorie counting sites like
  2. Avoid anything white. That includes mayonnaise, sour cream, butter, and ranch dressing. These sides contain most of the fat calories in your meal so removing them, like asking to have no mayonnaise on your burger, could save you about 150 calories. (Milk and yogurt on the other hand, are good for you).
  3. Cut out fried foods. When ordering at a restaurant, look for words like “grilled,” “baked,” “broiled” or “blackened,” which are all healthier options than fried.
  4. Do you need those appetizers? Ask the waiter not to bring out the bread bowl before a meal and save about 200 calories.
  5. Pay attention to liquid calories. A 12 oz. (small at McDonald’s) serving of regular Coke has 140 calories and coffee can be even worse; the Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha, for example, has 580 calories! That’s an entire meal’s worth!
  6. Don’t deprive yourself. If you’re craving chocolate have some. Have a fun size bar or just enough to satisfy your craving. Giving in to your cravings helps you from overindulging later on.

Eating Out

Repeat what your mom has said all your life:  breakfast is the most important meal of the day. New studies also show that eating a healthy breakfast within an hour of waking up will save you from overeating through the rest of the day.

Breakfast on the go can be easier than you think. The best breakfast will have protein to keep you full and carbohydrates to give you energy. The Egg and Cheese English Muffin at Dunkin Donuts and the Egg and Cheese McMuffin at McDonald’s both provide healthy protein and carbs at under 300 calories apiece.

Another good breakfast option is bagels, despite the bad reputation they are often given due to the high number of calories in the cream cheese. The next time you order a bagel, skip the ones with extra toppings and get one that’s either plain or whole grain. Ask for the cream cheese on the side so you can spread it on yourself and you’ll realize you probably don’t even use half of the regular serving.

Lunchtime doesn’t have to be unhealthy if you know where to go. One halal (permissible) way to keep it healthy is veggie burgers. They come with all the protein and nutrients you need and actually keep you full. Burger King and Five Guys Burgers and Fries both have veggie burgers on their menus. Order one without the mayonnaise to keep the calorie count down.

Another go-to lunch stop is Subway; however, eating healthy at Subway depends on what you order. The 6-inch tuna sub comes out to about 500 calories and that’s without cheese, chips or a drink. You may think you’re eating light but all the mayo can really weigh you down. Next time, order a tuna or seafood sub with one scoop of meat instead of two and make sure to leave off the extra toppings like oil and mayo. Get a bag of baked chips in place of the regular ones and you’ve just created a perfect meal.

When eating Mexican food, all the options can be confusing. At Chipotle, nix the tortilla and get a burrito bowl instead, saving almost 300 calories. The sour cream and cheese both do the most damage to your meal but you can keep it healthy by cutting one out and keeping the other. Remember, cheese is full of protein which helps keep you full, so in limited quantities it can help keep you from snacking later. Guacamole is made from avocados which are high in monounsaturated fat, and can help lower cholesterol so make sure to add it to your meal.

Because it’s pretty easy to find pasta dishes that are halal, we tend to eat a lot of it. It’s important to remember that pastas that are made with cream-based sauces, such as alfredo or the Penne Rosa at Noodles & Company, are never low in calories. Order your pasta with marinara, which is tomato-based and is both healthy and tasty. Most importantly, watch out for the cheese. While cheese has protein, someone who is trying to cut calories in order to lose weight also needs to cut down on cheese because it’s high in fat.

When eating traditional (Arab or Desi) food it’s actually pretty easy to eat healthy. Stick with grilled items and forget the oily dishes like curries. Rice and bread both have carbs so eat one instead of both, making sure to balance your plate with protein (any meat), carbs and veggies. Arab restaurants are known for their garlic sauce, but next time skip it; not only does it cause bad breath for the rest of the day but it’s full of fattening oil. Stick with yogurt sauces or hot sauce which can help boost your metabolism.

Remember, the best way to eat healthy and halal when eating out is to know before you go. Plan meals in advance so you know what you’re eating, and to keep you looking and feeling your best.

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  • Great article. Jazakullah khair. I have some questions though about the cheese. In the UK they’re pretty good about labeling which cheeses are suitable for vegetarians and which are not. I notice that here in the US very obscure terms are used like ‘enzymes’ and ‘cultures’ unless you shop at Trader Joe’s where they will spell out ‘animal rennet’ etc. As a result, I tend to stay away from cheese anyway when eating out so I stick to either fish dishes only or my fave Desi/Arab halal restaurant! Any comments?

    • ‘cultures’ refer to bacterial cultures as a substitute for rennet, so they’re ok. a lot of vegetarian cheeses use bacterial cultures. i’m not sure about ‘enzymes’.

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