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Americans love to eat out. Of every dollar we spend on food, nearly half -- 48 cents -- goes to the restaurant industry. (Compare that to 1955, when only 25 cents of every food dollar went toward dining out.)
All told, each day Americans shell out a whopping $1.7 billion on meals out, says the National Restaurant Association.
Obviously, the restaurant industry is quite happy about this, but the health experts who look at our ever-expanding waistlines are not so thrilled. They'd like us to stay home and cook healthier, smaller portions.
Yeah, not too likely. Eating out is just too convenient, fun, and, frankly, yummy.
Still, with the mounting health problems from the huge number of overweight older Americans, it's time to figure out a way to combine our passion for eating out with our need to make healthier choices.
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Prevention magazine recently came up with 13 simple rules to follow for dining out on a diet.
Some of the tips are surprising: Did you know you'll eat less if you're seated in a quiet part of the restaurant?
Other suggestions could save you money along with calories: Share an entree, make a meal of appetizers, cut back on alcohol.
Click here for the complete list on Today Health on msnbc.com. Or here's a condensed version:
1) Know before you go. Check a restaurant's menu online before you go. Find something healthy to order and stick to your decision when you get there.
2) Sit in a quiet spot. Quiet is good for your diet. Lots of noise and distraction makes you eat more because you lose track of what you put in your mouth. (It's like eating in front of the TV at home and suddenly realizing you've consumed an entire bag of chips.)
3)Be the first to order. Don't listen to your companions ordering triple bacon cheeseburgers with fries and then be guilted into going along. Order first. It will help you stick to your decision to eat healthfully if you don't have to sit through everyone else's more extravagant dishes.
4) Have it your way. Ask (politely) for some modifications: Can an entree be baked or broiled instead of fried? Can olive oil be substituted for butter? Can the kitchen go light on the salt? (Better yet, ask them to skip the salt so you can use the shaker at the table. You'll probably use less than the chef does.)
5) Beware menu hype. Menus are designed to tempt you. Don't get seduced by adjectives like 'velvety,' 'creamy,' 'homemade,' 'legendary,' and other terms meant to appeal to your emotions and sway your ordering.
6) Avoid snacking on the freebies. The free basket of bread and butter, or the tortilla chips and salsa, can pile up fat and calories before you even get to the meal. If you can't resist, ask the server not to bring them.
7) Make a meal of appetizers. Ordering a couple apps -- like a shrimp cocktail with a small salad or cup of soup -- can help cut costs and calories. Of course, avoid appetizers that are fried, covered in cheese, or otherwise fatty, creamy, or something meant to be shared by the entire table.
8) Be salad savvy. Choose a salad with grilled meat and ask for the dressing on the side so you can control the amount. Go easy on fatty toppings like croutons, fried noodles, cheese, bacon and hard-boiled eggs.
9) Rethink your sides. Ask if a baked potato can be substituted for fries, or vegetables subbed for rice.
10) How is it cooked? Choose grilled, baked, roasted, poached or broiled. Avoid the word "fried' -- as in, pan-fried or deep-fried.
11) Alcohol in moderation. Alcohol can add a lot of extra, empty calories -- and hike up your tab. Stick to one drink, sip it slowly and keep it simple: 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of light beer are all 150 calories or less. Also -- it's easier to nurse a drink if you have it along with your food.
12) Practice portion control. Restaurants serve mega-sized portions so people feel they got their money's worth. That doesn't mean you have to eat the whole thing in one sitting. Put half aside to take home for tomorrow's meal. Or order a small appetizer and then share an entree -- it's easier on your budget and your waistline.
13) The three-bite dessert. End on a (tiny) sweet note. Limit yourself to three little bites of a shared dessert. That small amount of sweetness is probably just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without ruining your diet.
How healthy is your weight? Use the BMI Calculator
In other health news:
Exercising in midlife protects the heart. Making sure you get enough exercise in your 40s and 50s can help protect your heart, a new British study of more than 4,000 older adults has found. The story in BBC News reports that 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate activity -- a daily walk, regular gardening, for example -- reduced the level of inflammatory markers in the blood. High levels of these markers have been linked to heart disease.
Federal panels punts on hearing screening for older adults. Reuters reports on a new statement from a government-backed panel that says there's not enough evidence to say whether older adults should be screened for hearing loss if they don't have any symptoms. On the other hand, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says this shouldn't stop people over 50 years old from telling their doctor about hearing problems, and shouldn't stop doctors from screening patients with symptoms of hearing loss.
Photo: the pro digal untitled13 via flickr.com