Eating a bone healthy diet at restaurants can be a challenge. If you eat enough fruits and vegetables (alkaline producing foods) to balance out the meat, cheese, beans and grains (acid producing foods) then while, depending on what you choose, it might not be the healthiest meal you ever ate, you should do pretty good from the acid alkaline balance perspective.
However, you also need to consider sodium. One of the main sources of sodium in the American diet is restaurant food and some restaurant food is very high in sodium. A few studies have investigated the effect of sodium on bone density. The results have been mixed with some indicating a high salt diet reduces bone density and some finding no effect on bone density. The research seems to point toward excessively high sodium intakes as being the most concerning even when bone density is normal. There is still considerable debate as to how effectively the body can adapt calcium absorption in response to high sodium intakes but the higher the sodium intake the more reason for concern. Some research suggests that high salt intakes may be more detrimental to bone when overall calcium intake is low rather than high.
Here's some suggestions when eating out:
- Look for the "build your own" options where you can choose the ingredients for sandwiches, salads or bowls. Pick vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and a protein.
- If the side is chips ask to substitute fruit or some establishments now offer baby carrots. Do the same for French fries or choose sweet potato fries if they offer them.
- Do not eat large portions of meat. Avoid supersizing and limit meat to 3 to 4 ounce servings.
- Avoid soft drinks and sweetened beverages.
- Don't add additional salt and avoid ordering the high sodium items if possible. If available, ask for the nutrition info so you know the sodium levels. Some restaurants post their nutrition info on their websites so you can plan ahead.
- Choose whole grains, if possible.
- Try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can.
- Have 1 serving of fruit and vegetable for every ounce of meat or egg, for every cup of milk, yogurt or beans and for every slice of bread, cup of pasta, grain or rice.
- Have 2 servings of fruit or vegetables for each ounce of cheese eaten.
If they don't offer healthy options tell them they need to so they will know there is a market for better choices. If they put healthy choices on the menu be sure to order them so they will continue to be available and a good business decision for the food establishments willing to listen.
Photo used with permission from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Photo taken by Jane Sayner RD