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Weekend House Call: Eating Smart While Dining Out

Aired July 5, 2003 - 08:30   ET


KRIS OSBORN, CNN ANCHOR: A really interesting topic today on Weekend House Call, eating smart when you're dining out. It can be very hard to make those good decisions when all that delicious thing, food, is in front of you, especially if you're buying fast food or sitting down at a fancy restaurant.
So how do you make these healthy choices?

Let's discuss it with medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, joining us with more.

How do you do this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are a lot of pitfalls out there. But by the end of this half hour, you will know what the pitfalls are and you will know how to handle them.

OSBORN: Butters, mayonnaise, it's all the little sauces, right?

COHEN: All -- that stuff all adds up, absolutely. But, you know, this was a big week in the food world, because this week the company that makes some of our most popular snack foods announced that it would cut portion sizes and reduce the fat content of some of its products.

Kraft Foods and McDonald's are taking steps to make their products less fattening. But why?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Can food manufacturers be blamed for a fatter America? Lawyers are beginning to think so. That's why this man sued McDonald's, blaming the worldwide burger peddler for being fat. And Kraft Foods, makers of the Oreo cookies, was sued because their cookies contain a fat that's been linked to heart disease. A judge dismissed the McDonald's lawsuit and the Kraft case was withdrawn. But the threat of more still looms.

And so these same companies seem to be on the offensive to head off more lawsuits.

Kraft Foods announced a new initiative to do its part to fight obesity. They plan to reduce portion sizes of certain products. They are eliminating all in school marketing of their products and they're working on reducing fat content in some of their products. Kraft says it's the right thing to do. But if it wards off future lawsuits, that's OK, too.

Last year, when McDonald's announced it would switch to a healthier oil for their French fries to help in the battle of the bulge, a lot of nutrition experts were impressed. Today, McDonald's admits it still uses the same fatty oil because it is still testing new oils. And thus consumers are still eating fattier fries.

So consumer watchdogs are more skeptical when they hear about these new initiatives. They want action, not words. But McDonald's has more healthy choices in store. new lower fat salad dressings are now available. And the fast food chain says they plan to offer apple slices and more wholesome Happy Meal choices some time this year.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


COHEN: Now, the changes that Sanjay talked about have not taken place yet. So in the interim, how can you make good choices when you're eating out, especially in fast food restaurants?

Super sizing is the biggest danger. Did you know that one super sized meal at McDonald's with a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries and Coke weighs in at 1,550 calories and almost 60 grams of fat? That's well over, that's well more than half of a person's average fat and calorie intake for the day. In other words, in one meal, you're getting well over half the fat and calories you're supposed to have in an entire day.

Now, you may be saving money when you buy that combo meal, but you're not doing yourself any favors otherwise.

Now, there are some real surprises on the menu that you might not expect. Say you think you're going to be good and order a taco salad at Taco Bell. If you add the ranch dressing, this salad totals -- get ready for this -- 1,167 calories and 61 percent of the calories are from fat. It has more calories than any other item on the Taco Bell menu.


Here's another one, the roast turkey and Swiss from Arby's. Now, everyone thinks that a turkey sandwich is the lower fat choice, right? Well, think again. It has 760 calories and 33 grams of fat. If you have questions about eating out and how to avoid the pitfalls, call us now at 1-800-807-2620. The phone lines are open. Or you can e-mail us at

To help navigate the healthy choice highway, we asked nutritionist Lisa Drayer to join us today.

Thanks for being with us, Lisa.


COHEN: Now, tell us, what are some of your favorite tips when you're in the food corner at a fast food restaurant?

DRAYER: Right. Well, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself. You know, it's going a little bit too far to blame McDonald's, you know, for your most recent heart attack. So I say go to the Web sites. The nutritional information is available on the World Wide Web. And you can actually use some of these online wizards that some of the restaurants have and you can see how much a particular condiment would add to your meal in terms of fat and calories. So you can add and subtract and see which would be a healthier choice. So that's definitely a very important tool to use before going to the restaurant.

Then when you're there, as you've mentioned, don't assume that just because a meal is super sized that you're getting a better value. It may be better for your wallet, but not necessarily for your health. So just keep that in mind.

And balance your fast food options with healthier items throughout the day. For example, if you do have the Big Mac, don't have pizza later in the day. So balance it with a healthier option such as a salad with low fat dressing and a lot of vegetables.

OSBORN: Well, with those words from the experts, we want to start answering some of your viewer phone calls. And now on the phone, we have Mary from Georgia.

Hello, Mary.

Good morning.

MARY: Hello, sir.

How are you today, doctor?

My question is I'm a...

OSBORN: There's no doctor here.

MARY: I'm a veg...

OSBORN: Go ahead.

MARY: I'm a vegetarian. When I go out to fast food places, what are my options? Or should I just avoid them altogether?

DRAYER: Right. Well, there's no need to avoid your options. What you do want to watch is your portion sizes. And being vegetarian can be tricky, because your diet is typically high in carbohydrates to make up, oftentimes, for the reduced amount of protein that many vegetarians consume. So you want to keep in mind a budget for each meal. So if you picture your plate, picture about half of it being from vegetables, maybe a quarter from starch and then a quarter from protein. So whether this is soy protein, beans that are providing your protein, whatever it is, you can balance it just by using a visual guide in terms of that plate. So there's no need to avoid your options. And a lot of the fast food restaurants do have vegetarian options. For example, Burger King has a veggie burger. It's pretty low in calories and fat. You can also order junior sizes. These are typically a lot lower in calories and fat.

So no need to avoid them at all. You just want to educate yourself. Go to the Web to find the nutritional information or ask questions when you're there, and you can get a healthy meal.

COHEN: We have a question now for our nutritionist from Debra in Alabama.

Debra, Go ahead.

DEBRA: Yes, good morning.

I would like to know what fast food restaurant is it best to eat from when you're trying to watch your sodium intake?

DRAYER: Yes, that's definitely a good question. All of the fast food restaurants do have options that are higher in sodium, and it's really important because sodium is added as a preservative and it also adds flavor to foods. So the best thing that you can do is look again at those nutritional charts. And if your watching your sodium intake, think about 400 milligrams as a limit per meal. So, for example, if you have high blood pressure, you want to lower your sodium intake, don't consume more than one meal that contains greater than 400 milligrams of sodium.

COHEN: Lisa, thank you for those tips.

And let's do a recap of some of the things you can do to make better fast food choices.

Look for a meal with light or healthy in the name. Ask for a nutrition chart. Most fast food restaurants have them. Go for the grilled option if you can, grilled chicken, for example, is better than deep fried. Skip the mayo. Mustard has far fewer calories. Get the salad dressing on the side and don't use too much.

OSBORN: Well, with that delicious food right here, we're going to take a quick break.

But when we come back, super sizing, it happens at sit down restaurants also. They just don't call it that. We'll tell you how to cut down your meal, get it down to size. Call us with your questions at 800-807-2620.

Elizabeth Cohen is here, Lisa Drayer. Or e-mail us at

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) OSBORN: Well, this is Weekend House Call. We're talking about making smart choices when you're eating out and how tough it is. Call us with your questions, 1-800-807-2620, or e-mail your question to

COHEN: And while we get those phone calls lined up, let's check our Daily Dose health quiz.

When you're eating how long does it take your brain to receive the message that it's feeling filled up? We'll have that answer in 30 seconds, so stay with us.


OSBORN: OK, we're going to check now our Daily Dose quiz. We asked you, when you're eating, how long does it take your brain to receive the key message that it's being filled up?

The answer: 20 minutes. It takes that long after food enters your mouth before the brain starts perceiving that we're filling up. If you're like me, you eat house and home in the first 10. So take the time to chew and savor the flavor. You could actually fill up on less if you slow down.

COHEN: This is Weekend House Call and we're talking about making smart choices when you're eating out. One of the biggest challenges we face at restaurants is portion sizes. Now, take a look at this pasta dish that we ordered from a popular chain restaurant. It looks like it's enough for at least two people. We have nutritionist Lisa Drayer with us here.

Lisa, if you were served this at dinner, what would you do? Would you chow down on the whole thing?

DRAYER: Oh, I don't think so. Well, what I would do is probably divide it in half or maybe even in thirds and then I would either push it aside or ask the waiter or waitress to wrap it up to take it home for tomorrow's lunch. I definitely wouldn't eat that whole dish. And in the future, what you can do is you can ask the waiter or waitress if they prepare these pasta dishes in smaller sizes.

So, for example, sometimes they can give you an appetizer sized portion of pasta instead of an entree and then you're consuming significantly fewer calories.

COHEN: Got you.

Well, portion sizes aren't the only thing you should keep in mind when you're eating out. There are other suspicious, too. We've got an e-mail that speaks to that question. Joy from New York writes, "I eat out often living here in New York City and try to make healthy decisions. But are there any hidden dangers on the menu that I should watch out for?"

Lisa, sometimes things are overseas, that they're heavy in fat and calories, you know, cheesecake with chocolate sauce. DRAYER: Right.

COHEN: I mean, you know. But now are there some things that are on the menu that might look OK that wouldn't be so OK?

DRAYER: Definitely. You do have to read between the lines, and this goes for menus, as well. What I say is get the menu's faxed in advance. I know in New York restaurants are really good about doing this. And then you can call up and ask questions. So if something might not be obvious, for example, if fish is poached, you know, we typically think that that would be healthy. But, in fact, if a restaurant is poaching in oil to give the fish more flavor, then this is not going to do us much good in terms of our health, unless it's olive oil, but then again, we're talking about calories, too.

And, in fact, a recent study just found that those who consume olive oil on the table when you're out at a restaurant do consume -- those individuals consume more calories than if they had butter. So just be careful, again, of the portions, even if you're choosing something that you would consider healthier, such as olive oil.

Also, vegetables, a lot of times we think vegetables are healthy, you know, because they're vegetables. But, in fact, if we're getting creamed spinach or sauteed vegetables, they can have a lot of oil, they can add on a lot of calories. So just be careful. Ask a lot of questions when you're there and if the waiter or waitress doesn't know the answer, they can usually talk to the chef and get back to you.

OSBORN: We're going to go back to the phones and welcome Cindy from North Carolina.

Good morning.

And your question?

CINDY: Good morning.

My husband suffered a heart attack in February and we've made a conscientious effort to eat healthily, rarely eat out, but when we do, we have found it an extreme challenge to find healthy salad dressing choices and healthy breads that aren't just pre-made, full of trans fats.

Please help.

DRAYER: Oh, definitely. First of all, I'm sorry about that. But what I would recommend is that particularly when you're out in supermarkets, you want to read labels very carefully, because a lot of times you might not have all the opportunities at the restaurant. You do want to ask about food preparation methods. You want to choose healthier fats, such as the olive oil that's actually beneficial for the heart. It contains monounsaturated fats. And watch those trans fats. They're not written on food labels, but they can increase risk for heart disease. But the key words are partially hydrogenated oil. So you're not going to see the word trans, but if you see hydrogenated oil and if you see that the food is high in total fat, then you know that it's high in trans fat.

Also watch saturated fat. You want to go as low as possible. I'd say limit to one or two grams per serving. And, also, whole grains are very beneficial for helping to protect against disease, including heart disease, but be sure to look for the word whole. Just because something says wheat or it's made with wheat flour, it doesn't assume -- you can't count on it being whole wheat, which contains a lot of the fiber, the bran, and the vitamins that are protective for health.

COHEN: And, Lisa, another thought for our caller and her husband is that you could actually bring your own salad dressing. Go to the supermarket...


COHEN: Find one that is low in fat and low in calories and bring it with you to the restaurant and ask for a salad with no dressing. I know when I used to ask for salad with no dressings, they'd look at me like I was from Mars or something. But now I think many places will do that easily.

Lisa, we have an e-mail for you from Charlie in California. She asks, "When eating out, how can I keep my carb intake to a minimum and still enjoy eating out with friends?"

I know many people on Atkins or Atkins style diets are trying to cut their carbs but still eat out. Any thoughts for them?

DRAYER: Sure. That's right, we hear a lot about this lately, reducing the carbs. Carbs are not the enemy, but we do need to choose healthy carbs. Whole grains such as whole grain pasta, brown rice, those are good options when you're out. And keep a carb budget for your day. So, for example, think about having one portion of carbohydrates or starches per meal. So, again, if you picture that plate, divide it in half and then that other half into quarters and think about having a quarter of the plate in terms of starch. So that could be a half a cup of rice, a half a cup of pasta. It could be a roll or even the croutons in your salad. That counts as carbs, too.

So pick and choose where you want to have your carbs and then you can keep your carb intake to a moderate level.

COHEN: Thanks, Lisa.

Those are some good tips.

So we're going to have a quick recap of all the helpful tips that we've been talking about for when you're eating out.

First of all, if it doesn't come automatically, ask for water as soon as you sit down. Pass on the bread or just have one slice. And clear soups are lower calorie than creamy soups. Order a large green salad to have before your meal. Order salad dressings, sauces, gravies, butter and sour cream and the like on the side. Look for dishes that are steamed, broiled, roasted, grilled or boiled. If the serving is larger than you want, order a side serving instead, or take some home in a doggie bag. And if desert is truly irresistible, share it with a friend.

OSBORN: There's probably lots of willing friends to pick up the dessert.

COHEN: Absolutely.

OSBORN: We'll take a break, but don't go away. When we come back, a look at some high calorie surprises in your favorite drinks. It may make you think twice before you fill up.

Stay with us.


COHEN: Welcome back to Weekend House Call.

We're talking about making healthy choices when we're eating out. A lot of times you don't think about the drink that you're buying. You just think about what you're eating. But often the beverage you buy may have more calories than what you're eating.

Did you know that a Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Coolata with cream and Oreo cookie has 1,010 calories and 50 grams of fat? That's more than half the calories the average person needs to consume in one day, and you're getting it in one drink.

A Starbuck's Grande Mocha with whole milk has 420 calories and 24 grams of fat. A super sized Coke or Sprite at McDonald's will cost you 410 calories. A regular can of Coke has 140 calories. And even lemonade and juices are high in calories and sugar. So sometimes your best choice is just to order water.

And, you know, you don't always think about that, because you're drinking and you don't really think about the fact that you're drinking in a lot of fat and a lot of calories. You just forget that.

OSBORN: You really do forget it easily. You eat half a donut, as you were saying, you've got your calories for, what, half the day or something?

COHEN: And it's, yes, one of those drinks. Yes, they're pretty incredible.

OSBORN: Well, let's welcome Dean, who's calling in from Florida, and say good morning to him.

Hello, Dean.

Your question?

DEAN: Yes, good morning, folks.

First a comment. It's a shame that it takes a lawsuit for companies to actually produce, you know, products that are healthy for us.

My question for you is oftentimes good food and healthy food is not associated with flavor and how can -- and how is that we can perhaps get companies such as McDonald's to change their products after having the same flavor over so many years and when they use healthy products, they tend not to get the same flavor, and perhaps even our media itself promotes so much to us. How do we change from something that we've been so ingrained with for so long?

DRAYER: I think that the consumer demand will definitely make a difference. If restaurants find that consumers are asking for this, that will definitely be the case. And also adding a lot of spices and seasonings doesn't add any calories. It doesn't add any fat. And it does significantly boost flavor. So hopeful we'll see a lot more of that, more spices, and seasonings incorporated into foods so it can make up for some of the lost fat and sugar.

COHEN: Lisa, when you find yourself at a food court and it's time to get lunch, what do you purchase? What dish do you get?

DRAYER: Well, it depends on the day. But typically I'll get a salad, a salad with some grilled chicken. I'll sometimes have a fruit. It really depends on where I'm at. But I'll look at the menu choices really carefully, and I'll usually get the smallest size. You know, you could really cut the calories in half just by choosing a smaller sized portion. So definitely do that when you're in those food courts.

COHEN: Portion control, it is all, it's all about portion control, isn't it, Lisa?


COHEN: That's, yes, that'll do it.

Well, when we come back, we're going to have final thoughts from our nutritionist, Lisa Drayer, when we come back.


COHEN: Welcome back to Weekend House Call.

We've been talking with nutritionist Lisa Drayer.

Lisa, do you have any final thoughts about eating out?

DRAYER: Sure. The most important thing is to become an educated consumer. So read the menus carefully, ask a lot of questions. If you're in the supermarket, read those labels carefully. And give yourself a daily budget. So a daily budget for calories if you're watching your weight. And on, we will actually calculate that for you based on your age, your height, your weight and several other variables so you can see how much you could be, should be consuming in one day and then you can go along throughout the day and subtract what you've eaten.

You can actually log this on on Dietwatch and we'll give you a tally of calories, fat, calcium, a lot of important nutrients.

So just budget your options. Think about visualizing your plate. Divide it in thirds, in quarters, whatever works for you. And that's what will help you over the long-term.

COHEN: Great, Lisa.

Thanks so much.

We are all out of time for today.

Make sure that you tune in for tomorrow's Weekend House Call when we talk about yoga. It's taking America by storm. Some doctors are even prescribing it to combat medical problems. Could it be the right exercise for you?

That's tomorrow at 8:30 Eastern.

I'll see you then.

I'm Elizabeth Cohen.

Thanks for watching.


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