By: Matt Weik
Raise your hand if you enjoy eating out at a restaurant every now and then. Don't be shy, my hand is raised too. My wife always says a meal always tastes better when you don't have to slave over it in the kitchen (and I'd say that she's right). That being said, there are some things that restaurants don't want you to know when it comes to their nutritional facts and breakdown. While we aren't necessarily "exposing" them, this topic definitely needs to be brought up – especially if you're trying to lose weight.
Some restaurants are adding their nutrition facts to their menus (and kudos to them!). However, if you can't find them anywhere on the menu, good luck trying to figure out what you're consuming. You might as well start pulling numbers out of thin air because your guess is about as good as anyone else's.
While knowing your calories and macros may be important to you, we still need to remember that in the eyes of the restaurant, their main objective is having you leave their restaurant with a great experience. That means great food, good ambiance, proper lighting, entertainment (if that's their thing), and amazing service. In their defense, nutrition facts aren't even on their radar.
Now, let's say the nutrition facts ARE posted somewhere you can view or access them. You still can't count on those numbers to be accurate. What do I mean? You may be asking why you can't trust them if they're published. It's quite simple. They don't measure your food. Have you ever heard of a cook tossing all of the ingredients on a food scale to ensure the numbers are spot on? Nope, I haven't either. So, let's say you get a 6oz steak, a baked potato with butter, some steamed broccoli, and a side salad. On paper, that all seems pretty standard, right? Sure.
The issue arises when no one weighs out the food. Even if you were using MyFitnessPal, you'd still have no idea how much of everything you were consuming, and eyeballing it isn't accurate (and it's not like you're bringing a food scale with you either). You see this firsthand when you go to a restaurant where they prepare the meal right in front of you. They grab the spoon, scoop out what you want, dump it on a dish, and move on. If you watch, your scoop could be smaller or bigger than the person before and after you. It's not precise.
Assuming you are watching what you eat, your calories and macros could be completely thrown off when eating out (even if you look at the nutrition facts they're supplying). In addition, what's not to say you don't make changes, substitutions, or additions to the meal. Now, the numbers are really off from what could have been stated.
This can be the main reason why those who travel and eat out often are constantly gaining weight, even if they are paying attention to the nutrition facts or logging the meal into an app like MyFitnessPal.
Another area where restaurants aren't exactly open and honest is with their oil and butter use. Let's be honest, everything tastes better when it's made with butter and oil. When a restaurant provides you with their nutrition facts on a meal, it's merely an "estimate" since the cook could put on more or less butter and oil, which can throw off the macros.
Assuming the food doesn't taste as you would like, you then add additional butter or condiments to change the flavor profile to something you enjoy. This also throws off the numbers you'd see on their nutrition facts.
Nutrition facts do not take into account any toppings you would put on your food. Maybe you add some shrimp on top of your steak or some bacon on your burger? And who can forget about your salad? It's the one area of your meal that is supposed to be the healthiest, and it (by itself) can equate to hundreds of additional calories.
When looking at a salad, think about what is generally on the salad. You have cheese, salad dressing, croutons, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes even olives. While the vegetables are a great addition for some quality micronutrients, the cheese, croutons, and salad dressing can add up quickly (especially if you don't get the dressing on the side and they toss a huge scoop of dressing automatically on top of your salad).
Side note, if you enjoy salads at home, I highly recommend MPA Iso Poofs to be used in place of croutons. MPA Iso Poofs provide an incredible crunch to the salad, fantastic flavor, and 19g of high-quality protein per serving.
If you order a meal that includes a sauce, the sauce itself will be full of excess calories. The more sauce you consume during your meal, the higher your calorie count, and the more off the nutrition facts will be according to what was shown. A recommendation – go easy on the sauce and even consider asking the waitress to have your meal prepared with "light" sauce.
Ask questions. As a rule of thumb, from what I've seen, restaurants can be 20% (or more) over what their nutrition facts state. What you want to do is ask the waitress how your meal is prepared. If you don't want butter or oil added in the preparation of your steak, ask them not to use it. If your steamed vegetables have butter on them, ask them to exclude the use of butter and to only steam the vegetables. Salad dressing on the side is another key suggestion when you are trying to manage your caloric intake.
Better yet, take half of your meal home with you. It's common that restaurants will serve you a meal that is around double the portion size that it needs to be. When your meal is served and plated in front of you, ask the waitress for a to-go bag and immediately divide everything in half and take it home with you. Not only will it help keep you within your daily caloric intake, but now you have a delicious meal you get to enjoy again the next day.
In closing, be conscious of the fact that nutrition facts are going to be off (on the low side). While it may not be deliberate, it happens – you simply need to be aware of it. If you're not watching your weight and are bulking, you can pretty much skip much of what was said above unless you're still trying to eat as clean as possible when trying to put on size.