Where Calories Hide: A Guide to Ordering Out

Read the Fine Print

Restaurant chains are required, by the end of 2015, to list calorie counts (and other nutritional information) prominently on menus, menu boards, and Web sites. Take advantage of this valuable information as you make your choices.

An average restaurant or fast-food meal can contain as many as 1,000 or more calories. Even healthier menu items, like a Greek salad with grilled chicken, can clock in at almost 500 calories. That can put a big dent in your allotted calorie count for the day. So what are a few things you might want to watch for?

  • Bread. Wraps and sandwich bread are usually a lower-calorie option (generally 70 to 100 calories per slice or wrap) than bagels, buns, or hoagie rolls. If whole grain varieties are available, grab ’em—they’re higher in fiber, which most Americans need to boost.
  • Salads. Lettuce and veggies are a calorie-counter’s dream, but other toppings and dressings can spell trouble. Take the popular ranch dressing: a 2-tablespoon serving is about 135 calories. The same amount of an oil-and-vinegar dressing is more than 140 calories. Even too much low-cal dressing adds up. Check labels carefully.

    Like added protein on your salad? Three ounces of grilled chicken or half a cup of black beans are both about 125 calories. More calorie-conscious options are a hard-boiled egg (80 calories) or 3 ounces of canned tuna (100 calories).
  • Creamy soups and sauces. Soup can be a great way to fill up while slimming down, but check the serving size. Why? Most manufacturers base labeling off of a 1-cup serving, yet most soup bowls hold 2 cups. Another thing to keep in mind: The more watery the soup, the lower the calories.
  • Sandwich toppings. Be aware of the calories in add-ons: A 1- tablespoon serving of mayonnaise has 90 calories; 1 slice of popular cheeses (American, provolone, Swiss, etc.) equals 100 calories. If the sandwich just wouldn’t be the same without the extra flavors, ask to have the spread on just one slice of bread, and keep the cheese to one slice.
  • Healthy foods. Olive oil, avocados, and nuts are 3 good-for-you foods that are high in calories. Yes, they have lots to offer nutritionally—all are high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, among other nutrients—but that doesn’t mean you have free rein to eat an unlimited amount. For example, 1 ounce of almonds (about 23 whole ones) has 164 calories; one half of an avocado has 160 calories; and 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories.
  • Beverages. The fact that sodas are high in calories isn’t news. But many people don’t stop to think about the calorie contributions of their other drink choices. Take that latte, for example. If you don’t ask for the whole milk to be swapped out for nonfat you’re going to be sipping 265 calories. Sweetened teas have around 180 calories per 16 ounces. Sports drinks have around 130 calories. Even a humble 12-ounce glass of orange juice packs nearly 170 calories.
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