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How to have a night out without ruining your heart healthy diet

Feb 3, 2012, 8:14 a.m.

Contrary to what you might have been led to believe about eating out at restaurants, it's entirely possible to stay true to your heart healthy diet without having to forgo the fun of a night out on the town with friends and family. It's just a matter of knowing what questions to ask and what menu items to choose. Here are a few tips to help you maintain your heart healthy diet while still having a good time.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Far too many people take the path of least resistance when dining out, picking something they think will adhere to the limitations of their heart healthy diet without actually asking their waiter certain important questions. Like how the meal is prepared, or whether it's possible to make special requests and substitute certain dish items.

Know what's good for you and what's not. While this sounds like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised at how many people really have no clue how to go about eating a heart healthy diet. Don't leave it up to the restaurant to tell you what's good for you, either -- depending on the state of your health, it's not a one-size-fits-all issue and what might be a perfectly acceptable heart healthy alternative for one person could be a little too much for your ticker.

Try to avoid certain cuisines that are especially high in sodium, and avoid dishes that contain heavy sauces, usually the calling card of a healthy heart diet no-no. If you've got no choice, ask that your sauces be prepared on the side and opt for steamed rice and vegetables at every opportunity, instead of higher fat offerings that can send your heart healthy diet into a tailspin that may not be easy to recover from.

Exercise portion control. You may not be able to control the amount of sodium that's on your plate, but you can make a big difference by not cleaning it all in a single sitting.

Order foods that are grilled, roasted, or baked and steer clear of the fried stuff that can send your sodium levels soaring.

You don't have to skip dessert while everyone else continues to enjoy themselves, but quite often you'll find plenty of alternatives that'll satisfy a heart healthy diet. Scan the menu for sorbets or fruit desserts, which are the obvious best choice.

If you have to use the salt shaker, use it sparingly. Consider bringing your very own low-sodium food spicer from home, or ask your waiter if the kitchen has alternative spice mixes that they can bring you.

Pack healthy snacks if it's going to be a long night. This doesn't mean you have to keep a sack of apples in the trunk of your car to satisfy your hunger while everyone else is indoors dining on steak and potatoes. But if you're going out to a movie, consider packing a few easy-to-carry healthy snacks that you can enjoy without having to go hungry or give in by devouring an entire box of buttery popcorn.

Keeping on track with a heart healthy diet doesn't mean you have to stay at home 7 days a week and eat food that you yourself have prepared. It's entirely possible to have a night out on the town and not derail your progress, as long as you're willing to go to the extra effort.

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