Having a good #steak is not just about #eating, it’s about indulgence. It’s going to a steakhouse and stuffing yourself until you can’t eat any more. Steakhouses have proliferated in the last 10 years. I’m sure you know many of their names — Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, Outback, LongHorn, Lone Star, Ponderosa, Smith & Wollensky and, of course, the famed Peter Luger Steakhouse in New York.
It’s funny, when I called a number of their corporate communications offices, they seemed very defensive, as if they had something to hide. And I guess they do, because they are not exactly known for serving up “health” #food. But there are a few tricks that can help you navigate the menu next time you visit your local steakhouse.
BREAD AND BUTTER
Boy, is the bread good at these steakhouses! A bit of irony for low-carb dieters — they come to eat a low-carb steak and are faced with the best bread on earth. My advice is, if you can’t limit yourself to just one slice, have the basket removed from the table. For many of us, eating bread is just a way to prevent boredom until the real meal comes — so to avoid being tempted, refuse it before it arrives. You can also ask for water and perhaps a plate of veggies to snack on. If you must have a slice of bread, at least don’t smother it with butter.
- French bread (four slices): 384 calories, 4g fat, 72g carbs
- Garlic bread (four slices): 545 calories, 21g fat, 75g carbs
- Butter (two pats): 72 calories, 8g fat, 0g carbs
Watch out! These can be a #nutrition disaster. One obvious calorie catastrophe are those batter-dipped, deep-fried onions, such as Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion. It has about 1,700 calories and 116 grams of fat! But there are other items to be wary of as well. Sauteed mushrooms or crab cakes can pack more than 200 calories per serving — and that’s without any sauces. And if you thought you were getting your meal off to a healthy start with French onion soup or lobster bisque, think again. Either one can have more than 500 calories per serving. As always, avoid anything fried, creamy or served with a sauce. Look for the words “broiled” or “steamed.” And if you’re not sure how it’s prepared — ask.
Some of the healthy choices to try are oysters on the half shell (only about 10 calories per oyster), shrimp cocktail (about 22 calories per shrimp, including the sauce) or a broth-based (not cream-based) soup. To avoid salad sabotage, ask for the dressing on the side and sprinkle it on with a fork. Or ask for fat-free or low-fat dressing — at least give it a try. With the new focus on health these days, many restaurants do carry it. And avoid high-calorie salad add-ons like cheese and croutons. Most of all, try to resist the blue cheese salad some steak restaurants are known for — with a half cup (or more) of blue cheese, you’d be better off serving yourself up another steak.
While beef is high in saturated (unhealthy) fat, it’s tasty as well as a good source of protein, iron and other nutrients. But there are some nutritional minefields to avoid. For instance, did you know that Outback prepares its steak (as well as Chicken or Shrimp on the Barbie) with butter? Or that Ruth’s Chris adds butter to the plate to create a sizzle when served? In fact, many of the steakhouses I called put either butter or oil on their steaks. But don’t worry; almost all are willing to make them without if you ask.
- Prime Rib: Most restaurants serve this in portions of about one pound — which adds up to as many as 1,350 to 1,400 calories with more than a day’s worth (up to 45 grams) of saturated fat.
- Rib Eye: The rib eye is not much better. A 16-ounce rib eye contains about 1,100 calories and more than 20 grams of saturated fat.
- T-Bone and Porterhouse: Many restaurants serve their T-bone or porterhouse steaks at over a pound — about 20 ounces — which brings the calorie count to more than 1,200 with 25 grams of saturated fat. It seems like most of these steaks are made for sharing, but some portions — like the mammoth 40-ounce porterhouse served at Ruth’s Chris — is specifically dedicated to serving more than one.
- New York Strip: An 18-ounce New York strip steak (top loin) contains about 1,050 calories and more than 30 grams of saturated fat.
- Sirloin and Filet: Your best bet would be a sirloin steak (about 700 calories for 12 ounces), which is one of the leanest cuts (lowest in fat) you can order. Or you can go with the filet mignon, which is smaller — typically nine ounces and about 450 calories, with approximately nine grams of saturated fat.
- Think Ahead. Call beforehand to find out how various dishes are prepared so you don’t annoy your hungry dinner partners with your pre-ordering questions. Never go to a restaurant without preplanning what you’re going to eat.
- Avoid the Sauce. Especially bearnaise or hollandaise sauce — only two tablespoons have about 140 calories, so go for the au jus.
- Make It Smaller. “Ask yourself, ‘Does the prime rib really taste three times better than the sirloin or the filet?’ because it often has three times the fat and calories,” says Jayne Hurley, R.D, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).Remember that the government recommends a three-ounce portion of beef, not 20. Most of the better restaurants don’t have a sharing charge, but if you don’t have anyone to share with, try ordering the smallest size steak — even a children’s portion. Or, as soon as you get your steak, try cutting it in half and taking a portion home. Better yet, ask the waitperson to do it in the kitchen — that way you won’t have to struggle with the knife or your willpower. Also, find out if the restaurant offers a variety in its portion sizes, “especially for the prime rib and filet,” says Hurley.
- Trim the Fat. Make sure to trim off any visible fat, which can save as much 25 percent of the calories. “This is key for the fatty cuts like prime rib, porterhouse and T-bone, but you won’t save much fat from the sirloin or filet,” adds Hurley.
- Order Shrimp or Chicken. Barbecued chicken or shrimp usually are the healthiest items on the menu, especially if you can get the sauce on the side and they’re not cooked in butter.
“These can make or break your meal. For example, if you order your potato with bacon, butter, cheese or sour cream — you can kiss goodbye to a day’s worth of saturated fat,” cautions Hurley.
Know your suspect “sides” — they can add up to anywhere from 250 to 800 calories: creamed spinach (about 300 calories per cup), mashed potatoes (200 calories per cup), French fries (600 calories for a large order) and vegetables sauteed in butter or oil. Order your vegetables steamed with steak seasoning added for flavor. Order your vegetables steamed with steak seasoning on top for added flavor.
Even a plain baked potato can present a problem since, at most steakhouses, they weigh in at approximately one pound. That’s 450 calories without any butter (100 calories per tablespoon) or sour cream (25 calories per tablespoon). So if you’re going to have a baked potato, which is normally a good choice, have it cut in thirds and split it with others at the table, or ask your waitperson for a take-out container.
For many people, steaks and potatoes go hand in hand with a martini or wine. The good news is that red wine and even martinis are lower in calories (120 to 160) than most other alcoholic beverages, but they still add up. Plus, after a few martinis, when it comes to dessert time, your typical “no” can easily turn into a “yes.”
You can dine out at a steakhouse and still eat relatively healthfully — truth is, I ate at Outback about twice a week during a four-month book tour and managed to have a healthy meal each and every time.