Menu Alert: Fat and Calories Hide Out in Buzzwords

Ronda Elsenbrook, R.D.

As a law enforcement officer, chances are you’re used to balancing a crazy work schedule with your health. Managing long hours, irregular shifts and busy days can make it difficult to eat healthy. Bringing a healthy lunch from home may not always be feasible, especially if you’re spending most of your time out in the community where you don’t have access to a refrigerator or microwave. The good news is you can still eat healthy at relatively any restaurant you visit, as long as you know what to look for and what to avoid.


Healthy Options


“You don’t have to know what the chef’s recipe is to have a good idea what’s healthy and what isn’t. Look for lean meats and vegetables without a bunch of frills — and remember, less frills doesn’t necessarily mean less taste. A perfectly poached piece of salmon with a simple lemon marinade, wild rice and sautéed vegetables is a delicious option,” said Ronda Elsenbrook, R.D., a registered dietitian at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “The following are some words to look for on menus that indicate a healthier option.”


  • Roasted
  • Baked
  • Braised
  • Broiled
  • Poached
  • Rubbed
  • Seared
  • Grilled
  • Steamed
  • Sautéed
  • Spiced
  • Seasoned


Words to Avoid


Choosing healthy options when dining out takes common sense – chicken fried steak is not going to be healthy, nor is smothered chicken. Some of these are obviously unhealthy. But what about unhealthy food masquerading as healthy food? A low-calorie salad drenched in high-fat, high-calorie dressing isn’t a good option. Neither is chicken if it’s going to be covered in cheese. Here are some words to look for that indicate high caloric, high fat or high-sugar options.


  • Fried foods – We all know that fried foods are unhealthy, but sometimes menus neglect to say “fried,” and instead go with adjectives that might not deter you as easily. If the item you’re looking at has words like crunchy, tempura, battered, crispy, breaded, crusted, golden or sizzling, there’s a good chance it’s fried.
  • High-sugar foods – Clearly a piece of cheesecake is going to be high in sugar, but sometimes food that is healthy is covered in high-sugar sauces. Look for words like teriyaki, barbecue, glazed, sticky or honey if you’re trying to avoid food that’s high in sugar.
  • High-calorie foods – Unfortunately, foods that are high in calories are often the ones that people have the largest soft spot for. These are going to include things like fettuccini alfredo, stuffed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. If you’re trying to avoid high-caloric foods, stay away from most comfort foods and take notice of words like loaded, stuffed, creamy, cheesy, gooey, smothered, melted, rich or velvety. These words are often code for cream, butter and cheese, which may be fine every once in a while, but daily intake of foods like this can cause major damage down the road.


Yes, eating right and balancing work and health can be tricky, but mostly involves applying common sense. Lean meats and vegetables aren’t just good for you, they’ll help you stay alert, focused and energized, which is something officers need to help them get through long shifts. You don’t have to cut high-calorie, high-fat or high-sugar foods out of your diet completely, but knowing what to look for can help you make better decisions in the long run.