Give Online: Help shape patient care for generations to come.
Cleveland Clinic Logo



Request an Appointment



Contact us with Questions

Expand Content

Eating Out & Special Meals

A quick and healthy guide for those on the go

By: Melissa Stevens, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition Program Coordinator, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitative Services

With little time to spend with family and friends, much less for grocery shopping or cooking, we’ve created a quick and healthy guide to help you make the most out of convenience foods. Whether preventing heart disease or just trying to eat for good health, this guide can help you whip together a quick meal, snack or favorite family recipe using convenience foods that fit into a healthy diet.

Healthy Eating 101:

Not all convenience foods are created equal. Most convenience foods on the market today are laden with saturated fats, sodium and sugar and provide little to no nutritional value. Even foods touted as fat free or low fat are usually poor alternatives to an already low-nutritional value food such as fat free ice cream and olestra-laden potato chips.

So, what are you, the health-conscious consumer to do? Start by reading the food label. Look below to help you make some wise food choices while grocery shopping.

If you are trying to control blood pressure

Limiting your intake of sodium is still a widely accepted strategy for controlling blood pressure. Unfortunately most canned foods, frozen entrees and boxed mixes are high in sodium to extend the product’s shelf life. The good news is many food manufacturers have created lower-sodium varieties, making food choices for the sodium-conscious consumer a little easier. Below is a guide to understanding nutrient claims related to sodium.

  • Low-sodium – means the food contains 140 milligrams (mg) or less sodium per serving.
  • Very low sodium – means the food contains 35 mg or less sodium per serving.
  • Reduced sodium – means the food has 25% less sodium than the comparable food product.
  • Light or Lite in sodium - means the food has at least 50% less sodium than the comparable food product.
  • No salt added – means no salt was added in the processing of the food product; however, naturally occurring sodium may be present in the ingredients.

Generally, most of us should keep our sodium intake limited to 2,400 milligrams each day; this amounts to between 600 and 800 milligrams per meal, depending on how many meals and snacks you eat. When it comes to frozen entrees or other single-meal boxed, canned or frozen dishes, limit sodium to no more than 600-800 milligrams per serving.

If you are trying to watch your cholesterol level…

Watching total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol along with eating foods high in dietary fiber are some important keys to controlling cholesterol. Use these guidelines to help you make your menu decisions.

  • Low fat – means the food contains 3 grams (g) or less fat per serving (or look to make sure the food contains no more than 3 g of fat for every 100 calories).
  • Low saturated fat – means the food contains less than 1g saturated fat per serving.
  • Low cholesterol – means the food contains 20 mg or less cholesterol per serving and no more than 2 g saturated fat per serving.
  • Reduced fat, Reduced cholesterol - means the food has 25% less fat or cholesterol than the comparable food product.
  • Fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol free – the food contains inconsequential amounts of the nutrient specified per serving. If you eat more than one serving you increase the amount of these nutrients; be aware that they add up quickly.
  • Light or Lite in fat– means the food must have 50% or less fat than the comparable food.
  • Lean – refers to meat, poultry, seafood and game and means the following (for every 3-ounces):
    • Less than 10 grams total fat, less than 4.5 grams saturated fat, no more than 95 milligrams cholesterol.
  • Extra Lean – refers to meat, poultry, seafood and game and means the following (per 3-ounces):
    • Less than 5 grams total fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, less than 95 milligrams cholesterol.

Trans fatty acids should also be kept to a minimum when trying to watch cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are formed when a liquid vegetable oil is converted to a solid form, such as taking corn or safflower oil and converting it to shortening or margarine. Trans fatty acids are not yet found on the Nutrition Facts panel of the food label, so it is up to you to look at the ingredients to find out if foods containing trans fatty acids were used. Try to limit foods containing the following ingredients:

  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Shortening

Fried foods are also high in trans fats, so keep your intake of fried foods to a minimum. Fortunately many foods on the market have been manufactured to reduce the trans fat, such as trans fatty acid free margarine. Look for these foods when shopping.

Dietary fiber is one important dietary component to lowering cholesterol. Choosing unrefined foods such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads, bagels, pitas, crackers and cereals are a great way to kick up your dietary fiber intake. Follow these guidelines to choosing good sources of fiber:

  • High fiber food – means the food product has 5 grams or more fiber per serving.
  • Good source of fiber – means the food product has 2.5 – 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.
  • More or Added fiber – means the food product has at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.

Aim for 8-10 grams of dietary fiber at each meal for a total daily amount of 25 or more grams. Other good sources are fruits, vegetables, dried beans, lentils, split peas, nuts and seeds.

Soyfoods also provide cholesterol-lowering benefits. Choose some of the new convenience foods on the market like veggie burgers, soy crumbles or textured vegetable protein, tofu, miso, soynut butter and soy-based cheese alternatives. In order to aid in cholesterol reduction, 25 grams of soy protein each day must be eaten. Choose foods that contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.

If you are trying to watch your weight

Watching your total caloric intake is important when trying to lose weight. Finding foods high in fiber can help make you feel fuller longer and helps prevent between-meal snacking. Reading food labels for serving size is also an effective measure towards weight loss.

If you just want to eat more healthfully

All of the above recommendations are an effective means to improving your eating habits. Choosing convenience foods in moderation and consuming bountiful portions of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other whole, unprocessed foods will guide you towards overall improved health.

Take time out of your busy schedule to educate yourself on healthy convenience food options. The time you spend now will save time in the future for both food prep and shopping. And your health will benefit over the long run. Enjoy the many foods now available to aid in your endeavors towards improved health! Bon Appetit!

For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation.

Fast foods have become a staple in our American culture. Hectic work schedules, family responsibilities and limited free time force many of us to get our nutrition outside the home. While most health professionals agree that eating foods like hamburgers, French fries and soft drinks are not a part of a heart-healthy diet, they also agree that fast food restaurants aren’t going anywhere soon. So, how can you fit fast foods into your life and still reap the benefits of a heart-healthy diet? Read on for some helpful hints and tips.

Healthy Diet



Hamburgers have gotten a lot of bad rap over the years, primarily because high fat cuts of beef contain a lot of artery-clogging saturated fats. But, it’s not necessarily beef that’s the problem at fast food restaurants. The biggest problem is size of the burger, what goes on, and what’s served with that patty.

To help you cut back on fat and calories when ordering hamburgers, try these suggestions:

  • Choose a single patty, preferably 3-4 ounces in size
  • Choose from the children's menu or pick a junior size
  • Skip the cheese
  • Opt out of bacon
  • Skip the mayonnaise or special sauce; try ketchup or mustard instead

(g = grams, sat = saturated fat & trans fat = trans saturated fat)

Before your next hamburger trip, check out our Best Choice list first! These choices tend to have fewer calories and fat then other hamburger options.

Best Choice - Burger King
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Whopper Jr. 260 11g 4g 0g
Plain hamburger 260 11g 4g 0g
Veggie burger 420 16g 2.5g 0g
Best Choice - McDonald's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Plain hamburger 250 9g 3.5g 0.5g
Best Choice - Wendy's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Junior hamburger 230 8g 3g 0g
Kid's meal hamburger 220 8g 3g 0g
Best Choice - White Castle
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
2 plain hamburgers 270 14g 6g 0g
Best Choice - Arby's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Jr.roast beef sandwich 300 9g 3.5g 0g
Ham & Swiss melt 300 8g 3.5g 0g
Chicken Sandwiches and Strips

You may think that chicken is a heart-healthier choice over beef; however, the fast food industry has managed to turn a low-fat serving of chicken into an artery-clogging mess, often higher in fat (and sodium) than a burger! And because partially hydrogenated oils are still used to fry the chicken patties and nuggets at some establishments, they may also be high in cholesterol-raising trans fat. Here are a few suggestions on making healthier fast-food chicken choices:

  • Make sure the chicken is baked, broiled or grilled instead of fried
  • Skip the cheese, mayonnaise or special sauces - see if reduced-fat options are available or try ketchup or mustard
  • Order fat-free honey mustard, teriyaki or barbecue sauce on the side
  • Top chicken sandwiches with lots of lettuce, tomato and onion
  • If you do order a fried chicken option, choose the smallest portion available.
  • Ask for a whole grain bun
Best Choice - Burger King
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
TENDERGRILL chicken sandwich 490 21g 4g 0g
Best Choice - McDonald's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Classic chicken sandwich 420 10g 2g 0g
4 pc McNugget 190 12g 2g 0g
Best Choice - Wendy's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Grilled chicken sandwich 350 7g 1.5g 0g
Grilled chicken go wrap 250 10g 3g 0g
Best Choice - Arby's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Roast chicken sandwich 400 16g 2.5g 0g
Roast chicken ranch 340 9g 1.5g 0g
Fish Sandwiches

Studies have shown that fish contain heart-protective fats called Omega-3. Although most fast food outlets have stopped using frying oils high in artery-clogging trans fat, fried foods are still not ideal food choices. Because grilled or baked fish options aren’t usually available, there are no Best Choices in this category.

Some tips when ordering fish sandwiches:

  • Since fish sandwiches aren’t usually found on the Children’s Menu, eat half of the sandwich and share with a friend - filling up on a side salad or baked potato
  • Pass on the tartar sauce or order on the side and eat ½ of what’s given
  • Omit the cheese
Sub & Deli Sandwiches

Sub sandwiches offer consumers a wider variety of mealtime choices. However, just because a sub isn’t fried doesn’t mean it’s heart-healthy. For example, check out our Worst Choices below.

Worst Choices - Subway
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
6" Meatball sub on white 580 23g 9g  
6" Spicy Italian 620 28g 11g  
Worst Choices - Arby's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon
Market Fresh sandwich
850 37g 10g  
Roast beef & Swiss Market Fresh sandwich 820 37g 11g 1g
Worst Choices - Mr. Hero
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Romanburger hot sub 717 47g 15g  
Tuna & Cheese sub 666 47g 9g  
Hot Buttered Cheesesteak Deluxe 566 33g 18g  
Ultimate Italian sub 608 33g 11g  

Now that’s a lot to chew! Here’s a few beginner tips on making wise sub or deli sandwich choices:

  • Ask for a whole grain bun, bread or tortilla
  • Ask the clerk to put ½ the amount of meat on the sub or sandwich (some fast food restaurants will give you over a half a pound of meat on one sandwich alone!)
  • Skip the mayonnaise and cheese and ask for a light dressing on the side
  • Top sub or sandwich with vinegar and salt-free seasonings
  • Share the sub or sandwich with a friend and enjoy half the fat and calories
  • Top the sub with lots of veggies like green and red peppers, onions, tomato, lettuce, spinach, pickles and olives

Here is a list of our Best Choices deli and sub sandwiches:

Best Choices - Subway
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
6" Ham sub* 290 4.5g 1g 0g
6" Roast beef* 310 4.5g 1.5g 0g
6" Oven Roasted chicken* 320 4.5g 1.5g 0g
6" Subway club* 320 5g 1.5g 0g
6" Turkey breast* 280 3.5g 1.5g 0g
6" Turkey breast and ham* 290 4g 1.5 0g
6" Veggie delight* 230 2.5g 0.5g 0g
6" Sweet onion chicken teriyaki* 380 4.5g 1.5g 0g

*These subs contain no mayonnaise or cheese

Best Choices - Arby's
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Market Fresh Roast Chicken Ranch 340 9g 1.5g 0g
Roast Chicken Sandwich 400 16g 2.5g 0g
Arby-Q 370 10g 3.5g 0g

Take note that sub and deli sandwiches, and virtually all fast-food sandwiches, are very high in sodium. If you have high blood pressure, keep your fast food intake to a minimum!

Tacos & Burritos

Taco Bell offers a “Fresco Style” menu in which the cheese and sauce are replaced by “fiesta salsa.” This fiesta salsa offers a negligible 5 calories per serving and 0 grams of fat.

See below for the “Fresco Style” menu, which provides 7 taco choices with less than 10 grams of fat per serving.

Best Choices - Taco Bell
All are "Fresco"
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Fresh Crunchy Taco 150 7g 2.5g 0g
Soft Taco (Beef) 180 7g 3g 0g
Ranchero Chicken soft taco 170 4g 1.5g 0g
Grilled Steak soft taco 160 4.5g 1.5g 0g
Bean Burrito 340 8g 2.5g 0g
Burrito Supreme (Chicken) 340 8g 2.5g 0g
Burrito Supreme Steak 330 8g 3g 0g

Chipotle Mexican Grill is another fast food venue that offers a variety of burritos, tacos and salads. A plus is that you get to choose what goes into the flour tortilla, and how much. Buyer beware: if you’re not careful, putting all the fixin's into a burrito can add up to more than 1,200 calories and 19 grams of saturated fat!

Some tips when dining at Chipotle:

  • Choose any of their tasty and nutritious corn or tomato salsas.
  • If calories are a concern, skip the large burrito flour tortilla; it racks in almost 300 calories and 9 grams of fat (3 of which are saturated). Instead, choose a burrito bowl (no tortilla), taco sized flour tortilla, or crispy taco shell.
  • Ask for ½ of the rice, cheese or meat to be added on your burrito or taco – this will help control calories.
  • Double up on the veggies and salsa to add bulk to the meal but not excess calories or fat.
  • Cheese adds 100 calories, 8.5g fat and 5 g saturated fat – keep this in mind when watching calories and fat intake.

Look at (accompanying nutritional info) to help you build your own burrito, taco or taco salad:

Best Choices - Chipotle
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Taco flour tortilla 90 2.5g 1g 0g
Crispy taco shell 60 2g 0.5g 0g
Black beans 120 1g 0.5g 0g
Pinto beans 120 1g 0.5g 0g
Cilantro lime rice 130 3g 0.5g 0g
Fajita vegetables 20 0.5g 0g 0g
Barbacoa 170 7g 2.5g 0g
Chicken 190 6.5g 2g 0g
Carnitas 190 8g 2.5g 0g
Steak 190 6.5g 2g 0g

When selecting dishes at Mexican restaurants, choose flour tortillas (that are not fried), skip the cheese, sour cream and guacamole; and double up on the vegetables. Choose lean meats to keep saturated fat within healthy limits.

Gourmet Foods

Many gourmet food eateries offer healthier food options, but that doesn’t always mean menu choices are low in calories or saturated fat. Stick to the nutritional guidelines provided for sandwiches above and avoid choosing selections that contain cream cheese, regular cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream or salad dressing. Choose whole-grain breads and limit breads and tortillas that are baked with added fats and cheese. Add some flavor by replacing high-fat items with extra vegetables, salsa, tofu or hummus.

Worst Choices - Panera Bread
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Asiago Roast Beef sandwich 690 27g 14g 0g
Bacon Turkey Bravo 840 32g 11g 0g
Chipotle Chicken 1080 56g 15g 1g
Best Choices - Panera Bread Sandwiches
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Mediterranean Veggie 610 13g 3.5g 0g
Smoked Turkey (no mayo) 460 6g 1g 0g
Kid's Smoked Turkey 300 10g 5g 0g
Peanut Butter and Jelly on French Bread 450 15g 3g 0g
Whole Grain Bagel with ½ serving
(1 oz) reduced fat cream cheese
430 9.5g 3.5g 0g
Best Choices - Panera Bread Soups
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Low Fat Garden Vegetable w/ Pesto 160 3.5g 0g 0g
Low Fat Chicken Noodle Soup 110 4g 1.5g 0g
Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean 170 4g 1.5g 0g
Salads & Sides

Increasing pressure from health-conscious consumers has forced the fast-food industry to begin offering more healthful menu items, such as salads and side dishes. But be cautious: some salad items are not necessarily heart-healthy. Here are a few tips to ensure your choice is a healthy one:

For Salads:
  • Eliminate the “extras” such as croutons, tortilla chips, bacon bits, cheese, sour cream, and chinese noodles - these can add (individually) anywhere from 60 to 220 calories, 2.5 to 12 grams of fat, and up to 3 grams of saturated fat.
  • Substitute regular salad dressings with light, reduced fat or fat-free salad dressing. Regular salad dressings add between 180 and 250 calories per packet, 20 to 30 grams of fat, and up to 6 grams of saturated fat.
  • If meat is already on the salad, skip the cheese.
Best Choice - McDonald's Salads
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Southwest with grilled chicken 320 9g 3g 0g
Caesar with grilled chicken 220 6g 3g 0g
Newmann's Own low fat balsamic dressing 40 3g 0g 0g
Newmann's Own low fat family recipe Italian 60 2.5g 0g 0g
Best Choice - Burger King Salads
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
TENDERGRILL chicken salad with
Ken's Light Italian dressing
390 21g 5g 0g
Best Choice - Wendy's Salads
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Mandarin Chicken with Oriental salad dressing
(excluding crispy wontons and croutons)
350 12g 2g 0g
Best Choice - Panera Salads
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Asian Sesame Chicken (w/o crispy wontons) 270 14g 2g 0g
Large fruit cup 130 0g 0g 0g
Greek 210 15g 4.5g 0g
Strawberry Poppyseed 170 6g 0g 0g
BBQ Chopped Chicken 350 10g 1g 0g
Salmon Caesar 330 18g 6g 0g
Reduced fat balsamic vinaigrette (1.5 oz) 130 10g 1.5g  
Red-Sugar Asian Sesame vinaigrette 70 8g 1g 0g

(unless noted, excludes salad dressing)

For Sides:
  • Skip the fries, or choose the smallest portion. French fries can add 210 calories (kid’s portion) to 610 calories (large), 11 to 45 grams total fat, and 1.5 to 5 grams saturated fat. If you choose the largest portion of French fries and eat a high-fat sandwich, you’ve exceeded your daily fat allowance in one sitting.
  • Choose a side salad with light dressing instead of French fries
  • If ordering chili on the side, order the smallest portion and skip the cheese.
  • When ordering baked potatoes, pass on the cheese and ask for sour cream and butter on the side (and try not to use all of it). Try steamed vegetables, salsa, barbecue sauce or a nonfat salad dressing to top your potato
  • Avoid special side dishes or starters like fried mozzarella sticks, cinnamon sticks, fried vegetables, etc.
  • Make the best of low-fat ice cream available at some restaurants and purchase a small cup or cone instead of apple pie, chocolate ice cream pies, shakes or flurries.
  • Fruit drinks, colas, cappuccino and hot chocolate contain a significant amount of calories, and fat. To reduce your heart-disease risk, choose water, 100% fruit juice, 1% fat milk, plain coffee or tea and diet sodas. Choosing these beverages can save you up to 450 calories.
Best Choices - McDonald's side items
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Snack size fruit & walnut salad 210 8g 1.5g 0g
Side salad 20 0g 0g 0g
Fruit & yogurt parfait (w/o granola) 130 2g 1g 0g
Fruit & yogurt parfait (w/ granola) 160 2g 1g 0g
Apple dippers 35 0g 0g 0g
Low fat caramel dip 70 0.5g 0g 0g
Vanilla reduced fat ice cream cone 150 3.5g 2g 0g
Best Choices - Wendy's side items
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Plain baked potato 270 0g 0g 0g
Mandarin oranges 80 0g 0g 0g
Small chili 190 6g 2.5g 0g
Side salad 130 8g 1.5g 0g
Best Choices - Burger King side items
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Kid's Apple "French fries" 70 0.5g 0g 0g
Best Choices - Panera side items
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Strawberry parfait (w/o granola) 120 1.5g 1g 0g
Small fruit cup 60 0g 0g 0g
Apple 80 0g 0g 0g
Coffee Houses

Regular coffee or tea takes the sidelines at most coffeehouses these days. Oversized coffee drinks containing syrups, whole milk, and whipped cream take center stage. One would think they were at an ice cream parlor if it weren't for the smell of espresso! Then there are the super sized cookies, muffins, danish and sandwiches. It goes without saying that keeping it simple at coffee houses is the way to go. We’ve got some good and poor choices for you to consider.

Worst Choices - Starbucks
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Double Chocolaty Chip Frappucino 510 19g 11g 0g
Venti Caramel Macchiato 300 8g 5g 0g
Blueberry scone 460 22g 12g 0.5g
Worst Choices - Dunkin Donuts
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Sausage, Egg and Cheese Croissant 640 43g 17g 0.5g
Chicken Biscuit 500 25g 10g 0g
Waffle Breakfast Sandwich with Sausage 550 37g 13g 0g
Best Choices - Starbucks
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
House brew coffee of the week 5 0g 0g 0g
Short Chai Tea Latta 100 0g 0g 0g
Grande Cafe Americano 15 0g 0g 0g
Perfect Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts 340 11.5g 1.5g 0g
Low Fat Red Raspberry Muffin 340 6g 1.5g 0g
Multigrain bagel 320 4g 0g 0g
Egg White, Spinach & Feta Wrap 280 10g 3.5g 0g

If you desire a coffee drink, opt for nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup and hold the whipped cream

Best Choices - Dunkin Donuts
  calories fat sat fat trans fat
Small Coffee 5 0g 0g 0g
Small Coffee with Skim & Splenda 25 0g 0g 0g
Latte Light Medium 120 0g 0g 0g
Multigrain Bagel with
½ serving Reduced Fat Cream Cheese
440 12g 3g 0g
Egg White & Cheese English Muffin 270 5g 3g 0g
Egg White & Veggie Flatbread 290 9g 4g 0g
Egg White & Cheese Wake Up Wrap 150 6g 3g 0g
Low Fat Cranberry Orange Muffin 390 3g 1g 0g

As you can see, fast foods CAN fit into a heart-healthy diet. But just like everything in life, you must plan ahead and follow the principles of moderation. Even if you choose from our Best Choices list, it is not recommended that you frequent fast food outlets more than a few times each week. Add some variety to your heart-healthy diet by bringing lunch to work and preparing a few more meals each week at home. Your pocketbook and your heart will thank you!

For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation.

*The information used to create this guide was obtained from individual restaurant websites. Please refer to the websites for the most current nutritional information.

Web Sites and Resources for Fast Food Nutrition Information

Reviewed: 05/10

When most people think of a cookout, they have visions of hot dogs, hamburgers, creamy potato salad and chips — all foods that can weigh heavily on your heart and wreak havoc on your waistline. It may seem impossible to make healthy food choices at these get-togethers, but you really can enjoy a fun, flavorful and healthy cookout by following the simple tips below.

Choose a Lean Entrée

Instead of high-fat hamburgers and hot dogs, choose lower-fat proteins. It’ll be a great change-up from traditional cookout foods, and your guests will be delighted. Here are some tasty entrée ideas:

  • Fresh fish can be grilled whole, in steaks or filets, or on a kebob. Salmon, grouper, shrimp and tuna are great grilling options.
  • Whole chicken or chicken breasts can be made in a variety of ways, like marinating with chipotle seasoning, vinaigrettes, barbecue sauce, jerk sauce or Cajun seasoning. If using chicken with skin, remove the skin before eating.
  • Lean pork or beef tenderloin, trimmed of fat.
  • Vegetable-based burgers. Portobello, black bean, roasted vegetable or burgers made with textured vegetable protein are flavorful options.
  • Grilled vegetables make for a great entrée themselves, especially veggies with hearty flavors like portobello mushrooms, squash, onions and peppers.
  • Turkey or chicken burgers made with all-white-meat ground turkey or chicken.
Lighten up the Salad

Liven up pasta and potato salad with these ideas to limit saturated fat:

  • Add grilled, raw or roasted vegetables. They’ll help bulk up the salad while lowering the calorie count.
  • Use a flavorful vinaigrette dressing instead of a creamy dressing. Try a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, an acid (such as lemon juice, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar) and fresh herbs and spices.
  • If you just can’t do without the creamy potato salad, substitute full-fat mayonnaise with light mayo or light sour cream. Use small amounts of creamy toppings and add flavor with pickle juice, lemon juice or fresh herbs.
  • Try using spicy arugula pesto or traditional basil pesto sauce in your pasta salad for a refreshing, healthy change.
  • Choose whole wheat farfalle (bowtie), penne (tubular), or fusilli (spiral) pasta instead of enriched pasta. Or, make the salad using half enriched pasta and half whole wheat pasta.
  • Dijon mustard is a great addition to vinaigrettes, as are rice wine, balsamic and champagne vinegars. To give a southwestern pasta salad some kick, add some adobo sauce or chopped chipotle peppers.
Add a Healthy Side Dish

Instead of high-fat potato chips and other unhealthy snacks, try some of these ideas:

  • Fresh fruit kebobs. Put fresh strawberries, melon, grapes and pineapple on skewers, or toss it all into a big bowl and enjoy!
  • Mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil kebobs are delicious! You can also layer the ingredients on a tray and sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a refreshing side dish.
  • Instead of fried chips, try serving veggie chips, but not the bagged kinds! Thinly slice jicama, carrot coins, zucchini and cucumber and serve with hummus.
  • Zesty corn and black bean salad.
  • Serve baked tortilla chips with fresh salsa or guacamole.
  • Make a beautiful array of grilled vegetables and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Serve corn on the cob with a variety of toppings like lime juice and grated parmesan cheese.
  • Prepare a tricolor salad made with radicchio, endive and arugula. Toss with a red wine vinaigrette dressing.
  • Offer fresh whole wheat pita with olives, tabbouleh salad and hummus.
Go Light on the Drinks

Instead of high-calorie, sugary drinks, try offering these refreshing choices:

  • Ice water with cucumber and lemon slices.
  • Sparkling water “spiked” with a dash of 100% fruit juice.
  • Fresh squeezed lemonade with a small amount of sugar.
  • Black or green unsweetened tea.

Cookouts should be enjoyed in the company of family and friends, and not create a stressful environment that wreaks havoc on your health goals. Enjoy trying the variety of substitutions provided, and don’t be afraid to make healthier changes to your family favorite recipes!

Reviewed: 10/13

There's no argument that pizza is a popular dish in America, however, many people see it as the "forbidden food," laden with so much saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium they don't see how there could be any way it can fit into a heart-healthy diet. Others see it as a great food, complete with almost all their favorite food groups: they rationalize that the crust fits in the bread group, the cheese in the dairy group, h am or sausage in the meat group, and pizza sauce in the vegetable group. Even tack on some pineapple slices and you've added your fruit group! This is "healthy," isn't it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Let's first look at why pizza has gotten such a bad reputation over the years, then delve into how you can choose healthful pizzas when dining out, or better yet, make healthful and tasty pizzas on your own.

Why the Bad Reputation?

While it's true that a lot of pizza ingredients like tomatoes, onions, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and crust can fit into a heart-healthy diet, others ingredients fall far from the "healthy foods" list including pepperoni, extra cheese, sausage or Alfredo sauce. Even these high-saturated-fat, high-sodium foods can fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. The only problem is that "moderation" is not in the vocabulary of most pizza makers. After the extra cheese, cheese-stuffed crust, extra thick and crispy crust, "meat-lovers" portion of sausage, ham, pepperoni and bacon are tacked on, you've packed a whole week's worth of your allotted saturated fat! And that's only in a two-slice or 8-ounce serving.

We've listed a few of your favorite pizza brands below. Take a look and see how much saturated fat, total fat and sodium are contained in a single serving (something most of us exceed).

Note: Nutritional data derived from individual company information or from ESHA food analysis software program. Most serving sizes are based on a 12" medium-sized pizza unless stated otherwise.

Pizza maker and/or type Serving size Total calories Total fat (in grams) Saturated fat (in grams) Sodium (in milligrams)
Pizza Hut Personal Pan Supreme 11 ounces or 3 slices 722 34 12 1,760
Pizza Hut Meat Lovers Pan Pizza 9 ounces of 2 slices 680 36 14 1,676
Pizza Hut Veggie Lovers Pan Pizza 9 ounces or 2 slices 486 20 6 1,024
Pizza Hut Thin and Crispy Ham 8 ounces or 3 slices 552 21 9 1,773
Pizza Hut Hand Tossed Italian Sausage 8 ounces or 2 slices 540 22 10 1,474
Domino's Hand Tossed Cheese Pizza 8 ounces or 3 slices 516 14 6 1,470
Domino's Deep Dish Veggie Pizza 8 ounces or 2 slices 576 25 9 1,232
Domino's Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza 8 ounces or 2 slices 780 37 15 1,940
Papa John's Original Crust Cheese 8 ounces or 2 slices 560 20 9 1,440
Papa John's Thin Crust Pepperoni 9 ounces or 3 slices 800 48 15 1,860
Stouffer's French Bread Sausage, Pepperoni, and Mushroom 12 ounces or 1 french bread pizza 857 41 12 1,680
Tombstone Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza 1/2 pizza or 6 ounces 476 26 9 1,092
Tombstone Extra Cheese Pizza 2 slices or 10 ounces 740 34 18 1,360
Tony's Pepperoni Pizza with Italian Crust 1/2 of pizza or 7 ounces 615 34 12 1,265
Healthy Choice French Bread Vegetable Pizza 1 pizza or 6 ounces 280 4 1 480
Lean Cuisine French Bread Deluxe Pizza 1 pizza or 6 ounces 330 6 2.5 560

Now, take into consideration the following nutrition guidelines for the WHOLE DAY for the following calorie levels:

Calorie Needs Total Fat (30% of calories) in grams Saturated Fat (<7% of calories) in grams Sodium in milligrams
1200 40 9 2,400
1400 45 10 2,400
1600 55 12 2,400
1800 60 14 2,400
2000 65 15 2,400
2200 75 17 2,400

If you were following a 1,600-calorie diet and decided to have two slices of Pizza Hut's Meat Lovers pizza, you'd consume:

  • 43% of your total daily calorie needs
  • 65% of your total fat allowance
  • 116% of your saturated fat allowance (the most artery-clogging fat around!)
  • 70% of your daily sodium allowance

And that's only in two slices! Most of us consume more than two slices, putting us even further into "fat-debt." Now, let's just say you choose the Pizza Hut Veggie Lovers pizza:

  • 30% of total daily calorie needs
  • 36% of total fat allowance
  • 50% of saturated fat allowance
  • 43% of daily sodium allowance

This option, of course, would be much better than the Meat Lovers pizza, yet it shows how fast you add up your daily fat, calorie and sodium allowance.

How Can I Cut Back and Still Enjoy Pizza?

Most of the pizza choices that contain the highest level of saturated fat and sodium are the ones that contain processed meats like pepperoni, sausage, bacon or extra cheese. Pizzas containing plain cheese, vegetables or ham slices generally contain less total and saturated fat, however, this doesn't always mean the sodium will be lower (e.g. Pizza Hut's Thin and Crispy Ham Pizza has 1,773 mg sodium for 3 slices).

How can you cut back on the amount of sodium and artery-clogging fat from the pizza you buy? Here are a few strategies to follow when ordering pizza:

  1. Ask for half the cheese. Forget doubling the cheese, cut it down in half! This means you'll get half of the total fat, saturated fat, calories and sodium. And don't worry, there will still be PLENTY of cheese left on the pizza.
  2. Order no cheese. You can order a cheese-less vegetable or chicken pizza with a dash of olive oil or even a little Parmesan cheese. It's a great way to cut the fat, calories and sodium and you won't believe how tasty these pizzas are.
  3. Eliminate the meats. Even if you have good cholesterol, processed meats like pepperoni and sausage offer little to no nutritional value and lots of fat, calories and sodium. If you must have meat on your pizza, choose one and avoid the multiple meat topping choices. The lowest fat and calorie meat options are grilled chicken, Canadian bacon or ham.
  4. Order veggies - and lots of them! But be cautious, many pizza-makers add more cheese to their vegetable pizzas, so ask before you order. Ask for a variety of colorful vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, onions, green, yellow and red peppers, hot peppers or fresh tomato slices. They're not only low in calories, fat, and sodium - they taste great on pizza.
  5. Order a side salad or cooked vegetables to boost the nutritional value of your meal and also helps with weight control because vegetables make you feel fuller faster. But be cautious, many a pizza-maker can wreak havoc on a healthy salad too. Avoid croutons, bacon bits, pepperoni slices, cheese and creamy or regular salad dressings. Choose dressings on the side as well. If you don't want to order a salad, and you're eating your pizza at home, heat up some green beans, cauliflower, carrots or broccoli to enjoy with your meal.
  6. Avoid the "extras" such as garlic butter or ranch dipping sauces, complimentary wings or breadsticks, or fried Jalapeno poppers. These are all extremely high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.
How Can I Make Healthy Pizzas at Home?

Making your own healthy pizza at home can be a cinch. You can control what goes on your pizza and it also saves you money in the long run. Many people don't want to make their own pizzas because of the time involved. However, there are an array of ready-to-bake crusts available, pre-cut vegetables, reduced sodium sauces and shredded part-skim mozzarella cheeses that you can use to prepare a pizza in no time at all. And the best part: there's no tip involved!

Below are some ideas to make quick and healthy pizzas at home:

  • Buy ready-to-bake, whole wheat crusts are usually found in the produce or freezer section of the grocery store or at your local bakery. Buy the bleached or enriched flour varieties only if no other options are available (such as Rhode's frozen pizza dough).
  • Make a mini pizza using a whole wheat pita or lawash bread instead of regular pizza dough.
  • Create your own reduced sodium pizza sauce using fresh basil, oregano, crushed black pepper, minced garlic, fresh tomatoes or cans of reduced sodium tomato paste, puree or sauce. Make a few batches and freeze in individual containers for future pizzas.
  • Use leftover meats like grilled chicken breast or shrimp for quick pizza toppers.
  • Top your pizza with something different like curried chicken, barbecued tofu, clams, scallops or even dried beans or lentils. You never know how it will taste until you try.
  • Use fresh herbs like basil from your garden to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
  • Use pre-cut veggies or fruit like broccoli, peppers, onions, olives or pineapples.
  • Purchase part-skim mozzarella, low-fat or nonfat cheeses or even a soy or rice-based cheese alternative to top on your pizza to reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • To cut the fat further, add grated Parmesan cheese instead of mozzarella.
  • For a low-fat white pizza, use nonfat ricotta cheese or a low-fat bottled Alfredo sauce.

The varieties of toppings are virtually endless and are only limited to what you don't try. Whether you prepare the pizza ahead of time or buy the ingredients ready-to-eat; enjoy the wonderful flavors your own homemade pizzas offer, and reap the added benefit of knowing you're feeding your heart well!

For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation.

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

Schedule an Appointment

Toll-free 800.659.7822