I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that from someone I am talking to about their diet. The truth is eating out is safe for only a few food and nutrition-savvy people that are highly motivated, but for most of the American public, eating out represents a minefield of diet stumbling blocks that is better left untouched. Around Smith County, we have a special situation to deal with because we live in a very remote location without access to a wide variety of restaurants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define food deserts as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet.” The United States Department of Agriculture adds some economic parameters to the definition and includes that “in rural areas…33% of the population must live more than 10 miles from the nearest large grocery store.” The USDA goes on to further define food deserts by characteristics, one of which is that “with limited options, many people living in food deserts get meals from fast-food restaurants.” We are so lucky to have our small grocery store in town. I can’t imagine what life would be like without that store in Smith Center! Even though we don’t technically qualify as a food desert, we still share at least one characteristic with food deserts. Our restaurant options are limited. Any place where a gas station shows up in a list of restaurants has limited restaurant options. By percentage, the restaurants within 10 miles that fall into the fast-food category is pretty high. There isn’t one restaurant that specializes in healthy food options. Even at the Hometown Café, where I make a real effort to offer some more healthy food options, you need to make choices wisely! I try to help you with that in the meal descriptions, but it is still up to you.

Another aspect of living in such a remote location is that you have to travel to get many things. An occasional trip to Philipsburg, Hays, Manhattan, Kearney or farther is almost unavoidable. What is also inevitable is having to stop along the way for at least one meal in a restaurant. With so few restaurants in Smith Center, that is even something that we all look forward to! Remaining on even a moderate diet like the DASH diet can be a challenge on a trip like that.

My response to the “eating out won’t hurt you” statement is always the same. It won’t hurt you if you plan ahead and educate yourself a little! First of all, if you are eating a plant-based whole foods diet, you may need to take food with you or eat before you go. I know that is hard, but I did it for over a year while I was starting, and if I can do it, you all can do it as well! If you are on a low-carb diet (hopefully temporarily so), you may need to do the same thing. If you are on a moderate diet like the DASH diet, you may be able to fit a trip to a restaurant into your daily macronutrient paraments.

Let’s take a look at what you might eat in some local restaurants and see if it would hurt you or not.

Here’s a reminder of the daily macronutrient paraments for a six-foot-tall male. Keep in mind that if you are shorter and-or female, your daily macronutrient needs will be lower.

For a 2,100-calorie diet

  • 27% of calories from fat
    (567 calories or 63 grams)
  • 6% of calories from saturated fat
    (126 calories or 14 grams or less)
  • 150 mg or less of cholesterol
  • 1,500-2,300 mg or less of sodium
  • 30 grams or more of fiber

Pizza Hut is a popular restaurant in Smith Center. There are some high-fat options on the menu, and everything is at least a little high in sodium because the main ingredient, cheese, is high in both fat and sodium. If you order something called a cheese-lover or meat-lover, you are in for a boatload of fat and sodium. I am sure we all know that. As a healthier pizza option, Pizza Hut has a new Fit ‘n Delicious pizza, which uses a thinner crust, less cheese and leaner toppings, but I could not order from our local Pizza Hut Store online. I will try to order a Fit ‘n Delicious pizza today in the store and report back on that next week. Instead, I have selected a thin & crispy crust with cheese only. Here’s what you can expect in 3 slices of a large pie.

Pizza Hut Thin & Crispy Pizza, Cheese Only, 3 Large Slices

  • 780 calories
  • 33 grams fat
  • 6 grams saturated fat
  • 35 mg cholesterol
  • 740 mg sodium

You are going to gobble up 1/3 of your daily allotment for calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in about 15 minutes during one meal. If you are only trying to remain within DASH parameters, then you are fine. As I say when describing some meals at the Hometown Café, you will have to fit this meal into your diet by eating moderately for the other two meals of the day. If you have heart disease, you might not want any cholesterol or saturated fat; if you have high blood pressure, that is probably too much sodium for one meal. I like to aim for under 500 mg of sodium per meal to ensure that I can come in under 2,000 by the end of the day.

Depending on what your diet goals are, the trip to Pizza Hut might not hurt you.

Center Fire Pizza will also do whatever you want on a pizza, including using less cheese and oil, and they also have salads that they are willing to alter to match your diet if you ask them to. If I am doing OK with my weight and cholesterol, you might see me at Center Fire a couple of times a year. They do a great job on a thinner and healthier type of crust.

If I am not mistaken, Sonic is the only National chain burger place we have near us. I can’t eat one anymore, but I dearly love a fast-food burger! Below is a basic meal. Note that there is no drink. I would get a diet Coke which has nothing in it, but if you are a milkshake nut, you will have to increase the macronutrients in this meal significantly!

One Sonic Quarter Pound Double Cheeseburger

  • 570 calories
  • 34 grams fat
  • 14 grams saturated fat
  • 105 mg cholesterol
  • 1500 mg sodium

Sonic Large Fries

  • 470 calories
  • 22 grams fat
  • 4 grams saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 490 mg sodium

Full Sonic Meal

  • 1040 calories
  • 56 grams fat
  • 16 grams saturated fat
  • 105 mg cholesterol
  • 1990 mg sodium

This meal represents half of the calories for the entire day, the full allotment of sodium and saturated fat for the day, seven grams shy of all fat and 46 mg short of all cholesterol for the day. If you add even a small milkshake, that will put you over all DASH diet parameters for the day in just one meal. Remember, these DASH diet parameters are for a six-foot male! You could make a better choice than any national burger chain for a meal.

For Casey’s, I selected breakfast. I would have two breakfast sandwiches and probably two hash browns, but I just decided on one here. Ham is always a better fat selection with breakfast than high-fat breakfast meats.

Casey’s Ham, Egg and Cheese Croissant (2)

  • 695 calories
  • 18.3 grams fat
  • 6.6 grams saturated fat
  • 141.7 mg cholesterol
  • 886.7 mg sodium

Casey’s Hash Browns

  • 140 calories
  • 7 grams fat
  • 2 grams saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 270 mg sodium

Casey’s Breakfast Meal

  • 835 calories
  • 25.3grams fat
  • 8.6 grams saturated fat
  • 141.7 mg cholesterol
  • 1156.7 mg sodium

Frankly, I was surprised by how few calories and how little fat is in this meal. It does have one-third of the fat and half of the saturated fat for the day, but I thought it would be higher. Sodium and cholesterol didn’t disappoint, though. It has almost the entire day’s cholesterol allotment and over half of the daily sodium allotment. You can fit this into the DASH diet, but boy, you will have to really know what you are doing, be highly motivated and like that croissant sandwich a whole lot!

Not every option at Subway is as good as the one below. This is one of the better restaurant meals available anywhere. Because you can find a Subway in just about every large international airport, this has been my go-to travel meal for decades.

Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, Multigrain bread, fat-free sweet onion sauce.

  • 330 calories
  • 4 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 50 mg cholesterol
  • 790 mg sodium

If you are serious about taking weight off and keeping it off, educating yourself about restaurant menus is something you will have to do. Planning for day trips and knowing what food options are available ahead of time can save you from a minefield of diet stumbling blocks that can derail your diet efforts.

Have a great week!

Here are the references for today’s Healthy Eating Tip.

Beaulac J, Kristjansson E, Cummins S. A systematic review of food deserts, 1966-2007. Preventing Chronic Disease 2009;6(3):A105. (Accessed 7/23/2021).

Dutko P, Ver Ploeg M, Farrigan T. Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. United States

Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Report Number 140 (ERR-140). August 2012. (Accessed 7/23/2021).

Ver Ploeg M, Breneman V, Farrigan T et al. Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress. Economic Research Services. Administrative Publication No. (AP-036). June 2009. . (Accessed 7/23/2021).