Diets That Let You Eat Out

Even on a diet, you can enjoy a meal out. Here are 7 restaurant-friendly diets.

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Diet and keep your ties with your favorite restaurants, too? Sure. Plenty of plans are restaurant-friendly, at least up to a point—with some you might have to ask the waiter to put half your meal in a doggie bag before your first bite, or you may have to stick to a no-frills garden salad. Even with restrictions, diets that allow dining out tend to be easier to follow than those that ban or frown upon restaurant meals, since they're generally flexible and recognize the importance of arousing taste buds once in a while, say experts. 

Of the 25 diets U.S. News evaluated for its second annual Best Diets rankings, these 7 say "yes" to restaurant meals. Listed by their Best Weight-Loss Diets ranking, they are:

Weight Watchers. The Weight Watchers Dining Out Companion gives the nutritional lowdown on meals at hundreds of restaurants, as well as tips on making healthy substitutions. Heading out for Italian? You'll learn that eggplant parmigiana has a higher PointsPlus value than either veal or chicken varieties, and that 1/2 cup of fried clams "costs" five points less than an equal serving of fried calamari. (Dieters must stick to a certain number of points each day; choices with lower numbers are best.) This comprehensive manual makes dining out not only doable, but easier than on other plans.

Volumetrics Diet. Once you've identified the menu choices with lower energy density—those with the fewest calories per gram—order up. Minding the diet's central rule is a cinch with The Volumetrics Eating Plan, which includes tips for restaurant-goers. You'll be less likely to wolf down your entire entrée, for example, if you order a low-calorie soup or salad for starters. Avoid fattening dressings, go easy on the nuts and seeds, and pass the bread to your dining partner to keep your calorie count low.

[Best Weight-Loss Diets]

Slim-Fast. It's OK to replace a Slim-Fast meal bar or shake with a restaurant meal, as long as lunch stays around 300 calories and dinner doesn't blow past 600. Choosing grilled or roasted over fried or sautéed entrées and requesting dressing and sauce on the side can help you stay on target.

[Best Diets Overall]

Vegetarian Diet. Most restaurants offer plenty of vegetarian-friendly entrées. And Google can guide you to veggie-only spots, or those specializing in vegan cheese pizza or faux meats, such as Kung Pao "chicken." But keep in mind that vegetarian doesn't always mean healthy, and restaurant portions are often oversized.

[What Makes a Diet Easy to Follow?]

Flat Belly Diet. This plan requires one serving of a monounsaturated fatty acid with every meal, so bring along 2 tablespoons of nuts in case MUFAs aren't on the menu. The Flat Belly Diet! Pocket Guide lists acceptable dishes at an array of popular restaurants, from pizzerias and Chinese buffets to sushi joints and delis. Choices might include a slice of cheese pizza, a side salad splashed with vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of your own pine nuts; or five pieces of tuna roll sushi with a cup of steamed brown rice and 2 tablespoons of cashews.

[What Makes a Healthy Diet?]

Abs Diet. The Abs Diet Eat Right Every Time Guide IDs the best and worst choices at fast-food joints, sports bars, bagel shops, and more. Not only does it describe menu items in detail, but it includes calorie, fat, and sodium counts. At Dairy Queen, for example, two hotdogs and a small chocolate sundae is a healthier choice than a chicken strip basket and medium chocolate malt. And at Dunkin' Donuts, an old fashioned cake donut is worse than the jelly-filled kind.

[ Best Diabetes Diets] Dukan Diet. Stick to its approved foods list and you're golden. What's more, options are tasty and won't dampen the restaurant experience. During phase 1, try steak with a side of shrimp; during phase 2, throw in steamed veggies. Just make sure the chef doesn't add oil or butter; although nothing is technically off limits during the diet's final phase , even then, these ingredients should be a rarity. Treating yourself to dessert is OK, too—one commonly recommended option, for example, is pairing coffee with a fruit-flavored yogurt.