Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Bar Food

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Onion Rings vs. French Fries vs. Cheese Fries
Obviously, they’re all high in calories, but the onion rings and french fries are pretty close at approximately 500 calories (6 ounces); adding cheese to the fries makes matters even worse by upping the calories to more than 700. And don’t forget that when you’re sitting at a bar, you’re likely to be served a whole basketful of fries or rings with as many as 1,500 calories.

Pretzels vs. Bar Nuts vs. Asian Rice Crackers vs. Goldfish
Pretzels are the lowest-calorie choice. One ounce (about a handful) of Rold Gold pretzels has 110 calories. The Asian rice cracker mix is slightly higher at 130 calories per ounce, and then there’s the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers: 55 of them are 150 calories. Now an ounce of peanuts (again about a handful, or 30–35) has about 160 calories, but peanuts offer more nutrients than pretzels, including protein and healthy fat. If the bar serves cashews instead of peanuts, you’re looking at 18 nuts for about the same number of calories. Whatever your choice, try not to keep the bowl in front of you, take a handful, put it on a napkin and move the bowl far away.

Olives vs. Hard-boiled Eggs
As far as calories, olives are the better deal here. Four jumbo olives have about 30 calories, whereas one hard-boiled egg has 75 calories. But both are really good choices. Eggs serve up plenty of nutrition – one egg has 6 grams of protein, and olives are a good source of monounsaturated (“good”) fats and vitamin E.

Personal Pan Pizza vs. Garlic Bread with Cheese vs. Wings
A single slice of pizza is actually not bad, but at the bar you’re typically served a 6-inch personal pizza (a regular pizza is about 14 inches across and has eight slices), which has about 600–700 calories — not counting added toppings. Nonetheless, pizza might be your best bet. One 2.5-ounce piece of garlic bread (probably dripping in oil) has 140–170 calories without any cheese. Add another 75 to 100 calories for each ounce of cheese, and you’re looking at about 240 calories for one piece — not a very good deal. As far as wings go, they’re deep fried and they’re small. Four chicken wings with hot sauce (4 ounces) have at least 220 calories, but the real calorie buster is the blue cheese dressing — 305 calories in 4 tablespoons.

Potato Skins with Cheese vs. Fried Breaded Mushrooms
A 10-ounce potato is packed with nutrients (fiber, potassium and vitamin C) and has only 270 calories, but watch out for the extras — sour cream, butter, bacon and cheese — which add up to at least 500 or 600 calories. Potato skins are even worse. A typical 12-ounce serving with cheese and bacon comes in at more than 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat (at least 40 grams saturated). And here’s the kicker — that’s before you add sour cream. Fried mushrooms are not a great option, either: Five fried mushrooms have about 200 calories and 13 grams of fat. Your best bet is to order a baked potato plain and add salsa.

Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce vs. Fried Clams vs. Oysters vs. Poppers
Each 1-ounce fish stick has about 70 calories, and 1 tablespoon of tartar sauce has about 75 calories (it’s made with mayo). So an average serving of five fish sticks with tartar sauce can easily run you about 700–800 calories. Fried clams (which are also breaded), are a little better at 380 calories for 20 small clams. Two jalapeno poppers (about 2 ounces) made with cream cheese have 140 calories — if you can stop at just two. Raw oysters have about 40 calories each, so even if you eat five or six, they’ll be your best option with only 200–240 calories.

Cheese Quesadillas vs. Chicken Strips vs. Mini Burgers
A 5-ounce mozzarella cheese quesadilla has 450–500 calories. Five chicken strips (10 ounces) have approximately 700 calories. In contrast, a single mini burger (sold by the half-dozen) contains around 230–250 calories, including the bun, and add an extra 30–50 calories if you have it with cheese. So if you have three minis with cheese, you’re looking at least 800 calories — not to mention the fact that they usually come with fries or onion rings, tacking on an extra 500 calories or so. Share your burgers with two other people — and limit yourself to no more than two minis.

Chips and Salsa vs. Nachos
Go with the chips and salsa over the nachos. One ounce of tortilla chips with 1/2 cup of salsa has 175 calories, whereas an order of nachos with cheese “costs” 1,100 calories — so spread the wealth among lots of friends. And what if you add guacamole? Just 1 tablespoon — probably the amount you use on each chip — adds 20 calories. Sour cream has about 30 calories for each tablespoon.

Mozzarella Sticks vs. Fried Calamari vs. Fried Zucchini
Fried calamari usually comes in a hefty 3-cup serving — that’s about 900 calories before you even start using the mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. And although each 1-ounce mozzarella stick has about 90 calories, you’ll probably wind up eating at least four or five — that’s 360 to 450 calories. The better choice is a 5-ounce serving of fried zucchini, which has 320 calories.

Diet Pro
Here are a few tips to help keep those calories down while snacking at the bar:

  • Have a snack before you get to the bar: don’t go hungry!
  • Set food limits before you get there: having a plan helps you stay on track.
  • Order your food before you start drinking.
  • Drink wine or light beer.
  • After your first round, order a diet soda or ask for water.
  • Choose the foods that are most satisfying in the smallest quantities.
  • Don’t waste calories on foods you don’t really like.
  • Try asking for half orders.
  • Share your order with your friends.
  • If the bar serves popcorn, that’s always your best bet.
  • Move bowls of nuts or other high-calorie snacks on the bar out of reach.

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