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Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


The Diet Detective

Belly up to the bar without blowing up your belly

Special to The Seattle Times

Sitting at the bar with your friends, having a cocktail or two and watching sports, can make for a fun evening.

The problem is that just a few drinks can add up to 500 or 600 calories, and if you order food as well, you can reach the 1,500- to 2,000-calorie range in no time. The following should help you to make better bar-food choices or, at the very least, make you more aware of what you're eating.

Onion rings vs. French fries vs. cheese fries

They're all high in calories, but the French fries and onion rings are pretty close, at approximately 500 calories for 6 ounces. Adding cheese to the fries makes matters worse by upping the calories to more than 700. And 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: 1 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.

Raising the bar-food bar

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 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.

An ounce of peanuts (again, about a handful, or 30 to 35) has about 160 calories, but peanuts offer more nutrients than pretzels, including protein and healthy fat. 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 go, olives are the better deal. Four jumbo olives have about 30 calories, whereas one hard-boiled egg has 75.

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, which has about 600 to 700 calories — not counting toppings. Nonetheless, pizza might be your best bet. One 2.5-ounce piece of garlic bread has 140 to 170 calories without 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.

Wings are 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 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 regular, plain baked potato 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. So an average serving of five fish sticks with tartar sauce can easily run about 700 to 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 to 240 calories.

Cheese quesadillas vs. chicken strips vs. mini-burgers

A 5-ounce mozzarella cheese quesadilla has 450 to 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 to 250 calories, including the bun, but add an extra 30 to 50 calories if you have it with cheese.

So if you have three minis with cheese, you're looking at 800 calories at least — plus, they usually come with fries or onion rings, tacking on another 500 calories or so. Share your burgers with others — and limit yourself to no more than two minis.

Chips and salsa vs. nachos

Go with the chips and salsa. One ounce of tortilla chips with cup of salsa has 175 calories, whereas an order of nachos with cheese "costs" 1,100 calories. And just 1 tablespoon of guacamole (even though it's heart healthy) — 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 — and that's 360 to 450 calories.

The better choice is a 5-ounce serving of fried zucchini, which has 320 calories.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, author of "Breaking the Pattern" (Plume, 2005) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions.

Copyright 2006, by Charles Stuart Platkin



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