Mediterranean Diet at Italian Chains? Fuhgeddaboudit!

"Go occasionally, not regularly," Kavanagh said. "Split entrees, and tell the waiter or waitress not to bring the breadsticks at Olive Garden."

"They've got to get a salad with a monounsaturated oil [dressing], a limited amount of pasta -- not all you can eat -- and consider an entree that is not pasta-based," said Dr. Ken Fujioka, medical director for the Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management in La Jolla, Calif. "Concentrate on veggies, fruit, and protein, and limit starch. Also, red sauces only -- no white cream sauces."

And past president of the American Dietetic Association Connie Diekman noted there is even a good solution to the portion problem.

"If the portion is large, I get the take-home container right away," Diekman said. "I divide the portion into what I'm going to eat now and put the rest into the container. While dining out almost always means more calories than when dining at home, as consumers we can control what we choose to eat at the restaurant and what we take home for the next day or the next several days."

But most important, Ayoob notes, is that consumers should also open their eyes -- not just their mouths -- to what they are eating.

"Some consumers may operate on a 'Don't ask, don't tell' basis," he said. "They may consider information like this as 'spoiling their fun'; they still deserve to make an informed choice, however."

"Knowledge is power, and you can't know how to change if you don't know what you're doing."

And if you're really yearning for a taste of the Mediterranean, you might be best off bringing it into your own kitchen.

"If you are truly interested in following a Mediterranean eating plan, make time to get acquainted with your own kitchen at home," Blackburn said. "Fill your fridge with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and enjoy healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, legumes) in moderation."

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