A Mass General nutritionist offers tips on making smarter menu choices and avoiding restaurant dishes that only sound healthy.

Going out to eat a restaurant is a way to be social, relax, and spend time with loved ones. But even if you are trying to order smartly, you can still end up overeating. Below are seven assumptions that can get you into hot water when dining out.

1. Sushi is a safe bet
Sure, it’s fish. But the calories can quickly add up. A salmon and avocado roll has 300 calories, as does a spicy tuna roll. The calories increase even more with tempura-fried rolls, which may contain up to 500 calories.

Suggestion: Select 1 or 2 rolls (without mayo or fried ingredients) and pair them with seaweed salad, miso soup, or edamame.

Since you are not in the kitchen, it is hard to know just how much butter or oil is being added to your meal.

2. Always opt for a salad
Most dressed side salads will have fewer than 300 calories. But add toppings and the calories compound quickly. A grilled chicken Caesar salad will typically run you 600 to 800 calories. A salad topped with items like bacon, nuts, cheese, and fried ingredients (including croutons, which are often deep-fried) can easily reach 1,000 calories.

Suggestion: A vegetable-based salad paired with soup can offer a lower calorie meal that won’t leave you uncomfortably full.

3. A ½ pound Angus burger means quality meat
There is nothing superior about Angus beef. Angus is a common cattle breed and the designation “certified angus beef” is a brand that sells over 2 million pounds of product a day. And that ½ pound portion? That’s eight ounces: double what’s often recommended for a serving of protein.

Suggestion: If you are craving a burger, aim to eat half of your half-pounder or try to cut down on the other extras you might also be tempted to order.

4. Eating upscale will save calories
The portions may be smaller, but you still have to watch what you’re eating. A 3-ounce portion of pork belly (the size of a deck of cards) contains 450 calories. ¼ cup of chicken liver mousse or pate (about the size of a golf ball) has 250 calories: and that’s before you add bread (about 80 calories per slice).

Suggestion: Save this sort of eating for special occasions only.

 Many appetizer options have 500-1000 calories (or more) per item. Spinach and artichoke dip? 1200 calories.
Many appetizer options have 500-1000 calories (or more) per item. Spinach and artichoke dip? 1200 calories.

5. You can’t go wrong with salmon
Salmon is high in omega-3 fats, but it’s often served as an 8-ounce portion. Also, fish may get basted with butter as it cooks (which can be done with other seafood options, chicken, and steak, too). This means your salmon could set you back 500 calories, without even adding in any sides.

Suggestion: Ask for a to-go box and take half your entrée home.

6. Split appetizers to control calories
Splitting is better than eating a whole appetizer yourself, but many options have 500-1000 calories (or more) per item. Spinach and artichoke dip? 1200 calories. Cheese fries? 2000 calories. Fried pickles with mayo? 800 calories. Fried calamari? 900 calories. Coconut shrimp? 500 calories.

Suggestion: If you order appetizers regularly, look for options that rely on grilled protein and vegetables.

7. Avoid fried foods and you’ll forgo fat
A restaurant chef is trained—first and foremost—in flavor, which often means adding fat in ways you wouldn’t expect. Since you are not in the kitchen, it is hard to know just how much butter or oil is being added to your meal. Studies have correlated eating out more than one time per week with a higher weight and increased risk of disease. This is not simply limited to fast food or chain-restaurants either. In fact, in a recent study featuring some Boston-area restaurants, meals ranging from lasagna to beef pho and Greek salad were all about 1,000 calories or more.

Suggestion: Limit dining out to one time per week and pack more meals, instead of purchasing them at work or on-the-go.

Wondering what your daily calorie budget is? Check here for generalized recommendations.

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and works extensively with Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.