How to make takeout healthy

by W. Gifford-Jones M.D. and Diana Gifford-Jones
Common Sense Health

Eating takeout meals can be a way of life, often driven by the necessity for fast, convenient food. During the pandemic, enthusiasts for restaurant dining have created a surge in demand for takeout meals. Unfortunately, fast food outlets have never been beacons of nutritional value. But have times changed? With the plethora of new home meal delivery services and more conscious consumers, is it possible to eat healthy delivery or pickup meals?

Here are three tips.

First, watch out for sugar and salt. Today, most sodium consumed is from added salt during commercial food processing. Fast food outlets often use high levels of salt. Restaurants also tend to use excess salt. One study by Tufts University found that a single full-service meal contained more than twice the daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

Sodium is found in soups, bread, processed meats, sauces and dressings. So, look carefully at the menu and enquire about low sodium options. Even if it is not offered on the menu, ask if you can swap French fries for a healthy fruit cup or cottage cheese.

Processed meat such as pepperoni, bacon, sausage, deli turkey and ham have been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature death. So, always think of moderation when choosing these foods.

Try to order seafood and poultry, looking for dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled, and steamed, rather than ones that are deep fried, breaded and served with butter and cream sauce.

Avoiding meat altogether is an option. Instead, select from minimally processed plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The potassium in these foods helps to counter the effect of excessive amounts of sodium in other foods.

Go for high fiber bread, crackers, cereals and snacks, as fibre in the diet lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and even constipation.

Avoid sugary drinks and enormous desserts that contribute little good to your health.

The second tip is to limit portion sizes. Tufts researchers show how difficult it is to limit calories. One study showed that some restaurant meals (even without the drinks, appetizers, or dessert) contained more calories than recommended for an entire day for an average adult!

Studies also show that when people are presented with more food than they require, they will eat it. Many restaurants are overly generous with serving sizes. So order half sizes, split a meal with someone else, or choose appetizers instead of an entrée. When ordering delivered meals involving large quantities of food, set aside a portion for a subsequent meal.

The third tip is to be careful about falling victim to the convenience of take-out and delivery.

Instead of relying on services that bring food to you, make the effort to go to where healthier food options are available. For example, take the time to go for a walk to a take-out meal and get some much-needed outdoor refreshment. Have a picnic in a park.

Delivery services are wonderful, but they reinforce a sedentary lifestyle. Even the time spent standing while cooking in the kitchen is easily lost when a delivered meal becomes the ideal companion to the couch and more screen time.

Give it a try. Find a neighbourhood restaurant having healthy choices. Build time into your day for a walk to pick-up food.

Take your own water bottle. Eat smaller portions while enjoying the scene in a nearby park. With the walk back home, you will feel satiated, refreshed, and healthier.

The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments,

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Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the pseudonym of Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, MD) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in Gynecology at Harvard. His storied medical career began as a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon, and hotel doctor. For more than 40 years, he specialized in gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health. In 1975, he launched his weekly medical column that has been published by national and local Canadian and U.S. newspapers. Today, the readership remains over seven million. His advice contains a solid dose of common sense and he never sits on the fence with controversial issues. He is the author of nine books including, “The Healthy Barmaid”, his autobiography “You’re Going To Do What?”, “What I Learned as a Medical Journalist”, and “90+ How I Got There!” Many years ago, he was successful in a fight to legalize heroin to help ease the pain of terminal cancer patients. His foundation at that time donated $500,000 to establish the Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care at the University of Toronto Medical School. At 93 years of age he rappelled from the top of Toronto’s City Hall (30 stories) to raise funds for children with a life-threatening disease through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. His hobby is trap shooting. He is married to Susan and has four children and twelve grandchildren.Diana MacKay writes in collaboration with her father under the pen name, Diana Gifford-Jones. The daughter of W. Gifford-Jones, MD, Diana has extensive global experience in health and healthcare policy. Diana is Special Advisor with The Aga Khan University, which operates 2 quaternary care hospitals and numerous secondary hospitals, medical centres, pharmacies, and laboratories in South Asia and Africa. She worked for ten years in the Human Development sectors at the World Bank, including health policy and economics, nutrition, and population health. For over a decade at The Conference Board of Canada, she managed four health-related executive networks, including the Roundtable on Socio-Economic Determinants of Health, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, the Canadian Centre for Environmental Health, and the Centre for Health System Design and Management. Her master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government included coursework at Harvard Medical School. She is also a graduate of Wellesley College. She has extensive experience with Canadian universities, including at Carleton University, where she was the Executive Director of the Global Academy. She lived and worked in Japan for four years and speaks Japanese fluently. Diana has the designation as a certified Chartered Director from The Directors College, a joint venture of The Conference Board of Canada and McMaster University. She has recently published a book on the natural health philosophy of W. Gifford-Jones, called No Nonsense Health – Naturally!The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments,