From sneaky sodium traps to dicey dishes that put you at risk for food poisoning, these are the menu item you’re better off skipping.


You know to pass on the deep-fried food and the dessert the size of your head, but what about the green smoothie or the yogurt parfait? Restaurants have a way of loading calories and sugar into healthy-sounding orders. And then there are food safety issues to consider; some menu items carry a higher risk of foodborne illness than others. To help you order smarter the next time you eat out, I have compiled this list of dishes to rule out.


The medium-rare burger:

When ground beef isn’t cooked to the proper temperature (160 degrees F), nasty bacteria may remain (think “fecal contamination”). According to a recent Consumer Reports study, an undercooked burger is riskier than an undercooked steak because harmful microbes tend to be mixed throughout ground beef, whereas with whole cuts of meat, the microbes are more likely to stay on the surface and die off when exposed to heat. Ask for your burger cooked to at least medium.


Rum (or vodka) and diet soda:

A small study from Northern Kentucky University found that pairing booze with a diet drink may actually enhance the effects of alcohol. Subjects who drank that combination had a 25% higher breath alcohol concentration than when they drank cocktails with a non-diet mixer. The researchers point out that the lower calorie count isn’t worth it. In addition to the obvious risks, eating while buzzed makes it harder to resist temptations.


The value meal:

It can be tempting to order off the value menu at a fast food restaurant to get the most bang for your buck. But one double cheeseburger, fries, and a drink could add up to 1,100 calories and nearly 50 grams of fat. And chowing down may have immediate consequences. Research from the Journal of Nutrition found that after healthy people ate a high-fat meal, their blood pressure was higher when faced with a stressor compared to when they ate a low-fat one.


A doggie bag—if you’re not headed straight home

Cooked foods should not be at room temperature longer than two hours. When cooked foods are between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, that’s when bacteria rapidly multiply to the point where you can get really sick. If you’re going out to a concert or a movie after dinner, don’t bother packing up your leftovers. Leaving the doggie bag in the car is just asking for trouble.


Drinks with free refills:

Having seltzer? Fine. Black coffee? Also good (just limit yourself to about three cups). But soda or sweetened ice tea? Not so much. A soda at a popular restaurant chain packs around 120 calories. Not bad—until you consider it has 33 grams of sugar, the equivalent of more than 8 teaspoons of the white stuff. Get one refill or two, and you’ve suddenly sucked down 24 teaspoons of sugar. That’s four times the amount of added sugar the American Heart Association recommends women have in an entire day.



Frozen yogurt has a reputation as a healthier alternative to ice cream. And you can make it a smart choice if you do it right. However, know that a serving size is a measly 4 ounces. And that small amount can pack on as many as 32 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 8 teaspoons) even before you add toppings like chips (another 20 grams of sugar), coconut flakes (11 grams of sugar), or yogurt chips (20 grams of sugar). Compared to a half cup of ice cream—which has just 14 grams of sugar and a similar amount of calories—fro-yo isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. If you want a frozen treat that’s actually low calorie and good for you, try dairy-free chocolate and banana ice cream.


Green smoothie:

Yup, those veggie-laden beverages can be quite deceptive. One popular chain combines kale and avocado—plus frozen yogurt, juice, and sugar. No wonder it’s got 70 grams of sugar and nearly 500 calories. Often, these places will put a lot of fruit and fruit juice into the smoothie to compensate for the green flavor. This is a dessert. It is not a snack. A smoothie snack shouldn’t be more than 250 calories.