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Partying — or dining out in company — is not simply a pit stop for the refuelling of the body. It is a convivium, and to that extent should be a feeding of the soul and spirit, too. It can't be

that if you 're grimly chomping your way through dip-less crudites while everyone else is having a ball.

Without dumping healthy eating for the gourmet approach, there are ways you can make life easier for yourself (and for the rest of the company) when you dine socially:

Beware of guilt when you visit or party with well-

meaning relatives and friends. It's still customary for many people to equate how much you eat with how much you love

them or how much you appreciate their culinary efforts. Let them know ahead of time that you're working to cut down on fats and cholesterol. Taste small portions from their spreads and reward them with sincere compliments rather than with burps. Rid yourself of the notion that you've got to eat to please others.

At parties, exercise control over alcohol. Drinking is often paired with social occasions where higher-fat foods are often available. You can use up a day's worth of fat calories on the hors d'oeuvres alone if you're not careful. In particular, do not drink on an empty stomach; alcohol brings your worst food cravings to the fore. Also, in the same way that alcohol can loosen social inhibitions, it might make you more lax about the food you eat. If it's a cocktail party you're at and you feel you must have a glass in hand, make it a soda-and-lime, a lemon squash, an orange juice, a Virgin Mary or a Virgin Pina Colada.

In a restaurant, ask the maitre d' for low-fat menu suggestions, or ask him to consult the chef on what alterations can be made to a typical dish.

An aperitif is, by definition, an alcoholic appetizer, but since you're turning eating conventions on their head anyway, what's one more? Instead of a beer or wine, have a jal jeera, nimbu pani or nariel pani.

Restaurants offering all-you-can-eat thalis and buffets tempt you to eat all too much!

Buffets also offer you no option to order foods prepared the way you like.

Names in a menu listing can be misleading. "Macaroni salad" sounds healthful enough, but it's made with mayonnaise and if you don't know that, you could end up with an unhappy choice. Other salads that come with greasy dressings are potato, coleslaw and pasta salads.

As a rule of thumb, choose grilled, broiled, poached or steamed foods: avoid creamed, buttered, fried foods, or those with a cheese sauce.

The "Chef's Special" is almost always a fat trap.

Request that added fats, such as salad dressings, sauces and coconut chutneys be left off or put on the side.

And if it's a rich blend, such as blue cheese dressing (90 calories a tablespoon), use a teaspoon, not a tablespoon, to flavour up.

Better still, dip your fork into it before taking a bite.

Ask whether side-bars can be changed: from French fries to steamed vegetables, for instance.

Choose tomato-based sauces and soups, instead of cream-based soups like vichysoisse, or soups topped with cheese such as French Onion Soup. Clear soups are the best.

A few Indian restaurants (so far, unfortunately only at the top end of the scale) offer salad bars where you can put together your own salad from a range of ingredients. Just watch it with the dressing, and with toppings like croutons and cheese,

Prefer plain broiled fish to batter-fried.

Choose vegetable toppings for pizza instead of extra cheese.

Ask that foods made in oil or butter be sauteed in wine instead. (Only top-of-the-line Indian restaurants can — or will — accede to this request).

If you're going to an ethnic eatery, you should be at least moderately acquainted with the particular cuisine. If you're not, do ask what menu names or descriptions mean. Some can be red signals for fat. On a French menu, for instance, anything prepared remoulade refers to a mayonnaise sauce.

In a Chinese restaurant, whole steamed fish with sauce on the side is good choice. Simple stir-fries are also fine, except that most Chinese eateries in India use too much oil in the stir-fries. Avoid dishes such as crispy fried beef, fried won-tons and American chop suey. Stick with steamed rice rather than fried rice. Avoid breaded dishes and items loaded with nuts.

Low-fat Thai fare includes lemon grass soups; stir-fried noodles and sprouts; lightly sauteed meats. Avoid the coconut-based soups and curries, or deep-fried offerings like royal tofu and peanut sauce.     

Pick your way carefully through a Mexican menu.

Gazpacho, grilled meats or seafood, chicken fajitas, black bean soup, plain corn tortillas with a salsa dip, soft chicken tacos or beans in a soft tortilla are among the wiser options.

Those to avoid: crisp tacos; salted chips with salsa; guacamole; beef burrito with cheese and sour cream; cheese enchiladas; retried beans; fried dishes like beef chimichanga; quesadilla.

A French restaurant can always dish up fish grilled

without butter even if it's not on the menu. Stews like ratatouille or bouillabaisse are okay. So are dishes with sauces labelled coulis.

In an Italian restaurant, good appetizers are minestrone soup, Cioppino (seafood soup), or steamed mussels in a red sauce (if the portion size is largish last can also be a main dish). Pasta with a vetgetable- or tomato- or wine-based sauce is fine, so is pasta e fagioli, or spaghetti with marinara. But avoid pasta with meat sauce, or a cream-based sauce, or loaded with cheese: eg. fettucini Alfredo (pasta with a cream sauce) and cannelloni (cheese-filled pasta).

Other high-fat pitfalls: fried calamari and eggplant parmigiana.

Stick with plain bread instead of garlic bread which is made with butter or oil.

If the cuisine is Japanese, yakitori (meats grilled on a skewer) is a good choice as are sunomono (cucumber salad) and teriyaki.

Tempura, which is fried, is not. Nor are other dishes under the heading of agemono (which means deep-fried). Other selections to avoid: tonkatsu (fried pork) and torikatsu (fried chicken).

(Sushi and other raw fish stand up well in the fat stakes, but because of the increasing contamination of fish you need to exercise caution).

When portion choices are available, order half portions; restaurant serving sizes generally weigh down on the side of excess.

(If portion choices are unavailable, eat half and ask them to bag the rest so you can take it home.)

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