More than a dozen corporations, working in conjunction with the American Heart Association (AHA), now provide menus with reduced total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
Despite this promising trend, consumers may still have some trouble figuring out how much fat and cholesterol they consume when dining out: the AHA refuses to divulge what criteria it uses to label these meals "low fat" and "low cholesterol."
In addition, consumers need to be diet savvy. One meal featuring a broiled ground-beef hamburger is described by an American Airlines spokesman as having no saturated fat -- an impossible feat, according to several dietitians.
Among the AHA participants in the Washington area:
* American Airlines offers the "American Traveler" menu, which must be ordered six hours before a flight. Meals are touted to contain no saturated fat and 50 mg or less of dietary cholesterol.
* Houlihan's, a nationwide chain of restaurants with one location in Georgetown and another in Chevy Chase, offers a "light" menu featuring more than a dozen low-cholesterol, low-saturated fat entrees, appetizers and deserts. Low-sodium meals are also offered.
* Marriott hotels provide a "Good for You" menu featuring skim milk, egg-substitute omelets and other low-cholesterol, low-saturated-fat entrees.
* Sheraton hotels feature an "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" menu in selected restaurants.
* Sizzler's Family Steak Houses, a nationwide chain with locations in surburban Maryland, also offers some AHA-approved meals.
Also, The Four Seasons hotels offer "The Alternative Menu," with meals reduced in fat, calories and cholesterol. The meals are prepared in consultation with food author Jeanne Jones but are not AHA approved.