My fondness for Taco Bell goes deep. There are times when the hunger for ersatz Tex-Mex will not be silenced. This craving dates back to college days in the late 1970s, when the closest restaurant to the student newspaper was a Taco Bell. The staff had a love-hate relationship with the chain.
“I’m going to Taco Death to pick up dinner. Does anyone want anything?” someone would shout as the evening deadlines approached.
Still a couple of bean burritos — vegetarian before its time, I guess — were filling and less than a dollar. For students, it was convenient and cheap — and in its own guilty pleasure way, kind of good.
Taco Bell hasn’t said much about the details for the new vegetarian menu. The chain’s website has a placeholder for vegetarian offerings consisting of what’s available now. And it’s relatively easy to assemble a vegetarian meal from what is already on the menu.
Some years back, Taco Bell promoted a series of “fresco” menu items that were intended to be healthier than the normal fare. Even though the fresco promotion is over, there are still calorie-conscious options that are under 350 calories and under 10 grams of fat each. Calorie-conscious is the key word there, because I wouldn’t call them exactly healthy.
The 150-calorie chicken soft taco “fresco style” gets 1/3 of its calories from fat and has 430 mg of sodium, which is a lot. The Centers for Disease Control urges American adults to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That is supposed to improve, too; the company also announced that it would reduce sodium by 25 percent by 2025.
So here’s hoping the chain is successful with adding more vegetables and reducing sodium, because sometimes the bell just rings. When that happens, I’ve gotta go get lunch. And don’t get me started on the guiltiest pleasure of all, the bacon breakfast crunchwrap.
About a year ago, I rebranded this website from The Restaurant Dieter to Healthy Restaurant Eating.com. I did not know at the time how wise that decision would be. I’m done with dieting.
And I’m no worse for it.
Yesterday, I weighed in at Weight Watchers. Without tracking and counting Weight Watchers points for two months now, I have remained in the same weight band I have been for the better part of a year. How have I managed? I have engaged in mindful eating — not at all the same as a diet — and gotten some exercise. I’ve added more nuts to my diet, whenever I feel like it. And I’ve stopped eating when I feel full.
These are the wise conclusions in a revealing new book called “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss.” Author Sandra Aamodt chronicles her own journey, along with tons of peer-reviewed scientific research that shows why this is a losing battle. Most interesting of all to me is the research that shows the very act of mentally focusing on the weight battle wears us down and results in…more eating.
WHY would dieting lead to weight gain? First, dieting is stressful. Calorie restriction produces stress hormones, which act on fat cells to increase the amount of abdominal fat. Such fat is associated with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease, regardless of overall weight.
Second, weight anxiety and dieting predict later binge eating, as well as weight gain. Girls who labeled themselves as dieters in early adolescencewere three times more likely to become overweight over the next four years. Another study found that adolescent girls who dieted frequently were 12 times more likely than non-dieters to binge two years later.
How credible is her work? Pretty credible. She has an undergraduate degree in biophysics, a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester and four years of post-doctoral research at Yale University, according to her biography. She’s also was the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal, Nature Neuroscience.
And her own journey will sound achingly familiar to those who have struggled with weight their entire lives.
This is no knock on Weight Watchers, which just this year changes to a new emphasis on eating mindfully, exercising and overall health. It’s called “Beyond the Scale.” In fact, though I am not tracking and writing things down, I am eating the way Weight Watchers recommends on its “Simply Filling” plan, which does not require the level of writing things down that the standard points-tracking plan does.
At some point, I might chuck Weight Watchers entirely, but not yet. I like being able to weigh in to keep my mind on my mindfulness, so to speak. And for a person just starting to get serious about living a healthy lifestyle, I’d still recommend it as a splendid way to get acclimated to eating the good food our bodies need more often.
The James Beard Awards have become the Oscars of the restaurant world in the 30 years the foodie world has doled them out. Atlanta typically fares pretty good — at least in the nominations phase. This year is no exception.
Staplehouse in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward was nominated for Best New Restaurant. I’ve eaten there, although not for a regular review. I was with friends who did all the paying and ordering. It was amazingly well-cooked food, and some of it was healthy if not quite low fat .
For example, a dish of roasted mushrooms, farro piccolo, sunflower and egg was earthy and filling in that way that whole grains are. (A half cup of uncooked farro is 170 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 6 of protein.) But it managed to taste rich and decadent at the same time, thanks to the oozy egg. Our table liked it so much that the host ordered a second. It is still on the constantly changing menu. Most of the rest of what we consumed that night is not, but it was all good.
Among the others mentioned, here’s what I can tell you
Robert Alexander of The General Muir was nominated for baking. On my one visit, the bread was great — especially on the best corned beef or Reuben sandwich in the city. Diet? Who knows?
Finally, something to drink: mint-cucumber water and unsweetened ice tea.
In my fantasy, a new branch of the Transportation Security Administration has taken over at U.S. airports. Instead of screening for terrorists, it screens for the kind of awful food that repels most people and makes dieters fat.
“Please empty your trucks of all huge cookies over 3 inches in diameter. All of them,” the stern TSA agent says when the restaurant supply truck arrives. “Fast food, too. I’m sorry, but there is no Chick-fil-A allowed beyond the screening point.”
Alas, Delta Airlines is subject to no such screening in real life, so the food at its many Sky Clubs is a mixed bag. The menu has undergone some experimentation in the last year or so, and more healthy choices have been added. I can remember a time when it was pretty much cocktails, beer and wine, soda, salty snacks and cookies.
Vegetables are always welcome
The most recent visit took me to the Sky Club on Concourse T of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for an evening flight. The club had recently been renovated. One area had been renovated to look like a little cafe with a buffet.
There were several new choices to cheer:
Cucumber and mint water and unsweetened ice tea. So many people have given up any soda, so this is a great addition.
Cauliflower florets, celery sticks, broccoli and baby carrots
Lightly salted popcorn
Oranges, apples, bananas
A Texas caviar made of black-eyed peas and vegetables
Less helpful were:
Those incredibly tempting salty snacks
The pimento cheese
The vegetables in this antipasto salad are sitting in a thick coating of fat.
The soups. Like most commercial soups, they are salty and set that salt craving binge in motion. One bowl and you’re binging the rest of the night.
An antipasto salad that was all vegetables, though soaked in a ton of oil
At breakfast, there are now hard-cooked eggs (though strangely perfectly formed and kind of tasteless), better-tasting yogurt and a citrus salad besides the huge, bready and nutritionally vapid bagels.
Getting lunch delivered sounds good, doesn’t it? In the way that Uber has disrupted taxi and limo service, UberEats hopes to do so with lunch delivery. For folks on Weight Watchers or other dieters, there’s nothing to celebrate just yet.
The service is available only in the most moneyed part of Atlanta — basically just south of downtown, up the Downtown Connector, and then up either Ga. 400 to Buckhead and I-85 almost to the Lindbergh area. So if you work in Decatur, you are plain out of luck.
Uber says ordering is “just as easy as requesting a ride.”
Open the Uber app and select the meal icon at the top.
Enter your location and tap VIEW MENU.
Place order and your meal will be curbside in minutes.
For those trying to eat healthy, the menu choices are limited. For example, nothing listed for Feb. 10 was particularly diet-friendly; for Feb. 12, there was an Asian salad that would be OK with the fried won tons removed and only a modest amount of the sesame dressing.
Naturally, there is no fiddling with the menu or the way a dish is prepared. All you can do is watch the weekly offerings and hope for the best.
Carnegie’s reputation in part comes from superhuman portions — typically 1 pound of meat per sandwich — and sharing charges that discourage sharing. Yes, I have in fact eaten a whole sandwich there. And yes, the restaurant’s motto is, “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong.”
Just for sport, The Restaurant Dieter Googled the phrases “Carnegie Deli” and “Weight Watchers” and this is all that came up.
You’d be justifed for wondering how an item about Carnegie turned up on this website. Well, it turns out that Carnegie Deli does in fact have some good salads on the menu. And you can always go with a friend and take the tiniest bite of his Reuben. Heaven.
The journalism of Consumer Reports is best in class, takes a lot of money to produce and deserves to be paid for. So The Restaurant Dieter will only hint at the great information in the March 2016 issue. In a major article titled “Under the Plastic Wrap,” Consumer Reports takes on the issue of supermarket and prepared meals and finds:
It’s not always fresh and unprocessed as you might assume.
It can be salty. Whole Foods’ breaded tilapia has 612 mg of sodium, vs. 733 at Red Lobster and only 420 for Mrs. Paul’s in the frozen aisle.
There is no nutritional information on the labels, because the Food & Drug Administration doesn’t require it for fresh prepared foods.
There is no information about portion control. With all the great tips for portion sizing suggested by Weight Watchers, this may not matter as much to some.
It’s not cheap.
You can support ConsumerReports.org by joining. It’s a mere $35 a year right now and there is information about food online and in every issue of the magazine.
Eater has a piece this week in which three-star Michelin chef David Kinch complains that on a given night, 80 percent of the dining room can arrive with a dietary limitation for which they request an accommodation.
Kinch is a little more nuanced than is the Eater piece itself. He draws a distinction between those asking because of a dietary restriction vs. a dislike. He seems to indicate that the former is more acceptable to him than the latter. I tend to agree.
I’ve complained before about chefs who don’t want their vision ruined by customers with health concerns and praised those who are flexible. It’s hard to know how much of Kinch’s 80 percent fall into what he regards as valid reasons and how many not. I suspect he doesn’t even know. It just bugs him.
To that I’d say: It bugs me, too. Diabetes and heart disease are no fun, and I’ve got no time for anybody who won’t help me avoid them. So don’t lump me in with the folks who’ve never liked mushrooms. This is real.