Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: News (page 2 of 7)

The real reason restaurant food makes us fat

This cartoon in the Jan. 25 issue if the New Yorker magazine really made me laugh. It demanded to be shared with the weight conscious public.

Why Chick-fil-A’s new kale-and-broccolini salad isn’t as healthy as you think

You know it’s January when restaurant companies haul out the “lite” menus or even introduce new permanent items aimed at the Weight Watchers crowd. Nothing has exploded more than Chick-fil-A’s Superfood Salad.

And not in a good way. A kale-and-broccolini dish is trendy.  Putting one on Chick-fil-A’s menu is kind of like Nicki Minaj subbing for Hillary Clinton at an Iowa campaign appearance. To add insult, the Superfood Salad swept off the menu that Southern staple, coleslaw.  It seemed like a blue-state raid on the beloved Atlanta-based chain, especially suspicious given Chick-fil-A’s designs on New York City.

Oddly enough, the creation came from a Southern chef, Ford Fry of Atlanta, whose empire includes JCT Kitchen, where there’s a completely credible southern drawl to the menu.

One blogger’s diatribe against the salad has gone hilariously viral.

Despite the marketing focus on healthy vegetables, the salad has a lot of sugar packed in the maple vinaigrette dressing and dried cherries.

The small is 140 calories with 7 grams of fat, a meager 2 of fiber,  11 of sugar and only 3 of protein. The large is 170 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 of fiber, 16 of sugar and 4 of protein. For that reason, it performs poorly on Weight Watchers’ protein-and-vegetable leaning points program — 6 Smart Points for the small and 7 for the large.

For comparison, the large has almost half the sugar you’d find in a 12-ounce can of soda pop. (Admittedly, the new salad has less sugar than the Chick-fil-A coleslaw, which packed 26 grams of sugar into 580 calories.)

Let’s see how long it takes for the coleslaw to return to the menu. Maybe The South will rise again.


A Weight Watchers take on Eater’s list of 38 essential restaurants

The website Eater just released its “National Eater 38: Where to Eat in 2016.” The list was compiled by Eater’s excellent critic, Bill Addison, whom I once tried to hire to write about restaurants for a major publication. Here’s my take on the three restaurants that I’ve sampled, two of them before The Restaurant Dieter launched.

Alinea, Chicago

This place was high on the husband’s list, in part because it’s been honored and celebrated like there’s no tomorrow. The chef is Grant Achatz, who has the distinction of being this genius chef — who lost his sense of taste due to cancer. Really. You couldn’t make this up.

Our meal consisted of like 19 itty-bitty tasting menu courses that might have been invented by a mad scientist. Each time one arrived, our helpful server explained precisely how to eat it. The little white ball in a green liquid was to be tossed back all at once, allowing the ball to collapse and merge its contents with the green liquid. Another dish was set on a pillow of scented air, which slowly deflated and added — we were told — to the sensory experience. Today I can’t remember a thing about the dishes, only the voluble instruction.

The scene was so ripe for parody that when coffee arrived, I asked the server: “Is there some special way we’re supposed to consume this?”

Gunshow, Atlanta

I was so eager to try this restaurant for several reasons: One, the chef was Kevin Gillespie, whose food, whose aw-shucks geniality and ginger bear modesty made him the fan favorite on Bravo’s sixth season of “Top Chef.” Two, I’d eaten at his Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, which was excellent. Three, the restaurant adopted a new serving style akin to Chinese dim sum. The cooks make the rounds with trays and carts; diners choose what looks good, as many or as few plates as they like.

You might guess what happened: Our foursome wanted to taste everything, often taking more than one of each. We wound up eating way more than we should have — not good for one watching calorie intake carefully. When the bill arrived, it was more than $400 — without alcohol. Gulp.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas

This was my second visit to one of Joel Robuchon’s restaurants; I’d visited its twin in Paris. Both featured tasting menus, served at counters that offered a bird’s eye view of the kitchen doing the work. Every course was modest and crafted with considerable care. Were it not for the crusty French bread, it might have been a modestly healthy meal. But good bread is hard to resist. The full review is here.


What the research says about wine, salt, artificial sweeteners and even water

corkscrew-bottle-neck /

corkscrew-bottle-neck /

The New York Times  Upshot column is running a good series looking at the research from some of the hottest health topics. Here’s what they’re saying:

Chains offering more healthy fare

The New York Times today has an interesting article about how chains are reacting to pressure to offer healthy fare. Good reading for those of us on Weight Watchers.

New York ban on big soft drinks is stupid

The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken obesity seriously. His most recent proposal is to ban the sale of any sugary soft drink in a larger serving than 16 ounces.

 As most readers know, The Restaurant Dieter spends a lot of time in New York City. It is both a dieter’s dream and nightmare. On nearly every corner, temptation lurks — from the fancy cookie shop near our apartment to the store that specializes in cream puffs. (The latter is next to the store that specializes in gelato, of course.) But the city is also full of heath-conscious people, so a salad bar may well offer egg whites. And the mayor has championed several initiatives to combat obesity.

In spirit, the idea of a ban on huge sodas is fine. When I was a kid, soda pop came in two sizes: 12 ounces and 16 ounces. I don’t remember anybody feeling deprived.

But the idea that this will address the city’s obesity problem is silly. Those who want more, will simply buy two.

The real answer is higher taxes on soft drinks, which the mayor supported. But the measure died at the Statehouse in Albany.

NYT writer says salt misjudged, but there’s still cause for concern

The New York Times recently had a piece questioning the idea that salt leads to increased blood pressure, hypertension and the risk of premature death.

The piece is by Gary Taubes, a science writer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is the author of the book, “Why We Get Fat: And What to do About It.”  Taubes says the evidence that high sodium intake causes problems is weak. Instead, he suggests, the reverse may be true. I haven’t read the book, though I did order it for closer inspection.

But the NYT piece does not, address or dispute the research cited by another author, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler in his book, “The End of Overeating.” That research shows that salty foods make us crave more salty foods, contributing to our overeating. It’s why, as they used to say, “You can’t eat just one.”

That addictive property is one reason why I won’t take this as a license to go hog wild on salt. Another is that it’s in so much food, that it’s hard to imagine anyone really being salt-starved today. Finally, there is this: I feel bloated, fat, and just plainly not good when I’ve demolished that basket of tortilla chips.

NRA show report: J&J Snack Foods a symbol of American obesity problem

J&J Snack Foods 24-ounce pretzel

The Restaurant Dieter saw a lot of contemptible food at the National Restaurant Association’s recent annual show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

But no exhibitor earned this dieter’s contempt like J&J Snack Foods Corp. of Pennsauken, N.J did. Its large booth offered super-pretzel poppers filled with cheddar or cream cheese; funnel cakes; churros; burritos; cookies; fried pies and pizza sticks. Nutritionally bankrupt pretzels are its specialty.
More healthy food from J&J
Incredibly disgusting was a 24-ounce pretzel served with some kind of liquid cheese.
On the company’s website, a giant American flag waves emblazoned with the words, “stand strong,” and then a quote from President Gerald Shreiber that says, “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t look at this banner of freedom that flies outside our plants and feel both fortunate and proud to be a part of the American dream.”
Is he kidding? This is a nightmare. It’s disgusting that this company waves the flag of freedom while undermining its citizens so thoroughly. Ain’t America grand?
J&J makes the worst possible foods, the kind that are turning obesity into this nation’s most pressing problem. They focus on refined carbs, fat, salt and sugar. That addictive combination generated $55.1 million in net income on $744.1 revenues in fiscal 2011.
Like any conglomerate, of course, J&J also has a healthier food line aimed at the school food service market, where — fortunately — government regulation is there to protect kids. Those products were featured at a separate booth that was one of 14 in the Healthier Kids Fare area.
They included frozen juice cups and mini-fiber bars. But the kids brochure also concentrated on items like nutritionally bankrupt pretzels, churros and even funnel cakes. The brochure indicated that a funnel cake with 280 calories, 9 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber was perfect for lunch and breakfast. Why the column marked “after school snack” was left unchecked is anyone’s guess.
If you own stock in this company — it’s been trading at about $54 a share recently — I can only hope you have enough moral rectitude to organize a shareholder revolt.

NRA show report: Bell Plantation’s PB2 is peanut butter, without the fat

Donnie Rice of Bell Plantation, rehydrating PB23 powder

Bell Plantation‘s PB2 was one of the more interesting products fighting for attention at The National Restaurant Association’s recent annual show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

The four-year-old company based in Tifton, Ga., produces a line of peanut butter powder that can be re-hydrated and used like regular peanut butter, or stirred into recipes for a peanut taste without the fat. The powder is made by pressing roasted peanuts at very high pressure, removing most of the fat, said Donnie Rice, a spokesman.
Two tablespoons of reduced fat Jif is 190 calories with 12 grams of fat. Two tablespoons of PB2 powder is 45 calories and 1.5 grams fat. With a tablespoon of water, it re-hydrates to the consistency of peanut butter from a jar.

For a person on Weight Watchers, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is 1 point on the Points Plus system. For the leader of my Weight Watchers group, this will be nothing short of a miracle. A peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich on low fat bread winds up a mere 5 points if made with PB2.

 At home this week, I tested a sample on toast. It had a true peanut flavor.

In a side-by-side test with a commercial peanut butter like Jif,  perhaps a tester like Annette Funicello might notice a difference. On a sandwich with jelly, I bet not even that choosy mother would suspect. The same goes for stirring it into a smoothie with a banana and some yogurt.

PB also is offering a powder called PB2 with Premium Chocolate. Two tablespoons of the powder are 45 calories and 1 gram fat. It seems perfect for PB-and-chocoholics.

Rice said that some chefs and caterers have adopted it to stir peanut butter flavor into “off the wall” recipes.

On the Bell Plantation website, a 1-pound bag of PB2 costs $4.60.

The company also produces a line of peanut butter crackers called PB Thins. A 22-gram serving is 100 calories and 4 grams fat.
Oh, and if you wondered what happened to the fat, Bell Plantation sells that too. A bottle of the roasted peanut oil goes for $3.30.

Le Bernardin lives up to its stars, once again

In today’s New York Times, restaurant critic Pete Wells joins the long line of NYT reviewers awarding four stars to Le Bernardin.

The review talks about how the restaurant has managed to stay on top after 18 years under the guidance of Chef Eric Ripert. It is a combination of change — in menu and atmosphere — but staying true to fundamentals. And the essence at Le Bernardin is fish, fresh and wonderfully cooked.

It’s been at least four years since my last visit, but I remember it well. I was relatively new on Weight Watchers and uncertain if a meal at a famous restaurant would sabotage my efforts.

It did not. Each dish might be sauced, but the flavors were so rich that a tiny bit augmented the fish perfectly. My next weigh-in went great.

Wells review notes how quickly the menu changes, with one excellent dish replacing another. And last summer, the restaurant itself got a facelift.

It may be time for another visit.

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