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    Archive for the ‘eating out’ Category

    Chili’s? Try Salty’s!

    When it comes to nutritional advice on eating out, the spotlight usually shines brightly — and, many times, solely — on calories.  I don’t necessarily object to that; after all, it is certainly possible to consume three quarters (or a hundred percent, for that matter) of one’s caloric needs in a single restaurant meal these days.

    In some parts of the country, some chain restaurants are legally required to display calorie counts alongside menu items.  In states and cities where this legal requirement is not in play, some of these restaurants voluntarily point out their lower-calorie options (usually grouping a variety of dishes under something akin to a “500 Calories or Less” heading).  While that provides quantitative nutritional information, it is but one tiny piece in that large jigsaw puzzle known as health.

    Continue Reading »


    You Ask, I Answer: Blotting Pizza

    1ac994d5f3191bc6_pizza-blotI need to ask you something that has been bugging me for a few years.

    Whenever I get a slice or two of pizza here in New York City, I always get some napkins and blot the surface.  It’s not that I am calorie-phobic, but a lot of pizzas seem way too greasy.

    The napkins always absorb a lot of liquid,so am I getting rid of a lot of calories this way?

    — Paul (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Pizza blotting is not a waste of napkins, but it also doesn’t decrease calorie content by that much.

    One of the problems with your specific situation (where you are ordering a slice of pizza that had been cooked earlier in the day, which is then reheated) is that most of the fat in the cheese has already been absorbed.

    The most successful blotting occurs with fresh pizzas right out of the oven, which contain more liquified fat on the surface.

    In your case, you are removing anywhere from 2 to 4 grams of fat (18 to 36 calories) from your slice.  Blotting a fresh-out-of-the-oven slice could result in the removal of up to 50 calories.

    Remember, though, that most New York City pizza slices are outrageously big.  A plain cheese slice can clock in at 800 calories!

    PS: You can save roughly 100 calories by leaving the end portion of the crust on your plate.  I find that a good number of pizza places have tasteless, overly doughy crusts that aren’t worth the calories.


      Sharing? Don’t Stop Caring!

      1208967775-33929_fullChili’s Grill & Bar is currently offering a “3 courses for $20” special that allows patrons to “split a starter, choose [their own] entree, and share a dessert.”

      Sounds like the key to a low-cal lunch, right?  Not when you consider the calorie, saturated fat, and sodium bombs on the menu.

      Below are three possible combinations from the available appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

      Remember, these calculations are per person for a shared appetizer, a non-shared entree, and a shared dessert.

      Option #1: Splitting a Half Order of Texas Cheese Fries, Eating a Mesquite Chicken Salad, and Sharing a Slice of Cheesecake

      • 2,010 calories
      • 55 grams saturated fat (almost three days’ worth)
      • 4,160 milligrams of sodium (one and a half days’ worth)

      Option #2: Splitting Bottomless Chips With Salsa, Eating A Quesadilla Explosion Salad, and Sharing a Slice of Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie

      (Note: I was benevolent and assumed only one basket of bottomless chips was consumed)

      • 2,070 calories
      • 41.5 grams saturated fat (slightly more than two days’ worth)
      • 4,305 milligrams of sodium (almost two days’ worth)

      Option #3: Splitting a Skillet Queso Appetizer, Eating A Bacon Burger (Without Sides), and Sharing a Slice of Molten Chocolate Cake

      • 2,065 calories
      • 50.5 grams saturated fat (two and a half days’ worth)
      • 4,115 milligrams of sodium (one and a half days’ worth)

      Let’s put this into context:

      • Each of these ‘combo meals’ provides the amount of calories a 38-year-old, 5’8″, 140 pound, moderately active female needs in an entire day
      • On average, each of these meals contains as much saturated fat as an entire pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream
      • On average, each of these meals packs in only 100 fewer calories than FOUR Big Macs
      • You would need to eat ELEVEN slices of a Domino’s 12″ cheese pizza to match the average amount of sodium in each of these meals

      The floor is now open for comments.


      Numbers Game: Answer

      chinese takeoutThe standard takeout container for a side of rice from a Chinese restaurant contains 2 cup(s) of rice, equivalent to 415 calories.

      (Note: One-half cup of cooked rice constitutes “one Pyramid serving” of grains)

      For many people, this side dish of rice covers more than half of their recommended grain servings for the day.

      Unfortunately, most people often perceive “a side of rice” as just one grain serving, regardless of the amount they eat!

      This also demonstrates how quickly the calories in a standard Chinese lunch special add up.

      Let’s crunch some numbers:

      • Average lunch special entree: 350 – 500 calories
      • Average side of rice: 415 calories (remember, all that rice is tightly packed!)
      • Average egg roll (comes with lunch special): 150 – 200 calories
      • Average packet of egg roll sauce: 25 – 30 calories
      • Can of soda (again, comes with lunch special): 143 calories
      • Average order of hot & sour soup (also comes with lunch special): 100 calories

      On average, you are looking at a lunch that provides anywhere from 1,183 to 1,388 calories.  This is roughly 70 percent of a 45-year-old man’s recommended daily calorie intake.

      Certainly explains why you tend to crave an early afternoon nap whenever the office orders Chinese!

      Next time a co-worker brings a Chinese restaurant menu to your office for “fried pork Friday”, be prepared.  Donate your egg roll, split your side of rice with someone else, and opt for a calorie-free beverage.  Those three minor changes save you a grand total of 475 calories!


      Numbers Game: Answer

      chinese-takeoutYour standard eggplant-in-garlic-sauce- entree at a Chinese restaurant contains 900 calories and 1,750  milligrams of sodium.

      (NOTE: Daily sodium intake should not surpass 2,400 milligrams)

      Calorically, that’s equal to four and a half Taco Bell soft beef tacos!

      And, mind you, this is without taking the 250-calorie side of rice into account.  Or the 200 calorie soda.

      Chinese food restaurants (or at least Chinese food as imagined by Americans) are infamous health traps, largely due to the excessive amounts of oil and sauces used in food preparation.

      It also doesn’t help that many of these restaurants also dole out gigantic portions.

      Here are some other Chinese food calorie shockers:

      • The average 6-piece order of steamed vegetable dumplings packs in anywhere from 400 – 500 calories and 1,000 – 1,200 milligrams of sodium (dipping sauce included)
      • The average order of fried rice clocks in at 1,400 calories and a day and a half’s worth of sodium
      • The average order of Peking Duck contains 1,200 calories and a day’s worth of sodium
      • Veggie lo-mein usually adds up to anywhere between 900 and 1200 calories

      Your best strategies when ordering Chinese:

      • Opt for Summer rolls instead of Spring rolls
      • Ask for sauces on the side (use the “dip the fork/chopstick in sauce first and then pick up food” method)
      • Stay away from dishes described as “crispy” or “crunchy”
      • When it comes to rice, have it steamed — and brown!
      • Be careful with thick, gooey sauces like hoisin and sweet and sour, as they are a source of concentrated calories
      • Shrimp is always a good low-calorie protein choice

      You Ask, I Answer: Rice Paper/Summer Rolls

      One of my favorite Thai appetizers is summer rolls.

      I notice that the rice paper they use to make them is chewy and dense.

      Is that because it has a lot of fat in it?

      — Virginia Alston
      New York, NY

      I share your sentiment, Virginia. I can’t go to a Thai restaurant and not order summer rolls!

      Not only are they delicious (the ones I had tonight were filled with lettuce, mango, avocado, carrot, cucumber, and cilantro), but also healthy.

      Unlike spring rolls, summer rolls are not deep fried. Instead, all the ingredients are simply enclosed in rice paper.

      Apart from being a tasty way to add some vegetables to your day, you also get some heart-healthy monounsaturated fat if they contain avocado or are accompanied by a peanut or almond butter-ish dip.

      Your average appetizer order of summer rolls provides a mere 45 to 50 calories from the rice paper alone.

      About 95 percent of these calories are derived from carbohydrates.

      For comparison purposes, one medium sheet of rice paper contains a third of the carbohydrates in one regular slice of bread.

      The reason behind its chewiness is not lots of fat, but the inclusion of tapioca.

      The other ingredients are simply rice flour, water, and a pinch of salt.


      Numbers Game: Answer

      According to figures from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), per capita sodium intake in the United States increased 56 percent between 1970 and 2000.

      Not at all surprising, considering the rampant increase in meals eaten at restaurants and consumption of frozen foods.

      Dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day, but the average adult in the United States consumes, on average, anywhere from 3,300 to 3,800 milligrams.

      Remember — the more processed a food item, the higher its sodium levels (i.e.: three ounces of grilled chicken contain approximately 10 times less sodium than three ounces of chicken nuggets.)


      You Ask, I Answer: Tortilla Chips & Salsa

      I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant this weekend that labeled some [menu items] as low-fat and low-carb.

      I was surprised that the chips and salsa appetizer wasn’t [labeled] low-fat.

      I know salsa is fat-free, so wouldn’t [chips and salsa] be lower in calories than [an order of] chips and guacamole?

      — David (last name withheld)
      Orlando, FL

      Although a standard restaurant order of chips and salsa (approximately two ounces of tortilla chips and one cup of salsa) offers 330 fewer calories than that same amount of chips and guacamole, it is not a low-fat appetizer.

      Sure, one serving (two tablespoons) of salsa contains a negligilble 0.1 grams of fat, but don’t forget about the chips!

      One serving of tortilla chips (one ounce in weight, or approximately 12 individual chips) contributes 140 calories and seven grams of fat. This is identical to the calorie and fat values of potato chips, by the way.

      Assuming the restaurant is following FDA standards for low-fat labeling, they can only “award” that moniker to items contributing less than three grams of fat per serving.

      Since one serving of tortilla chips alone offers more than twice that amount, you can understand why this particular appetizer didn’t make the cut.


      Numbers Game: Answer

      The average taco salad shell contains approximately 300 – 450 calories.

      Yet another example of how salads can sometimes pack a caloric wallop.

      Eating the shell on a taco salad can make the difference between a 600 calorie lunch and 1,050 calorie meal!

      You’re better off resisting temptation by asking for your taco salad to be served in a bowl.

      If you are in need of some crunch, ask the server to top off your salad with a few tortilla chips (think a half dozen, thereby adding no more than 100 calories.)


      Numbers Game: Rice ‘n Roll

      An average 6-piece inside-out sushi roll (rice on the outside, nori on the inside, as pictured at left) at a Japanese restaurant in the United States contains _________ of rice.

      (Note: 1 serving of rice = 1/2 cup)

      a) 1/3 cup
      b) 1/2 cup
      c) 1 cup
      d) 1.5 cups

      Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Wednesday for the answer.


      An Appetizer A Day Can Bring Problems Your Way

      Don’t let the term “starters” or “appetizers” lure you into a false sense of security.

      Sometimes, these items are just as caloric — if not higher — than entrees.

      Consider some of the following examples from Chili’s restaurant.

      The buffalo wings appetizer (containing 9 pieces) adds up to 1,170 calories, 15 grams (75% of a day’s worth) of saturated fat, and 4,130 milligrams (two days’ worth) of sodium.

      In the mood for classic nachos? Then I hope you are okay with ordering 1,450 calories, 57 grams (almost three days’ worth!) of saturated fat, and 2,730 milligrams (over a day’s worth) of sodium.

      Oh, you want those with beef? That will be 1,740 calories, 65 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 milligrams of sodium.

      The Texas cheese fries appetizer, meanwhile, clocks in at 2,070 calories, 73 grams of saturated fat (almost FOUR days’ worth) and 3,730 milligrams of sodium.

      Even if shared, these are nutritional bombs.

      Let’s say the Texas cheese fries are split by a table of three.

      Assuming each person gets an equal share of food, that’s 720 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat (more than a day’s worth) and half a day’s worth of sodium a piece!

      Combine that with a sandwich or a ribs-centered entree (averaging 1,000 calories without the side of fries) and you have a day’s worth of calories.

      Your best bet at this chain? First, swap an appetizer for a soup.

      A cup of Southwestern vegetable soup contains 110 calories, the broccoli cheese variety clocks in at 160 calories, and a cup of baked potato soup adds up to 220 calories.

      While not low in sodium, none offer more than 650 milligrams of sodium (that’s almost 85% less sodium than some of the monstruosities I previously pointed out.)

      And stay away from any menu item labeled as bottomless. Eating 800 calories of corn chips before your meal comes out isn’t as impossible as you may think!

      When it comes to your entree, stick to grilled fish dishes, pita sandwiches (no more than 500 calories) or grilled chicken sandwiches.

      If you’re in the mood for anything else (burgers, ribs, fried chicken platters), satisfy your craving by splitting your meal with a friend. You’ll save some money — and anywhere from 600 to 950 calories!


      Numbers Game: Belly Busting Bistro

      Over at PF Chang’s China Bistro, an appetizer portion of spare ribs contains _____ calories, while the Great Wall of Chocolate dessert (“six layers of rich chocolate cake frosted with semi-sweet chocolate chips and raspberry sauce,” pictured at right) adds up to _______ calories.

      a) 972/1,760
      b) 1,251/1,854
      c) 1,762/1,603

      d) 1,386/2,237

      Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Wednesday for the answer.


      Numbers Game: Answer

      Recent studies by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Applied Economics and Management Department and Pierre Chandon of the European Institute for Business Administration found that, on average, people underestimate the caloric content of “healthy sounding” dishes (like a grilled chicken salad, pictured right) at chain restaurants (and most dishes at “healthy sounding” restaurants) by 20 percent.

      This false sense of security is quite deceptive.

      It’s one thing to eat a grilled chicken breast on a bed of vegetables with a tablespoon of dressing or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but quite another to accompany it with a ladle of dressing that can contribute up to 500 extra calories.

      And it’s not just calories that can be underestimated with healthy sounding choices.

      Here’s a shocker:

      An order of medium fries at McDonald’s contributes 221 milligrams of sodium to your day.

      An Asian chicken salad from that same chain? 1,030 milligrams — and that’s before you add a single drop of dressing!

      Once you pour that packet of dressing on, the total sodium content shoots up to 1,790 milligrams.

      The best tactic is to always be aware of what you are eating.

      For instance, does your grilled chicken sandwich come slathered with a thick layer of mayonnaise? Is your whole wheat wrap a foot long? Is your brown rice and vegetable stir fry drowning in sauce?

      Don’t be afraid to take charge, either. Ask for the dressing on the side, substitute mustard for mayo on your sandwich, and request that your stir fry be “light on the sauce.”

      Just remember to tip well!


      What Happens in Vegas… Shows In Your Tummy

      Two nights in Las Vegas provided plenty of blogging material.

      My observations, below:

      Despite the recent influx of celebrity chefs and three star restaurants, there isn’t a single high-scale, fine dining vegetarian restaurant on the entire Strip.

      What gives?

      I’m afraid business executives and consumers are still under the inaccurate assumption that healthy dining and delicious meals are mutually exclusive.

      As a result, diners who do not eat meat have to basically rely on pasta dishes. Zzzzzz….

      All my restaurant experiences, while delicious, left me asking, “where’s the fiber?”

      Whole grains are completely absent from most menus, as are beans and legumes.

      I am not asking for steakhouses to be shut down or the plethora of French restaurants to “de-fatten” their menus.

      What I do want to know, though, is where are the options for healthy upscale eating?

      I understand being on vacation and wanting to enjoy a rich, decadent meal, but after two or three of those, your body starts begging for some mercy.

      Think everything is big in Texas? Wait until you hit the Vegas Strip!

      At the Paris hotel, you can get alcoholic drinks in an Eiffel-tower shaped 32 ounce glass. Over at the Luxor, 52 ounce daiquiris are on the menu.

      People do order them. I saw at least fifty people on one given night walking around the Strip with these huge drinks in hand — most were more than halfway finished.

      FYI — a 32 ounce daiquiri contains 1,800 calories. The 52 ounce? 2,900.

      And then there’s the buffets. I am not a big fan of them, as I often find that quantity trumps quality.

      I was up for some nutrition research, though, so off I went to The Palms for lunch one day.

      Of the forty different dishes, not a single one contained a whole grain.

      The salad bar’s only truly nutritious offerings were chickpeas and kidney beans.

      To my surprise — and disappointment — the salad bar did not offer carrots, bell peppers, broccoli florets, canned tuna, grilled chicken breast, avocado, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, beets, asparagus, or anything to help diners construct a healthy and tasty salad.

      It did, however, manage to provide croutons, bacon, cheese, iceberg lettuce, and pickles. Yum????

      Fried foods, rich sauces, and refined carbohydrates made up the bulk of the remaining offerings. Vegetables were mostly drowned in butter or cream or covered in a deep fried shell.

      Dessert consisted pies (some sugar free), cakes, brownies, and ice cream.

      Fruit, you ask? There was literally one basket with three apples and two bananas.

      The Venetian has a healthy restaurant (all dishes are low in saturated fat, high in fiber, high on fruit and vegetable content, and contain little or no added sugars) tucked away in its spa, meaning it is exclusively for guests of that hotel.

      Why not move it to the general restaurant area and open it up to the general public?

      While I’m at on the topic of hotels: why do guests have to pony up extra money — up to $20 or $30 — to utilize a hotel’s gym?

      Really. Why are people being deterred from exercising?

      Anyway, a big thank you to the folks who make Lara, Clif Nectar, and Flavor & Fiber bars. My intestinal tract couldn’t have made it in Vegas without you.


      In The News: Here A Tasting, There A Tasting

      Foodies and dietitians don’t generally see eye to eye.

      Foodies crave rich ingredients, orgasmic flavors, and lovely textures (even if they are achieved by triple deep frying).

      Dietitians love food — a good dietitian makes healthy eating flavorful, delicious, and not taste like cardboard — but also seek out a certain nutrition balance (a sauce on the side, opting for broccoli instead of white rice to accompany a dish, etc.)

      On that note, today’s New York Times examines the impact of the foodie lifestyle — particularly restaurant reviewers — on health.

      Take the case of eGullten.com founder Jason Perlow, who after years of sampling delicacies left and right without giving much thought to anything except how good they tasted, tipped the scales at 400 pounds and developed Type 2 diabetes.

      Sure, an extreme situation, but it’s still , pardon the pun, food for thought. And, he isn’t necessary alone:

      “Most of us who are in this profession are here as an excuse to eat,” said Mimi Sheraton, the food writer and former New York Times restaurant critic who has chronicled her own battle with weight loss. Still, she said, “I’ve never seen such an outward, in-your-face celebration of eating fat.

      This is very much a “chicken or the egg” situation.

      Chefs — especially five-star celebrity ones — continue to make fatty dishes without taken nutrition into consideration because, truth be told, they don’t need to.

      A restaurant reviewer could care less that an entree packs in 1,600 calories and two days’ worth of saturated fat, or that the scrumptious new hot dessert in town has as much sugar as three cans of soda.

      As far as a chef is concerned, if food coming out of the kitchen is well-reviewed, the job is well done.

      This is why I personally don’t find classical French cuisine that amazing. How hard can it be to make a delicious meal when butter, flour, and sugar are poured on liberally?
      The new standard of top-notch cuisine should take nutrition into account.

      This paradigm of “delicious vs. healthy” is antiquated, inaccurate, and due for a change!
      Let’s have dietitians infiltrate the restaurant scene.

      Not to count calories or ask for a tomato-based sauce in place of a cream one, but to challenge talented chefs and say, “alright, that curry pad thai was to die for, but let’s see you concoct something just as delicious that’s higher in fiber, lower in fat, and has more vegetables.”

      The celebrity chefs sure seem to have the ego. So… come on and wow me.

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