Special Reports

Diet Detours: Healthy restaurants

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our Diet Detours series continues with a closer look at self-proclaimed healthy restaurants. Are they really the best choice to keep you healthy?

"Panera Bread," said registered dietitian Joyce Nichols. "A lot of people go there thinking, 'This is a healthy place to eat,' and then they think they have carte blanche."

But Joyce, the owner of Bikini Kitchen, says just because it's health food doesn't mean it's calorie free.

Our first diet detour is the lettuce trap.

"You would look at these two options and say, 'Okay, instead of getting the bread I am going to go ahead and get the salad,'" said Joyce. "But this is actually 790 calories and 54 grams of fat."

Instead of picking up Panera's Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad, chop off 140 calories and 30 grams of fat and dig into the Asiago Roast Beef Sandwich.

We also put two Panera salads in the ring: the Salmon Caesar versus the Spinach Power Salad, packed with diced eggs, bacon and frizzled onions.

"You would be totally surprised!" said Joyce. "You see fried items, you see bacon. This can't be healthier, but it actually has lower calories."

We're talking 460 calories for the power salad and 550 for the salmon. But when it comes to the fat count, Joyce says the numbers don't always tell the whole story.

"There are good fats in the salmon you don't want to avoid," she said. "It is actually better for you along your weight loss journey."

So keep the fish, just fish out the calorie traps. Dump the dressing and the croutons.

In the end it turns out the real winner at Panera gives you more food and more choices: the 'Pick Two' option, where you get soup and a half a salad. So for 320 calories you can have the whole combo!

In Center City Philadelphia, vegans and the health conscious alike are hip to Hip City Veg on 18th and Sansom streets.

"It is really good," said Joyce. "It is good for your body, but you want to be careful because even a vegan dish can be crispy fried."

The same diet detour rules apply even when veggies are the stars of your plate. We looked at one wrap, which was still wrapped in calories. Joyce showed how the Arugula Taco Salad was better than two wraps, in part because of the avocado loaded with healthy fat.

Meantime, Honeygrow is a new health food chain around town that celebrates locally sourced products showcased in stir-fry dishes and others.

"But you have to be careful because of portion control here," said Joyce.

Joyce suggests eating half of what you order and saving the other half for dinner or lunch tomorrow, or share it with a friend to save calories and cash.

She also recommends asking for the sauce on the side and choosing your noodles wisely.

Joyce says if you have to have them, go with rice noodles over egg noodles. But the best bet is no noodles at all.

Finally, we take a spin to Saladworks where the diet detours surprised even us.

In the Sophie's Salad without the dressing we are looking at 312 calories, versus the Fire-roasted Cabo Jack Salad with 388 calories.

Your two best bets are the protein-packed Bentley Salad with ham, turkey, egg and cheese with 244 calories and the Turkey Club Salad with 216.

When it comes to dressings, steer clear of anything creamy, and know your serving size! One ounce is about two tablespoons.

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diet, special report, special reports, alicia vitarelli
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