Thursday, September 10, 2009

Does dietician-approved mean healthy?

No doubt that restaurants want to appeal to the health-conscious crowd, so chains restaurants and fast food joints like Burger King, Chili's, Panda Express, and Which Wich are including their menu items at

I visited the site, which describes its list as "dietician-approved items." The nutrition critera used was pretty loose, a fact that the site admits to in their final paragraph.
"So that a sufficient variety of items can be listed, the criteria on this site
do not include cholesterol and sodium."

I guess there would only be a few items to choose from if the guidelines were raised from subpar to adequate...scary.

Items were added to the list based on specific (and loose) criteria:

1. Entrées (or full meals) must include at least one of the following:
fruits and/or vegetables
lean protein, i.e., skinless white meat poultry, fish/seafood (including salmon), tofu, etc., with no more than two red meat dishes per restaurant
100% whole grains

2. Menu items must meet the following three criteria:
Entrées (or full meals):
750 calories or less
25 grams of fat or less
8 grams of saturated fat or less

Appetizers, side dishes and desserts:
250 calories or less
8 grams of fat or less
3 grams of saturated fat or less
If a menu item exceeds only one of these criteria (fat, saturated fat, or calorie) by a small margin (i.e., 10%), that item may be included on the website.

3. Deep fried items (i.e., egg rolls, chicken fingers, tostada shells, etc.) are excluded from the website, except for very small amounts of garnishes, such as wonton strips.

I understood how Chili's, the super salter, managed to sneak onto the list. The maxium calories allowed in a "healthy" menu item is 750 (which is about how much I eat in 2 meals), and the one of the items listed was the 720-calorie Margarita Grilled Chicken.
Also on the list is Domino's, who markets the Bread Bowl Pasta without shame. These extravagant bowls are 670-740 for 1 serving. Since each bowl is 2 servings, eating an entire bowl totals up to 1,340-1,480 calories! That definitely is NOT on the healthy list, thank goodness.

Which Wich boasts 9 healthy items: Buffalo Chicken, Chicken, French Dip, Ham, Meatloaf, Montecristo, Roast Beef, Thank You Turkey, and Turkey Pastrami wiches. But I say, stick with either the Chicken Wich (340 cal, 4g fat, 4g fiber, 4g sugar, 0.5c veggies) or Roast Beef Wich (360 cal, 4g fat, 4g fiber, 4g sugar, 0.5c veggies) for a reasonable meal. Those have the best overall stats among the 9 "healthy" items, although all have high amounts of sodium. What made the Chicken and Roast Beef Wiches the better choice? They had vegetables, a must-have, and are lower in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar than the other Wiches.

The site spouts claims such as, "Healthy Dining's nutrition staff reviews all menu items before posting them on the site." That kind of wording can mistakenly lead people to believe the foods on the site are perfectly healthy, which is possible because of the tiny link that says "Nutrition Criteria." It would also be helpful to include a list of the nutritionists and their qualifications to refer to.

The site does include some important facts. It explicitly states that "the FDA has very strict criteria for any food or meal designated as 'healthy.' Most of the menu items featured on this site do not meet the FDA criteria for 'healthy,' and neither the restaurants nor Healthy Dining claims that the featured items meet the FDA's criteria for 'healthy.'" Yet they label these foods as healthy dining choices--- come on!! At least the criteria on the site is not the national guidelines or anything. It's just a tool to help people eat more consciously.

So, if you happen go to one of the restaurants listed on the site, you will have access to information like calories per serving. Restaurant Web sites list calorie info and more extensive nutritional info can be found online if you play detective. Any information from a reliable source will help you pick out the best food choice for your from those offered.

It's important to compare all the stats in order to fulfill your individual health needs. Restaurants are typically known for adding way too much salt, and many of the dishes listed on the site are high in sodium, and "therefore, inappropriate for those individuals who want or need to limit sodium intake. Sodium values are listed, so that such individuals can make informed choices."

Health is stressed a lot these days because "obesity" is a hot topic. assumes that the restaurant meal accounts for the largest of the day's meals, but that's a bit discouraging to think about.

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