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Archive for the ‘ Restaurant eating ’ Category

Kosher Food and Wine Experience 2015 with a healthy twist

As I was getting ready to attend the 9th annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE 15) held this year at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, I received an article with the headlines “Cheers! Study says red wine may help burn fat.” This is good news, as I was about to embark on a kosher wine and food fest, one of the largest gatherings offering a sampling of the latest in kosher fare. With 2400 attendees this year, KFWE 2015 has become the destination event for kosher wine and food lovers.

The event is produced by the Royal Wine Corporation the leading producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines and spirits in the world.

Attending KFWE is not a time to be watching calories, or worrying about health. After all, it is just one night.  As a nutritionist, however, I am always paying attention to the latest in healthy food and nutrition trends.

If you were hoping that drinking wine does, indeed, burn fat, there were many varieties of wine to choose from. KFWE 2015 showcased some of the best kosher wines from all over the world, with several labels premiering at the show. Baron Herzog, Bartenura, Weinstock, Joseph Zakon, Jeunesse, Pacifica, Harkham, Rashi, Alfasi, and Ovadia were just some of the selections featured. My favorite: Moscato from Bartenura.

KFWE 2015 also featured a large selection of food from top kosher restaurants, gourmet food companies, and caterers. The selections included traditional Jewish cuisine—including cholent, potato kugel, chopped liver and other choices you would likely see at a Shabbos Kiddush—along with lots of steakhouse fare, French, Mexican, and Asian cuisine.

My favorite healthy selections included a variety of  dishes from Pomegranate: the purple cabbage and apples salad, winter squash quinoa salad, sunrise salad, and honey chamomile roasted root vegetables; and the healthy assortment from Basil including the chilled cantaloupe soup, the arctic char, and the black cod ceviche.

The event also featured a large variety of decadent desserts and specialty coffees. The peanut butter pareve ice cream from Mr. Penguin along with the halvah and assortment of caramelized nuts from The Nuttery were among my favorites.

If you had no room left for dessert, or you happened to be trying to practice portion control, you could fetch a “to go” bag from Shlomy’s Heimeshe bakery and pack up your favorite cookies for another day.

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5 tips for building a healthy salad

Below is my blog for Huffington Post “5 tips for building a healthy salad.”

You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist, I am a huge fan of salads. After all, colorful veggies are great — chock full of nutrients without too many calories. However, just because you order a salad when you go out, (while thinking you are being virtuous), does not necessarily mean that it is good for your waistline. The mantra “I’ll just have a salad” can be a dieter’s dream or a diet disaster depending on what goes into that salad.

For example, the chicken Caesar salad at The Cheesecake Factory contains a whopping 1,510 calories. That is the number of calories that certain people should eat in an entire day. It contains globs of dressings, croutons, and more. And the Quesadilla Explosion Salad at Chili’s contains 1,430 calories. Many sandwiches contain far fewer calories. Who would have guessed?

So next time you order a salad, get a custom blend if possible, and follow these tips. You’ll save lots of calories while getting plenty of nutrients.

1. Choose an assortment of deep greens.

Romaine lettuce, kale, and spinach are great choices, high in fiber, folate, and vitamin C. Skip the iceberg lettuce, which is mostly water, and not nearly as many nutrients as the deeper greens.

2. Add a mix of colorful non-starchy vegetables.

Adding an assortment of colorful vegetables are your best option, as the different colors impart different nutrients. Throw in some orange veggies such as carrots which are rich in contain beta carotene and add tomatoes which contain lycopene. Other great options are vitamin C-rich yellow and red peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and mushrooms. You get the idea. It’s okay to throw in the kitchen sink, as they say.

3. Add a healthy protein.

Add grilled salmon, chicken breast, canned tuna, or sliced turkey as a healthy protein option. Aim for around 4 ounces (a little larger than your palm). Tofu or tempeh makes for a great vegan option. Protein is filling and also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Skip the fried chicken, fried fish, and fatty deli meats such as pastrami. And go easy on the cheese.

4. Toss in your favorite beans or legumes.

If you have the urge, toss in some beans or legumes for flavor and added fiber. Chick peas, black beans, kidney beans or lentils are great options. Aim for around 1/2 cup (looks like a cupped hand.) Beans and legumes will add more substance to the salad along with fiber and nutrients. And they will certainly keep you full. But best to skip the re-fried beans.

5. Go easy on the dressing.

Salad dressing is high in calories and fat, and we usually get way too much dressing when we order a salad straight off the menu without specifying “light on dressing” or “on the side.” It is common for a restaurant salad to contain at least a quarter of cup, or 4 tablespoons of dressing. I suggest asking for dressing on the side, and then you can control how much you add. It’s also important to watch your portion when you are home, as a mere tablespoon of oil (while containing heart-healthy fat) contains over 100 calories. When choosing a dressing, best to aim for non-creamy dressings such as balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, or use olive oil and vinegar along with your favorite spices. Skip the ranch, Caesar, and blue cheese. When eating at home, try making your own dressing with olive oil, mustard, vinegar, and fresh lemon. Or choose a low-cal dressing. Aim for 1-2 tablespoons (or a shot glass worth) of dressing.

We would love to hear your favorite salad tips and recipes.

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Restaurant meals not getting healthier: smart swaps to make

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: Restaurant meals not getting any healthier: smart swaps for 6 favorite cuisines.

You can also read it HERE.

As Americans, we spend nearly half of our food budget on foods prepared away from home and consume about one-third of our calories on such foods. With a national focus on reducing obesity rates, how do restaurant foods stack up? Are restaurant chains serving healthier meals?

According to a study published in the October issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average calorie and sodium levels of meals served at restaurant chains have not changed much in recent years.

Researchers reviewed more than 26,000 menu entrees from over 200 chain restaurants between 2010 and 2011. The average entrée contained 670 calories and the average sodium levels was 1500 mg (down slightly). The researchers also found that children’s meals, in general, did not become healthier. However, fast-food restaurants decreased the calories in children’s menu entrées by 40 kcal.

The authors concluded that:

… industry marketing and pledges may create a misleading perception that restaurant menus are becoming substantially healthier, but both healthy and unhealthy menu changes can occur simultaneously. Our study found no meaningful changes overall across a one-year time period.

As written in HealthDay: “Restaurant menus did not get any healthier over time,” Helen Wu, a policy and research analyst at the Institute for Population Health Improvement at the University of California, Davis Health System, said in a university news release.

“Consumers need to be aware that when they step into a restaurant, they are playing a high-stakes game with their health by making dietary choices from menus that are loaded with high-calorie, high-sodium options,” Wu said. “This is a game that health-conscious consumers have a very low chance of winning, given the set of menu offerings available in U.S. chain restaurants today.”

As a portion size researcher, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Restaurant portions are still too big. Many pasta bowls, for example hold upwards of 3 cups which (translates to an entire days worth of grains). And many steaks contain more than a half pound of meat, which is more than a day’s worth of protein. Many restaurants are still serving sizzling fried foods and meals with lots of extra cheese, both which contribute added fat and calories, not to mention sodium.

For the good news, you can take charge. As I previously wrote here, you can take action to rightsize your plate by sharing an entrée, wrapping up leftovers, and just being mindful of how much is on your plate. Some other healthy restaurant tips I shared here are, order dishes grilled, order dressings and sauces on the side, and limit liquid calories.

Here are several simple swaps you can make for some favorite cuisines.

1. American
Start with a house salad with dressing on the side instead of a Caesar salad.
Order grilled instead of fried chicken or fish entrees.
Choose a baked potato instead of French fries.
Order steamed or sautéed vegetables instead of potatoes in gravy.
Order a veggie burger instead of a cheeseburger.

2. Chinese
Choose steamed instead of fried dumplings
Order steamed brown rice instead of fried rice
Order entrees steamed or lightly sautéed, instead of fried.
Instead of spareribs, choose steamed or sautéed chicken with vegetables.
Order your favorite sauce on the side.

3. Italian
Order pasta primavera instead of fettuccine alfredo.
Skip the extra cheese.
Order pasta in olive oil or tomato sauce instead of cream sauce and vodka sauce.
Start with a salad instead of fried calamari
Choose whole wheat pastas whenever possible.

4. Mexican
Start with gazpacho instead of nachos with cheese.
Order grilled fish or chicken instead of fried beef or pork (carnitas).
Choose borracho beans and rice instead of refried beans.
When making a burrito, choose extra lettuce and tomato instead of extra cheese.
Choose salsa instead of sour cream.

5. Japanese
Start with a seaweed salad instead of fried beancurd.
Order steamed vegetables or instead of vegetables tempura (battered & fried veggies).
Order sushi or sashimi instead of shrimp tempura.
Skip the “spicy” sauce.

6. French
Start with a mixed green salad instead of French onion soup.
Order entrees in a wine based sauce instead of béarnaise sauce.
Order lightly sautéed vegetables instead of creamy “au gratin” vegetables or potatoes.
Choose poached pears instead of crème caramel.

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Los Angeles Health Dept Partners With Restaurants to Offer Smaller Portions

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “LA health department partners with restaurants to offer smaller portions.” You can also read it HERE.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched a healthy restaurants partnership, identifying restaurants that will serve smaller portion sizes and healthier meals for kids. The program, Choose Health L.A. Restaurants is part of an effort by the L.A. Department of Public Health to curb the obesity epidemic and empower residents of L.A. County to choose health and lead healthier lives.

Choose Health L.A. Restaurants will promote menu changes that encourage healthier food choices and smaller portion sizes. The program will also offer healthier meals for children that can foster a healthy weight. The program is part of the public health department’s continued efforts to reduce the obesity epidemic by educating and empowering L.A. County residents to “choose health.”

To be part of the Choose Health L.A. Restaurants program, restaurants must offer smaller food portions and offer healthier meals for children by including more fruits and vegetables and less fried food. The health department will post decals in the windows of participating restaurants and list the participating restaurants on an interactive map at

As reported in the L.A. Times,

The program is the latest effort to attack the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County, where about 23 percent of residents are obese. The county has also been encouraging residents to eat less and to give up soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages… ‘It’s all part of a coordinated campaign to change norms,’ said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Department of Public Health.

Dr. Fielding also told the L.A. Times that “Small changes in what we eat every day, at every meal can make a huge difference in terms of not only our weight but our overall health.”

I could not agree more. As a nutritionist counseling overweight clients, making small changes to your diet by eating a little less, skipping fried foods and adding more vegetables to your meal can make a huge difference at the end of the day.

Choose Health L.A. Restaurants sounds like a terrific program to me and appears to be a win-win solution for all. Consumers living in L.A. County can still dine out, eat healthfully and have the option to purchase smaller portion sizes, which will offer fewer calories. Restaurants can increase revenue by selling healthier food options in smaller portions and help contribute to the health of its residents.

I can’t wait to see other public health departments and restaurants across the country adopt similar campaigns. Indeed, the NYC Health Department has launched a terrific public health campaign, “Cut Your Portions, Cut Your Risk,” with subway ads in an attempt to get New Yorkers to be mindful of portion sizes, along with proposing a cap on the size of sugary drinks. (Currently in court. Stay tuned.) I was involved and an active supporter of these campaigns.

In the meantime, here are a few things YOU can do to dine out healthfully:

1. Share oversized portions with your dinner companion.

2. Start your meal with a healthy salad (dressing on the side, of course) or a low-fat soup

3. Limit liquid calories such as soda. Drink water instead.

4. Choose grilled instead of fried foods.

5. Take a stand and request that your restaurant serve smaller portions.

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Why current size labels can be deceptive

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “I’ll have a medium soda”–Why current size labels can be deceptive. You can also read it HERE.

As a nutrition researcher tracking portion sizes and labels manufacturers use to describe such sizes, I have seen food portions not only grow larger over the years, but the labels to describe foods and drinks have also changed.

For example, when McDonald’s opened in the 1950s, the company offered one size soda, which was 7 ounces; today’s 12 ounces is labeled a kid’s size and the 16-ounce is labeled small. Similarly, when Burger King opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large soda. The 12-ounce is no longer sold and the 16-ounce comes as part of the value meal. Burger King’s small soda is now 20 ounces, the medium is 30 ounces, and the large is 40 ounces.

Does anyone pay attention to these label descriptors? And do they influence how much we really eat? Apparently yes, according to a new study published in Health Economics by Cornell University researchers David Just and Brian Wansink.

The study found that labeling a food as “regular” or “double size” affects how much consumers will eat, regardless of how big or small the portion size actually is.

The researchers served subjects two different portions of pasta in either a one cup-portion or a two-cup portion. For some of the subjects, the two different size portions were labeled “half-size” and “regular.” For the other subjects, the identically-sized portions were labeled “regular” and “double-size.” The labels for the first group of subjects indicated that the two-cup pasta portion was the regular size, while it was suggested to the second group of subjects that the one-cup pasta portion was the regular size.

The study concluded that varying the “regular” portions affected how much the subjects actually ate. Subjects ate more food when the portion was labeled “regular” than when it was labeled “double-size” despite the fact that the two sizes were actually the same size.

The subjects were also willing to pay more for a larger sounding portion size.

As reported in, “These varying concepts of ‘regular’ portions made all the difference in how much people would spend and subsequently eat,” said Just. “Participants ate much more when their portion was labeled ‘regular’ than when it was labeled ‘double-size.’ In fact, participants who thought their portion was ‘double-size’ left 10 times the food on their plate.”

How does this study affect those of us who typically eat out at eateries that offer foods and drinks in different sizes? The chart below shows the sizes of fast food soda portions at top fast-food chains.


Kids 12 oz.
Small 16 oz.
Med 21 oz.
Large 32 oz.

Burger King

Value 16 oz.
Small 20 oz.
Medium 30 oz.
Large 40 oz.


Small 16 oz.
Medium 20 oz.
Large 30 oz.
Mega Jug 64 oz.

As you can see, the benign sounding “medium” soda is actually quite large. McDonald’s medium portion is 21 ounces (a pint and a half) and Burger King’s medium soda is 30 ounces (nearly a quart). But because these items are labeled medium, customers may consider themselves virtuous by not ordering the large, and may in fact order a medium order of fries to go with the soda.

My advice: Next time you visit an eating establishment that sells food in several sizes, I suggest ordering the small. Unless, you are visiting a Starbucks where the small is labeled tall.

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Restaurant survival guide

Below is my blog post  Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining for Huffington Post. You can also read it HERE.

Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining

Being a nutritionist in New York City, with so many good restaurants on almost every block, so many clients that I counsel eat out more often than they eat at home. Whether dinner parties, business meetings, or just catching up with friends, eating out has become one of our favorite activities. While I always recommend that it is good to cook (or learn to cook) and eat home on occasion, so much of my time is spent coaching clients on how to eat out healthfully in restaurants.

It is possible to eat out and consume upward of 2000 calories in just one meal. However, it is also entirely possible not to break your calorie budget and to eat healthfully while eating out. The key is to be mindful of your food choices and to choose wisely. Here are my top tips for dining out healthfully.

1. Mind your portions. Portions have grown tremendously over the years and it is most noticeable in restaurants. As I wrote in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, many steaks often contain a pound of meat (yes that is 16 oz!), overflowing pasta bowls often hold 3 or more cups, and some sandwiches contain over 1000 calories. However, you do NOT need to eat an entire dish yourself. YOU can practice portion control by splitting an entrée in half and share with your dining partner, wrapping up leftovers, or ordering appetizer portions.

2. Order a salad or vegetable soup to start. Instead of eating the entire bread basket which we often do when we sit down in the restaurant and wait for our main dish to arrive, order a healthy appetizer. A salad with mixed vegetables (order dressing on the side) or a vegetable-based soup is a great way to start a meal. The veggies are fairly low in calories and will fill you up as they are rich in fiber (not to mention healthy).

3. Order dishes grilled, broiled or baked. How a meal is prepared is so important to determining the healthfulness—and calorie count—of the meal. Try to stick with baked chicken or grilled fish, for example. Steer clear of fried dishes such as deep fried chicken.

4. Choose red sauce over cream sauce. We all love eating at our favorite Italian restaurant and we may want to enjoy an occasional bowl of pasta. Besides minding our portions, it is also important to choose the right sauce. Marinara or tomato sauce is relatively low in fat and calories as compared to a cream sauce.

5. Order primavera. Adding vegetables to your pasta dish (or any other dish you can) is a great way to make your portion look larger, boost vitamins, minerals, and fiber content, and help you to feel more satisfied without providing unneeded calories.

6. Order “on the side.” When ordering a salad or fish dish which may appear to be healthy, if the dish contains tons of dressing and sauce, you may be getting hundreds of added calories without even realizing. To avoid this, ask for dressings and sauces on the side. I do not think it is practical to eat everything bland and steamed with no sauce at all. However, if you order your favorite sauce or dressing on the side, you get to control how much you add on and you get a taste of the flavor you like.

7. Skip the soda and sugary drinks. Sodas and other sugary beverages add unnecessary calories to your meal. Opt for water or flavored seltzers instead.

8. Think ONE. If you want to indulge in an occasional glass of wine, think ONE. One drink on occasion is OK for most of us, but as I tell my clients, it is important not to drink several drinks daily. Not only does a lot of alcohol provide unneeded calories (as well as potential health risks), it tends to lower your inhibitions and you may end up overeating without realizing it.

9. Share dessert. It is ok to enjoy an occasional piece of pie for dessert but I suggest sharing it with your dinner companions. One great idea is to order your favorite “treat’ dessert while also ordering a fresh fruit platter. This way you can split both. The fruit adds volume so that you don’t feel deprived ordering just a few bites of pastry or pie.

10. Skip the WHITE (unless it is cauliflower). It is best to skip the white bread products which are refined and devoid of fiber and other important nutrients. Order brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat pasta or soba noodles instead of white pasta, and limit the white bread and crackers on the table.

And, finally, remember that French fries count as a treat, and not as a vegetable.


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Most kids’ meals at restaurants are unhealthy: What you can do



A new study out last week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., found that most meals from national chain restaurants marketed to children were not healthy and did not meet nutrition standards for healthy eating. This is quite troubling, considering the high obesity rates among today’s youth and all the eating out we do. We currently spend nearly half of our food dollars on foods consumed outside the home.

Of the nearly 3,500 meal combinations studied, 97 percent of the meals targeted to kids failed to meet healthy standards developed by nutrition experts. Such standards suggest that a children’s meal contain: no more than 430 calories, no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, and no more than 770 mg sodium, among other parameters.

Ninety-one percent of such meals failed to meet the standards set by the National Restaurant’s Association Kids LiveWell Program. Such standards require that at least one children’s meal (including a beverage) contain fewer than 600 calories, contain no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, and contain at least two servings of the following: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

As reported in the New York Times, when CSPI conducted the study back in 2008, they found that 99 percent of kids’ meals were unhealthy and failed to meet standards set by nutrition experts.

Why do so many meals get a failing grade? The answer is pretty obvious. They contained sugary beverages, fried foods (including French fries and fried chicken), burgers, and full-fat cheese, in addition to other unhealthy ingredients. The calorie counts, fat, sugar, and sodium levels often exceeded standards. One meal contained 3,200 mg of sodium, more than twice the amount recommended for kids for an entire day.

For some good news: The chain Subway did not offer sugary beverages with kids’ meals. (They were the only chain to do so.) Instead they suggested water or low-fat milk. And the chain’s entire line of Fresh Fit for Kids meals met nutrition standards. It would be great if other restaurants followed Subway’s lead.

As a nutritionist advocating for healthy choices and educating families on nutrition and healthy eating, here are six things you can do when taking youngsters out to eat in a restaurant:

  • Order meals that contain fruits and/or vegetables. Think colorful!
  • Skip the white bread products and choose whole grains (i.e., whole-wheat breads and pastas).
  • Choose water or low-fat dairy instead of soda or other sugary beverages.
  • Skip the extra cheese.
  • Order sauces on the side.
  • Choose grilled, baked, roasted dishes instead of fried dishes.

And better yet, get kids into the kitchen, and involve them in the cooking process. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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Eat Out Healthy

Dr. Joanne Lichten, known as Dr Jo, recently released a new book Eat Out Healthy. In this terrific book, Dr. Jo guides the reader through  guilt free dining. She  discusses “meal specifics”–including pizza ,subs, entrees, and ethnic cuisine. She then visits your favorite restaurant (and the list is extensive) and guides you about how you can order without breaking your calorie bank.

Dr Jo has also created a series of Eat  Out Healthy videos.

—Check out Eating Out Healthy at Starbucks:

—And, check out Eating Out Healthy at Outback Steakhouse:

Enjoy and hearty appetite!! Dining out has never been easier, thanks to Dr. Jo.

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Restaurant eating can be healthy.

Restaurant eating can be healthy.

Do you love eating out but are afraid of gaining weight?! Read this.

We all love to eat out. Since I do counseling in New York City, so many of my clients  eat out for socializing and entertainment. While I often recommend that clients eat home and cook more often, I know that many will eat out, at least a night or two.

Portions are tremendous when eating out and it is, therefore, easy to eat too many calories. In fact, research shows that foods consumed out of the home provide more fat, sodium and calories than home cooked meals.

Here are some tips to help you dine out without gaining any weight. You may even lose some weight!

Dining Dos:

ü      Do eat as many veggies as you want.

ü      Choose olive oil based dressings over creamy varieties.

ü      Order dishes steamed, grilled, broiled, or baked.

ü      Order brown rice instead of white.

ü      Opt for grilled fish or chicken.

ü      At Italian restaurants, choose red sauce or marinara for pasta.

ü      Order appetizer portions or share a main dish entrée.

ü      Order primavera.

ü      Choose turkey and chicken as a sandwich filling over deli meats.

ü      Hold the mayo! Opt for mustard or ketchup.

ü      Choose whole wheat or rye bread instead of white.

ü      Drink 6-8 glasses of water or seltzer daily.

ü      Order a baked potato or rice instead of fries.

ü      Order fresh fruit such as mixed berries for dessert.

ü      Order coffee beverages with nonfat milk.

ü      Remember that fiber is filling.

ü      Enjoy your company and eat slowly.


Dining Don’ts:

ü      Don’t go the restaurant hungry. Eat a snack before you go.

ü      Avoid cream sauces for pasta.

ü      Stay away from extra cheese.

ü      Limit the red meat.

ü      Beware the fried dishes: fried chicken, egg rolls, tortilla chips, and so on.

ü      Don’t count French fries as a vegetable.

ü      Limit white bread.

ü      Go easy on the sauces.

ü      Limit salad dressings, croutons, butter, and mayonnaise.

ü      Skip the soda and sweetened beverages.


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