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Health and Diet

The Guru's Story : Part IV

Digging out of 35 years of poor diet and lack of exercise resulting in a weight of 390 pounds and a 68" waist. . . Will this be a success story or a failure?

From Part I: Around the end of 2009 I stepped on the scales and was shocked that I was getting close to needing to put ANOTHER 100 pound poise on the scale. . I was 390 pounds (177 kilos)! I was wearing the largest Carhartt coveralls made (60 x 32) and had to have them modified to add 6" to fit around my belly . . .

See, The Guru's Story : Part I,   The Guru's Story : Part II and The Guru's Story : Part III.

The Dilemma of a Nutritarian Eating Out

We enjoy eating out as much as anyone. Since I no longer commute or travel daily it is easy to avoid the fast food restaurants I once frequented. But we have not become recluses and still eat out about two or three times a month (sometimes less often but more when traveling).

The worst place for me to eat out was the large food bars with a wide selection of foods. Now they are one of our better choices to eat out. Previously as an omnivore I not only ate everything but loved the wide variety of a food bar such as Golden Coral or Ryans. Our favorites were the Bourbon Street chicken, baked potato with sour cream and various vegetables. But I also liked some seafood salad, fried shrimp and a slice or two of pizza for desert. These were all in small portions but numerous courses of high calorie, high sodium, low nutrient food (proportionaly).

All the U.S. restaurant chains could use VAST improvement for those of us that want to improve our health and still eat out. It was recently reported that Olive Garden's and Red Lobster's most popular meals had twice the US recommended daily allowance for sodium which is eight to ten times the healthy amount for any one meal (remember that the US RDA for salt is more than double what is healthy and nearly double the British standard which is still high). As in many other areas the Vegetarian selections are higher in fat and sodium than the non-Vegitarian selections and are sadly not much of a healthier choice.

What these chains forget is that in every family OR group of friends at a table there is probably be one or more Vegetarians are who not eating there as a first choice but because they were invited to go out with their family and friends. They would certainly eat elsewhere IF the choice was up to them. But in any case the Vegetarians may be 15 to 20% of the customers. That is a significant number of customers to ignore and rude to treat them as "second class". There is even greater likelihood that 50% or MORE of their customers are suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease (perhaps caused in large part by eating out. . ). To not address these concerns is irresponsible.

Eating Properly When Traveling

When traveling it is inevitable that you are going to eat out a resturant sometime. The list below covers many of your choices. But it helps to reduce the number of meals you eat out while traveling. One a day is not too bad while traveling. Two if you can find a good salad bar for lunch. We like to get a good dinner at the end of a long day. Breakfast can be cold cereal and fruit eaten in the motel if you carry some bowls and spoons. These are also easy to clean and pack.

Lunch is a little more difficult. One method is to purchase salad makings as you need them. If you are traveling with an ice chest you can carry condiments, salad dressing or salsa. You can purchase salad ingrediants and ocassionally pre-made salads at most grocery stores. A few have deli's where you can get an excellent salad of your choice.

When eating out I try to select something that breaks only ONE Nutritarian rule. It can be tough. If its high sodium then it must not have a lot of fat/oil or wheat products. If it is high fat then it must not be high sodium or have wheat products. This is almost impossible and usually not a decision. If it has bread or pasta then it must be low sodium and low fat (other than what is in the bread/pasta). Generally this is the best you can do at any resturant. If eating out daily for a brief period then try to vary the broken rule. This way you do not have a diet very high in any of the things you should avoid.

Online Menus and Nutritional Info

Many restaurants, even small local places have web sites with their menu and some with nutritional information. This can be either helpful or depressing. We were recently invited to a party at a Mexican restaurant we were not familiar with so we looked them up on the net. They had an on-line menu that was easier to study at home than in the restaurant. We found their "light" selections and had made our choices at home.

Those with nutritional information are interesting to study but what you will find out is that almost everything has been over salted (or surprisingly salted) and has soy added some way or another. If you want to stick to any highly restricted diet forget going going to restaurants.

Home again. . . After a recent four day road trip where we ate out once or twice a day the BEST meal was the one when we came home. We had a large salad, Sheri's beans, homemade salsa and some mixed fruit. Good tasting, healthy and guilt free.

A Review of Choices

Golden Coral - Ryans
The wide variety is a help to the vegetarian Nutritarian. At Golden Coral I have Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and onions, beans of various types, mushrooms, steamed shrimp (the only meat I now eat) and some cocktail sauce. There is also fresh salad. The problem with some of the cooked vegetable items at Golden Coral is they are cooked in butter. This is the case of the Brussels Sprouts and Lima beans. Neither need to be cooked this way or with a lot of salt.

Note that it is an American tradition to can and cook green beans in so much salt they are almost pickled. Canning recipes call for several table spoons of salt per pint (a saturated brine - unneeded for canning). I occasionally eat a few but the saltiness is too much and these should be avoided. For our health restaurants should learn to use no-salt salt (potassium chloride) if they MUST salt so heavily.

Chinese Buffet
The large Chinese buffets range from OK to very good. The small ones rarely have the needed variety or quality. The best have a large selection of raw or steamed vegetables and some will cook your vegies to order. Broccoli, mushrooms, onions, steamed cabbage, snow peas and shrimp. Since some of us are not moral vegetarians we have been known to pick some of the vegetables from the mixed meat and vegetables. While the food can be good at these places it is almost always high in sodium (from salt and/or MSG) if cooked and sometimes cooked in butter such as the sauteed mushrooms.

Note that stir fry can be very low in oil but it can also be very high. The trend locally is Mexican cooks with no training in stir frying working in Chinese restaurants. It CAN be very bad and one local Chinese place was by far the WORST resturant I have ever eaten in. Such is the luck of the draw when traveling.

Mexican
Like the Chinese these vary a great deal in quality. The problem in most Mexican restaurants is that the Vegetarian selections are almost always loaded with cheese, or cooked in too much oil and served with rice and refried beans of unknown content. However, some DO have some selections that can be quite good and relatively healthy. My favorite is Diablo Shrimp (Cammarones el Diablo). This is steamed shrimp served with a hot red sauce with sweet peppers and onions. The sides normally include a salad, rice and beans. Have them hold the rice (and possibly the beans). Recently when we asked for no rice they increased the guacamole salad - an added tip worthy gesture. Vegetarian stuffed peppers would be good but I have yet to find them. One local chain, Don Juan's has a variety of "light" selections that are quite good listed as cooked with no oil or seasonings (ie salt).

Our favorite Mexican restaurant is called El Sarape. They have good traditional Mexican food, a simple menu, moderate size servings and good prices. The people are friendly and the place has a small down home atmosphere. Does "down home" translate to Spanish?

Note that in the grocery stores the refried beans on the Mexican isle are 5 to 10% lard and on the Gringo side you can get nonfat refried beans. There is very little or no difference in taste. All commercial salsa is very high in sodium (salt).

Cracker Barrel
We used to eat out here a lot. Even though they have a small selection of cooked vegetables most are cooked with meat for flavoring. This is unnecessary and makes it difficult for Vegetarians. I used to eat one or the other of their breakfasts with bacon, eggs, biscuits or French toast. All now verboten on my current diet. The highest calories and lowest nutrient value imaginable short of eating pure sugar. But boy it tasted good. . .

The best selection for me at Cracker Barrel now is their Grilled Chicken salad. As a large "Caesar" type meal salad it has a lot of lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I pawn off the chicken to someone else at the table and/or bring some home for the dog. I MIGHT eat one or two bites. I also pass off the wedge of cheese. I eat the croutons as a treat and the hard boiled egg. I order the dressing on the side and use very little compared to what I used to. It takes a lot of self control but this is a low sodium meal that is better than many others.

Subway
I still eat out at Subway ocassionally. It is a "treat". While the bread is not on my list to eat I still get the subs with dark wheat* bread. Note that the famous "Subway Diet" is merely a portion control method. It may not be particularly good for you but is better than most.

I order the 12 inch "whole wheat" Vegetarian sub with almost all the vegetables and no cheese (unless I've had a strenous workout and this is THE meal). My normal sandwich has lettuce and spinach greens, tomatoes, onions, black olives, cucumbers, banana peppers, oregano and vinegar (no oil). It meets the Nutritarian phase to "Eat a Rainbow" (meaning many bright colored vegetables).

* Note that the "wheat bread" at subway that is commonly called "whole wheat" is far from it. Most commercial whole wheat bread is made largely from bleached white flour. The Subway "wheat" bread's whole wheat comes AFTER the high fructose corn syrup (another ingredient to avoid) thus is a minor ingredient! The bread color is from black strap molasses and other darkeners, NOT whole wheat. This is a common practice in modern bakeries. It is no healthier (perhaps less due to the added sugar) than common white bread.

Local Family Restaurants
These vary as much as their numbers. Some are good, some bad. Most of the "country cooking" places are pretty bad and have marginal salad bars. Some can have very good menus and even good vegetarian selections. If a family operated restaurant is a place you frequent then you may be able to ask that certain things be prepared without salt OR using no-salt salt (potassium chloride). Some family restaurants will often go a long way to keep regulars returning.

Pizza Restaurants
There are pizza places and there are pizza places. Most of the chains are just more fast food restaurants and should be avoided. Most have nothing for the Nutritarian or Vegan and the Vegetarian selections are high fat, sodium and a lot of low nutrient bread. A few will make a "Vegan" pizza with no cheese but you are stuck with the high sodium pizza crust. One Vegan pizza I had recently had so little topping it looked like a sixk joke. . . Eat the toppings, avoid green olives as 5 of these have 350 to 400 mg of sodium. Pizza is now my last and a desperate choice if eating out.

Italian
Other than meager salad bars there is nothing I can recommend at most Italian restaurants if you are a Nutritarian. Most Italian Vegetarian selections are pasta loaded with cheese. See Pizza Restaurants above.

Fast Food Restaurants
Even when McDonalds, Burger King and Hardies have advertised "healthier" choices the calories from fat in these have often been as bad as the burger and fries OR worse. All the fast food franchises play fast and loose with nutrition and carefully use the broadest of terms carefully veted by their lawyers. When it comes to their healthier choices you can bet every word was approved by a law firm and probably does NOT mean what you think it means. Take the "wheat bread" example at Subway. Its not "whole wheat bread" its "wheat bread". By that definition it can be made from any part of the wheat plant including the chaff and roots, and processed in ANY manner. But WE (the public) call it and think of it as "whole wheat". It is NOT.

  • In general fast food restaurants should be avoided even as a last choice.
  • Always be skeptical of their "healthier" choices and read the fine print, they are usually NOT a healthy choice.
  • Fasting or skipping a meal now and then will not hurt now and then and this is the time.


Restaurants in General
Unless they specialize in healthy cuisine the best you can expect from most restaurants is a vegetarian selection that is high in sodium. Usually these are also high fat (cheese) and low nutrient (lots of pasta, bread). This includes the rare few Vegetarian restaurants. At most restaurants any of the standard entree's including the Vegetarian or Vegan selections will have several days to a week's worth of sodium! Eat out more than a couple times a month and this WILL raise your blood pressure and contribute to arterial disease, strokes or heart attacks. So be wary of what you eat in restaurants, and eat out only as a true treat or by necessity when traveling. If they are not too busy you can often ask to have something cooked to your requirements. Ask, it doesn't hurt and often costs very little extra.

Processed Foods in General
Almost all food companies make various superiority claims and only stop when they are caught and forced by a court to change their advertising. For most of my life "Rainbow Bread" was advertised as "helping kids grow 57 ways". But decades later they were cornered in court and asked to list the ways. . . They could not. They had been lying for decades.

Things that say they are made using 100% of an ingredient mean that THAT ingredient is 100% of what it is but the product is not ALL that ingredient. . . Its a tricky legalism that lets companies put high fructose corn syrup in cereals made from 100% corn, 100% rice, 100% wheat . . . Many modern natural and healthier food purveyors do the same. "Healthy" multi grain cereals are often have high levels of sugar or sodium and the 100% phase above applies as well. READ the ingredients and you find that 100% means nothing when twisted by the lawyers.

However, after reading a lot of labels you will find that the advice to "not eat anything that requires a label" makes sense.

Sadly on a health and nutrition basis most American restuarnts should be labled . .

"Eat at Your Own Risk"



January - April 2010, 385 lbs. peak weight.

July 20, 2010 - 344 lbs.

July 27, 2010 - 340 lbs. (-45 pounds).

August 3, 2010 - 337 lbs. (-48 pounds) waist 60" (down 4").

August 9, 2010 - 334 lbs. (-51 pounds). The last time I was "watching" my weight eight years ago and trying to lose it took 6 months to lose 15 pounds and reach this weight.

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