Can you eat out and be healthy? Food Doctor comes to the rescue

Leading nutritionist, Ian Marber – The Food Doctor – isn’t my favourite dining companion. Don’t get me wrong, the conversation is scintillating and his table manners, top notch.

But it’s like singing to Simon Cowell; you’d always be worried he was judging you.

Eating with Ian, I’m on tenterhooks over my food choices. Is he totting up the calories and assessing the damage?

I feel under pressure to go for the naked salad with plain grilled whatever and some lemon juice on the side. And as for dessert… best not go there.

Having said that, if I dined with Mr Marber regularly perhaps I’d be healthy and svelte.

Hoping to discover the inside scoop on how to dine out and still ditch the pounds, I asked him to share with me his top tips for healthy dining out.

The bad news is that he’s sceptical as to the whole concept. In his view “eating out is seen [by most] as an occasional, self-indulgent treat” and that “restaurants with ‘healthy’ menus don’t do all that well with them”.

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Most diners see generous restaurant portions as better value, and it’s no big secret that restaurant chefs often use huge quantities of butter, cream and salt to make their food taste good.

Ian went on to share his opinion that there’s not even a national cuisine that he would recommend as “healthy”.

“They might be [healthy] as cooked in their original country, but they are not quite so beneficial in their (sometimes mass market) UK version.”

He cites Japanese food as an example. Viewed as the best choice of the healthy eater, in reality, the version eaten in high-volume outlets often isn’t so healthy.

“Sushi sits on high-GI (glycaemic index) rice flavoured with sugar and tempura can be covered in too-thick greasy batter.” Thai food can also be healthy, but our perception of it requires buckets of high-fat coconut milk to give it that “Thai” flavour. Not very promising.

There is good news. He did concede, “you can make healthy choices when ordering”. I asked for his golden rules. He told me:

o If you’re going to drink alcohol with your meal, order it with your main course. The first glass on an empty stomach and second with your main course tend to lead to “dessert – why not?”

o Limit portion sizes by ordering two starters.

o Always order a protein – it will keep you fuller longer. Grilled meats or fish accompanied by salad without dressing are a perfect choice.

o Avoid white rice/pasta/bread because of their high GI. They will give you a sharp glucose rise followed by a later dip making you want to eat more.

o Enjoy yourself every so often.

He also gave me his ordering tips for various types of restaurants. In a Japanese restaurant, order sashimi with brown rice. Lebanese cuisine offers lots of healthy food: couscous with vegetables is a good choice as are any plain grilled meats and big salads.

In an Italian restaurant avoid pasta (again high GI) and choose mozzarella, tomato and avocado to start (they contain essential fats), then grilled veal with vegetables.

In a Chinese restaurant, avoid anything deep-fried. Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts (unless heavily coated with sauce) and vegetables. Indian restaurants are fraught with full-fat threats generally due to how we order. Too often, it’s a beer, poppadums, naan and curries full of ghee (butter), cream and oil. Grilled Tandoori meats with vegetables are your safest choice.

Armed with Ian’s top tips, Laura Evans (Deputy Editor of this paper) and I popped into a new local outlet, looking for healthy food.

Golders Green favourite, Caf� Japan, has opened a healthy sister restaurant a couple of doors down.

Sushi Caf�licious does look very girly: white walls and floors and magenta ceiling and orchids. Also, the sushi-making team are exclusively female, which they claim is a London first.

It’s not so much a restaurant as a takeaway with some high stools along one of the walls. You order at the counter and your meal is assembled and brought to you.

The lady serving was immensely knowledgeable, helpful and endlessly patient.

We chose the Sushi Caf� Set – a special opening offer – consisting of a pot of Miso soup, leaf salad with one of three dressings and a slice of their sushi cake. We also chose a selection of Temari – sushi balls – and a Sushi Cup each. The Sushi Cups are described as “nutritionally balanced health and beauty pots served with organic brown rice”.

You can choose from the Happiness, Detox, Beauty, Calm, Radiance, Super-health or Youth cup. I went for Beauty while Laura plumped for Radiance. We both ordered the optional extra ball of collagen jelly – at my age I’ll take any offers of help with youth restoration.

Based on Ian’s portion-control advice, we’d over-ordered, but it was all in the interests of good journalism.

The Miso was light, soothing and contained tiny creamy squares of tofu.

The Sushi cake was a revelation. Dressed up like a proper cake, the bottom layer was brown rice with vegetables, deep-fried bean curd (probably another black mark), topped with a layer of egg and coated – on the side with chopped herbs.

A random sprig of thyme sat on the top. It was delicious. Suspiciously sweet, but with all the innocent stuff in it, it seemed something you could treat yourself to without too much guilt. The Temari sushi balls were, for the most part, excellent. Temari are ornamental woven balls and their sushi version also looked decorative. High point was eel – delicious. And the low point – mozzarella, which was a cultural car crash.

The Sushi Cups were good. On the Ian-ometer, I’d say the small portions get a tick, although the chicken pieces in my cup did have (fatty) skin on, and the brown rice and veg were plusses.

I chose the basil dressing, which tasted like pesto; another cultural-clash, but Laura’s salmon with spicy sesame dressing got a thumbs-up. I suspect Ian would have directed us to forego dressing anyway. The collagen jelly looked like a small jellyfish and tasted of little. Who knows if it helped – I don’t look a lot younger than I did before I ate there. Perhaps I need to go there every day to assess it properly.

If you’re looking for a healthy take-out then this is the place for you. It’s not a bargain but even if you don’t feel better financially, you’ll feel like you’ve done the right thing for your body.

o More information can be found on Ian Marber and The Food Doctor at www.thefooddoctor.com. Sushi Cafelicious is at 020-8381 4704. www.sushicafelicious.co.uk.

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