This Looks Healthy, But Is It?

A restaurant meal may look like it’s good for you, but we had a lab count the actual calories. Here are the surprising numbers.

By Todd Kliman ,    Sara Levine ,    Ann Limpert

Years ago, the Center for Science in the Public Interest shocked lots of people by exposing the ghastly number of calories in Kung Pao chicken and movie popcorn. Then came the film Super Size Me,which revolted moviegoers with the fat-laden, sugar-drenched realities of a McDonald’s meal. Just thinking about it was enough to make your pants feel tight.But what about a sit-down meal at a good restaurant? According to a Zagat survey, Americans in big cities eat out, on average, four times a week. What exactly are we consuming when we sit down to a restaurant dinner?

We set out to find out. We dispatched staff to pick up three-course meals from five restaurants, each with a different cuisine. Then we packed the food up in containers filled with dry ice and shipped it to a lab in Des Moines, Iowa, for burning—yes, burning—to measure its caloric content. We also had it tested for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

The results: Who knew that a three-course sushi dinner has more carbs than a three-course French dinner? Going out for Thai sounds like an excursion into light, bright cooking, but a meal at a Thai restaurant can be nearly as caloric as a certain New Orleans – Style restaurant. Note to all the lobbyists who chow down on the latter’s shrimp and grits and beignets several times a week: In one dinner you may be taking in more than a day’s worth of calories.

Lab results in hand, we invited two experts to help us make sense of the numbers. Walter Scheib, who as White House chef under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was tasked with finding out the nutritional content for every meal he served to the First Family—and who went on diets with First Ladies—commented on each dish. Katherine Tallmadge, a DC nutritionist who has been a guest expert on TV shows from Food Network programs to Good Morning America, offered commentary and alternative recommendations for each meal.

Our hope is not that you’ll come away from this vowing to steer clear of these restaurants. Rather, we hope you’ll come away a wiser, healthier diner.


Vegetable Spring Rolls With Sweet-and-Sour Sauce

Roasted Duck With Red Curry Sauce, Side of White Rice

Thai Coconut Custard With Sweet Rice

Calories: 2,226

Carbs: 307 grams

Fat: 82 grams

Protein: 65 grams


Walter Scheib says: “[Spring rolls] are little grease sponges. But there are wonderful things called summer rolls, which are basically spring rolls that are fresher and lighter—and without the deep-fried part.”

“Thai desserts are based on rice and coconut. Go for sorbets or fruit ices—just not coconut ice cream, which is basically frozen butter. Ask if they’ve got a fresh mango with a squeeze of lime.”

“Most people think of Oriental cuisines as ‘light.’ When I worked at the White House, this is what Mrs. Clinton used to call gratuitous fat—fat in your food that you don’t necessarily see. You’ve got coconut milk, which is straight fat, and then the duck skin.”

What to get instead: Coconut milk is the biggest source of calories and fat on this diet-busting menu. Often you don’t even know it’s there. Instead look for dishes that get their flavor from citrus juices, spices, vinegars, and herbs.

Katherine Tallmadge, a Thai Restaurant regular, orders lemongrass soup, beef salad, and steamed whole fish: “If your main dish is a lot of food, you probably don’t want the extra rice. A cup is 200 calories.” If you’re going to have noodles, get cellophane noodles, made with mung beans instead of flour. And keep in mind that at many Asian restaurants, portions are served family-style and meant for sharing.

Photo: Washingtonian Magazine


Photo: CA Strawberry Commission

NOW it’s official: You can eat a chocolate sundae every day and still lose weight…

One of my clients, Jennie, almost always snacks in the afternoon. She view these snacks as ‘rewards” for getting through another day of drudgery. Of course, these same snacks contribute to her weight problem.

My advice to her (and I’m pretty proud of it ): Have a chocolate sundae every day.

I know this sounds strange, but here’s why it helps. The chocolate syrup that you pour over ice cream isn’t  exactly lean, but that’s okay because underneath the chocolate – the sundae part – is fresh fruit instead of ice cream. Fruit is a lot better for you than ice cream, and the chocolate provides a slightly sinful incentive to make the  switch seem worthwhile.

Almost any fruit works with chocolate syrup – strawberries, bananas, peaches, take your pick. Apart from the fact that a fruit sundae is deliciously fresh tasting, filling, satisfying,  and low in saturated fat and calories, it makes a great substitute for other snacks that really load on the calories.

THE SUNDAE SOLUTION has been responsible for hundreds of people eating  – and LOVING – more fruit. If you try it, you will too!

BOTTOM LINE: Lose 9 to 35 pounds

A tablespoon of regular chocolate syrup has about 50 calories. Pour it over fruit, and your total is about 110 to 160 calories. Compare that to the usual snacks – a candy bar or protein bar, for example, has about 250 calories, and an ice cream cone has about 500 – and you can see why substituting the fruit sundae can lead to impressive amounts of weight loss. Make the switch every day, and you can count on losing 9 to 35 pounds in a year.

Get more wonderful tips like this that will make your diet simple!
Click here to buy “Diet Simple,” the book

Katherine Tallmadge explains to CNN why breakfast controls weight

“Diet Simple” contains 192 strategies for healthy weight loss. What’s one of the most effective, enjoyable, and simple changes you can make in your eating? Simple: Add breakfast to your day. Katherine explains to Washingtonian…

Also, CNN spoke with Katherine Tallmadge about breakfast. Here’s a part of that conversation.

What exactly is it about breakfast that makes it so beneficial? And are all are breakfasts created equal? A study from Pediatrics, published in March 2008, looked at 2,000 teenagers and found that teens who ate breakfast weighed less, exercised more and ate healthier food than their classmates who didn’t eat breakfast.

CNN: Explain the real benefits of eating breakfast. In your experience, have you seen among your patients the same results this study showed: that people who aren’t eating breakfast actually weigh more? How is that?

Tallmadge: In general, people who ate more in the beginning [of] the day ate fewer overall. As soon as you start eating, you start raising your metabolism; your whole body is burning calories earlier in the day. Helps control your appetite. People who skip breakfast — victims of vending machines. The pickers — they eat overall more calories, tend to eat more.

CNN: What about for the people who say, “I just don’t have time to eat breakfast”? What are your tips?

Tallmadge: Everyone has time to eat breakfast. If someone says they don’t, then they should be happy being fat and unhealthy… I apologize for the glib answer… but it’s TRUE!

Scientific studies confirm breakfast eaters get more nutrients for the whole day, are more likely to lose and maintain healthy weights, have more energy, concentrate better, and eat fewer overall calories during the day.

My favorite breakfast? a warm bowl of oatmeal cooked in milk with fruit and nuts… even a peanut butter sandwich with yogurt and fruit, or eggs on whole grain toast with spicy chicken sausage… Do you like lox on a whole grain bagel? How about whole grain blueberry pecan pancakes? All excellent choices… Bon Appetit!

Photo: USA Rice Federation

© Copyright Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD - Designed by Pexeto