I ate 2 bacon cheeseburgers for dinner.

Well…sort of.  Got your attention didn’t I?  Let me explain….

Vegan and vegetarian restaurants seem to really be gaining popularity and popping up more and more.  This is amazing and wonderful!  The fact that it’s happening means there is a demand for it, and I couldn’t be happier about that.  There is just one problem.  Much of the food at these restaurants is the opposite of healthy, despite the fact that it’s plant-based.  Sure, you won’t find a fatty piece of meat smothered in cheese, but you may be surprised to realize the amount of fat and calories that are in many of the dishes offered at these “healthy” restaurants.

I know this from experience.  My family and I often eat at a vegan restaurant called The Veggie Grill.  Most of the options are transitional foods – so, they are made to resemble the real thing, however, they are made from plants.  For example, their “carne asada” is made from soy protein.  These items are great for people moving away from the standard American diet.  Personally, I don’t care for that type of thing.  I didn’t enjoy the taste of meat before I changed my diet for good – I don’t want something that tastes just like the real thing.  Plus, I try to eat only whole foods, and faux meat products aren’t that.  So, I would usually get a sandwich made with a tempeh patty, or my personal favorite, the All Hail Kale.  This salad is marinated raw kale, some quinoa, raw red cabbage slaw, a handful of slightly sweetened walnuts, served with a ginger-papaya dressing (the same thing in which the kale has been marinated.  A very light dressing – or so I thought).  Sounds light and healthy right? Wrong.  I spent some time looking at their Nutrition Facts page on their website and was amazed, and saddened, by what I found.  If I were to eat that salad the way I listed it above (and I did eat it), WITHOUT using the side of dressing, the grand total for grams of fat would be…drum roll please…..FIFTY THREE.  I’ll put it another way.  53!!  If I had added tempeh which I often do, and used the dressing, the fat count would have been 73. That’s more than TWO bacon cheeseburgers!  I realize it’s without cholesterol and mega doses of saturated fat, but still!! I emailed the company hoping the numbers were typos (no luck) and was told they use rice bran oil in the marinade which is why its so high in fat.  And since it’s pre-marinated, you can’t ask for it without.  Well, you can ask, but you won’t get it.  I was also told the only way to reduce calorie/fat content would be to order a lunch size portion – which is still 28 grams, btw, and not enough food in my opinion.

The innocent looking All Hail Kale Salad. Same calorie count and nearly twice as much fat as a bacon cheeseburger.

According to diet-centered medicine experts, we should be consuming a diet consisting of no more than 15% fat.  So, for somebody consuming 2000 calories a day, that’s 30 grams of fat.  This number should be less for somebody trying to lose weight or reverse a disease.    Puts that 73 grams for a supposedly healthy salad into perspective doesn’t it?

Some examples of menu items and their values:

Grilled “chicken” wrap = 690 calories, 34 grams of fat.  Kid’s mac-n-cheese = 470 calories, 27 grams of fat.  Portobello mushroom burger = 360 calories, 17 grams of fat.  They do offer a few soups, a green salad, and chili (if you get it without sour cream) that are lower in fat, but the majority of menu items are up there.

I’m pleased as punch that these restaurants exist, as I said.  And I’m not saying we should avoid patronizing them.  What bothers me is they really aren’t making much of an effort to make the food healthy, while making it plant-based (and I realize by virtue of making it plant-based it’s already healthier, but we can do better here!).   Creating a kale salad consisting of over 50 grams of fat, (sans dressing), is almost irresponsible.  I get that a “burger” and sweet potato fries is going to be fattening, vegan or not, and these are meals people need to be careful of regularly consuming, but a kale salad???  C’mon!

Reason for my rant is this.  I want everyone to beware and understand that just because something is vegan or plant-based does not mean it’s healthy.  I’m thrilled restaurants like this exist but people need to realize they are like most other restaurants – they want to sell what tastes good.  Fat tastes good.  And no matter what they tell you, fat is fat.  Good fat, bad fat, doesn’t matter.  It’s gonna end up on your bod if you eat too much (and create a slew of health problems in the process).  That being said, food CAN taste fabulous without being so high in fat.  So pay attention wherever you are dining.  Become a smart restaurant consumer and know exactly what you’re eating by looking at the posted nutrition facts (ask if you don’t see them anywhere).  Don’t assume, as I did, that just because it tastes nice and light, it is, or that if it’s being served at a vegan restaurant it must be good for you.  You know what they say about assuming.

Again, to reiterate: I am NOT trashing The Veggie Grill or anybody else.  I applaud them for going against the grain and for being successful!  I just wish they’d make more of an effort to create truly healthy food, not just food that looks like it.  As consumers we are charged with looking out for our best interests.  We simply can’t assume this is being done for us.

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