Finding Good, Healthy Food When Eating Out: The SPE Certification

Friday Sep 27 | BY |
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SPE Certification

How can you tell when a restaurant is serving healthy and super tasty food? Look for the SPE seal.

Modern foods are making you sick. Choosing good foods make you healthy. It’s easy to say, but very hard to fix the problem when it’s partially created by a profit-driven food processing industry, and even harder to get right on a daily basis for you and your family, especially when eating out.

The first step to wellness is eliminating bad foods. We all know that spoiled foods contain harmful microorganisms that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and even kill. Hepatitis A is spread in food, so are gastrointestinal viruses like Norovirus, a particularly nasty strain that’s making its rounds in major cities in the southeastern U.S.

We also know that simple carbohydrates and refined sugars are quickly converted into artery-clogging fat; that flame broiled meats and butter fat are associated with cancer; and that too much fructose leads to food sensitivities, triggers metabolic syndrome, is associated with obesity, and can even cause diabetes.

We are getting the message that the plant-based, anti-inflammatory, high omega-3 diet is good for us. Health food stores and healthy selections in regular grocery stores are springing up in all major markets. The conscious food movement is growing, but what about when we eat out? Do restaurants care about our health?

If they have the SPE seal, they do.

What Is the SPE Certification?

SPE is a food certification organization. SPE comes from the Latin phrase Sanitas Per Escam, which means “Health through Food.” The tenets of SPE were developed over 10 years through the collaboration of leading chefs, registered dietitians, and a group of scientists; all world-renowned nutrition experts.

Together, they combined cutting-edge research with international health standards into a 90-page charter of practical guidelines, applicable to a wide variety of cuisines. This charter forms the basis of the SPE culinary and nutritional certification as well as their consulting programs. Foodservice establishments can choose one of four levels of certification; Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each level is based on the percentage of dishes that are SPE-certified on the menu.

SPE takes a holistic approach that focuses not just on health, but also on the sourcing, preparing, and enhancing of food for the table. Their goal is to become the most trusted resource in the field of culinary nutrition. SPE certification is a statement to customers that they value health and sustainability, as well as taste. Sustainable and delicious sounds really good to me.

SPE Food Choices and Preparation

  • Locally grown, seasonally picked
  • Selected for nutritional benefit
  • Portion adjustment to improve nutritional benefit and taste
  • Optimizing nutrient density by enhancing with super foods
  • Specific and appropriate cooking techniques to preserve nutrition and enhance flavor
  • Synergistic combining for nutritionally superior and delicious dishes.

My Examples

I travel a lot, and good food is important to me, so having the addresses of great healthy restaurants in my iPhone is part of my travel planning. When I go out in Miami, New York, Washington D.C., Berkeley, Los Angeles, or in Lima, Peru, I want healthy foods that don’t compromise quality or taste. I often use to plan my trips and make reservations. Happily, I’ve found that some restaurants don’t compromise, especially if they carry the SPE seal of approval.

There is a saying in Asia that the Chinese eat with their stomachs and the Japanese with their eyes. I want pure healthy food, but won’t compromise taste or visual appeal. I want balance of macronutrients like getting enough protein, and foods with high nutrient density dashed with polyphenol super foods. It’s a pleasure to see that some chefs are making the leap from “bam” to wow, away from pork fat to just the right use of organic cold processed olive oil and other fresh, healthy ingredients.

The SPE stamp lets you know that each dish is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is also low in salt and free of trans fats, as well as other bad ingredients. You won’t find any cream or butter. The SPE promise is that each dish contains more of what you need and less of what you don’t want.

One New York City eatery, Rouge Tomate (“red tomato”) serves as an SPE flagship restaurant. Foods are impeccably prepared, and they look great! When I invite a guest to lunch or dinner, I want them to be impressed. This is one of those places were every thing on the menu is tasty and good for you.

In China, traditional Chinese medicine doctors prescribed specific dishes for customers. During my many trips to China in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, I loved to frequent these small eateries. Food was always locally grown, organic, and seasonal. Produce came in to the restaurant every morning. Eggs and meats were farm fresh. Fish were farm raised in local ponds tended by families, some of whom had been fish farming for centuries.

At my home, I grow as much food as possible in raised beds, large pots and planters, and have more than thirty fruit trees. Ground to plate is my motto. Better yet, plant to mouth!

Though still in its infancy, SPE certification is growing. Some SPE restaurant chefs work with in house nutritionists to create eye pleasing and great tasting dishes that are good for you. I foresee a time when chefs and doctors work together to create personalized menus for patients that look great, taste great, and are good for their health.

In our medical center in Sarasota, Florida, we’ve taken the first step by preparing fresh organic juices and vegetarian food for our patients. Florida Integrative Medical Center is not yet SPE certified, but we’re working on it.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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