Restaurants are Ethnic-Flavored Oil, Sugar and Salt

Monday Feb 29 | BY |
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Screenshot 2015-10-27 14.52.58In a presentation by Dr. Michael Klaper MD, restaurants were compared to being “ethnic-flavored oil, sugar and salt.

He said jokingly:

“What do I feel like having tonight? Do I want Italian-flavored salt, sugar, and fat? Or do I want Thai-flavored salt, sugar and fat?” 

Dr. Klaper succinctly describes the sad reality of what goes on in the kitchen in restaurants. And I completely agree.

Restaurants can be a disaster on any diet.

Why? Because of the quantities of oil, butter, salt, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients in restaurant food.

This includes all the chain restaurants and the trendy ethnic restaurants.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat at a restaurant and still follow a healthy diet, but you just have to be extremely careful!

Chain Restaurants

Let’s take a chain restaurant that most people consider healthy or a place where you can eat a healthy diet (whether it is vegan or Paleo) and that is Chipotle Mexican Grill.

So what’s great about Chipotle is that you can choose your toppings. So if you follow a more Paleo type of diet, you can add your meat and skip the rice and so on.

But, even if you’re not concerned about the fat level used, you should be concerned about the absurd amounts of sodium in most meals at Chipotle.

Let’s take a typical burrito bowl, a bowl of ingredients without the burrito.

  • Just the carnitas contain alone 450 mg of sodium.
  • The tofu contains 555 mg of sodium.
  • The white rice contains 345 mg of sodium, and the brown rice doesn’t do that much better at 195 mg of sodium.
  • The two beans contain 260 mg of sodium each.
  • The vegetables contain 170 mg and I haven’t started adding any salsa yet. The red chili salsa contains 500 mg!
  • The guacamole contains 375 mg of sodium.

So let’s say you take the tofu with brown rice, black beans, vegetables, red salsa and some guacamole; you’re already at over 2000 mg of sodium, which is more than the acceptable intake (1500-2300 mg.) should be according to the leading health authorities (and certainly more for one meal by any standard).

This meal contains only 755 calories, but a recent study showed that most people do not order these lower calorie options and end up ordering a meal containing over 1000 if not 1200 calories.1



If you go to a sushi restaurant, you’d be surprised how much sugar is in the rice, as well as salt. Go to an Indian restaurant, and you’d be outraged at the quantities of oil, let alone butter and cream in most recipes. Sodium is ridiculously high across the board.

I don’t know anybody following a healthy diet, cooking foods at home — who puts as much salt as in restaurant foods. So we know these restaurants are huge source of sodium in the diet.

Why, by the way, is there so much salt in the food that we eat at restaurants and never as much when we cook it at home?

Using salt and oil is a cheap trick. It works to make the food taste better, and it’s less expensive than:

  • Using fresh ingredients that taste great
  • Using the right herbs and spices
  • Combining flavors.

When we cook at home we can see how much salt we put in the food. We stop at a reasonable amount. Also, most people have learned not to cook with salt. Rather, we add salt at the end. Restaurants don’t operate that way. They want to make food that is so tasty that you eat more of it and you consume drinks along with your meal.

A chef once told me that one of the secrets to making super tasty food is to boost the amount of spice and salt to the point where it’s almost too much — but not quite. When we see shows on TV showing chefs making food for restaurants we can see how generous they are with their salt and olive oil use.

“Healthy,” Organic Restaurants

Some restaurants only use locally-grown ingredients, or only organic, or are 100% vegan, or try to serve a healthy diet. Technically, farm-to-table restaurants should be able to use less salt and oils in their cooking because they work with high-quality ingredients. It doesn’t mean that they’ll do so.

Vegan restaurants are usually unhealthy. They use way too much oil, salt and meat and dairy substitutes. There are some exceptions.

My Favorite Restaurants and What I Order There

I prefer avoiding eating out as much as possible, but I am surrounded by people who love eating out, so I have to compromise to have a social life!

What do I do at restaurants? 

  • My main consideration is health: not ordering something “vegan.” If it’s vegan and healthy, great. But I’ll always go for the healthier option before the unhealthy non-vegan option.
  • I can choose my battles. Do I want to avoid salt more than oil? When restaurants so much salt that I know I’ll leave the place feeling so thirsty and bloated from the excess sodium, I make sure I skip the most salted items: sauces, soups, bread, etc. I try to avoid oil also, but it can often be a losing battle. I will try to get the healthiest foods that contain the least salt and oil. I’m less concerned about sugar because it’s as overused in savory dishes.
  • I always ask for the sauce or dressing “on the side.” Asking for “no sauce” or “no dressing” often leads to mistakes, for some reason.
  • With salads, I use balsamic vinegar. And hopefully, the salad has some avocado or nuts in it.
  • I eat beforehand so I’m not too hungry at the restaurant and tempted to order everything! I stick with one main entrée or salad, or order from the sides menu.
  • I ask if I can have the vegetables steamed – no butter or oil. That’s usually not a problem.

My Favorite Restaurants and Restaurant “Hacks”

  • Anything with a buffet. People put down buffets, but I prefer them because I get to see the food and choose what I want! I love restaurants with a salad buffet. Those would be my first choices.
  • Steakhouses! I would much rather go to a Steakhouse than a vegan restaurant. Why? Steakhouses generally have excellent salad buffets, and they also have baked potatoes — two of my favorite things.
  • Vietnamese Restaurants. Pho soups are great, because they have rice noodles and a TON of veggies (raw and cooked). But the broth is one of the most ridiculous high-salt food ever designed. Over 3000 mg of sodium! So I now ask for a Pho soup without the broth. Yes, it’s possible. In fact, when they do take out, they give you the broth separately. I just don’t want that much salt! I flavor the noodles with some Sriracha sauce, and the delicious Basil leaves and lemon slices that come with the soup.
  • Japanese – I’m okay with Japanese places. I used to eat the fish until I found out how contaminated it tends to be. Now I may have a little of the salmon if I feel like it, but prefer to stick to the vegetarian rolls — avocado, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, etc. Edamame beans are also great. There are plenty of other good options at most Japanese restaurants.
  • Mexican — I’ll order off the menu. Corn tortillas, rice, and beans, and maybe guacamole and salad.

Worst Restaurants and What I Do There

High-End French or Other Cuisine — The worst place to end up is a place that does very high-end cuisine, especially French. This is the type of place where chefs will hate you if you even try to order off the menu. You also will never find a single vegan dish. So what do you do? If your priority is to stick to a vegan diet, then ask if they could make a vegan dish for you. You could always ask them to make you something that without oil, but prepare for the chef to hate you!

Here’s what I do: First, I try not to end up in one of those places very often. If I do, I do my best to think the following: Tonight I’m going to go off my diet and enjoy it, and tomorrow I’ll fast! Then I proceed to order something that doesn’t look like it’s going to kill me within 6 hours, along with a glass of Champagne. Thankfully, I know the portions will be small, and I will fast for the next day!

Fast Food — Usually there’s nothing to order at a fast food restaurant, besides water, and perhaps a “garden salad.” Wendy’s has baked potatoes, which is great! (It saved me a few times on road trips).

Things I Don’t Do

A few people have suggested more advanced tips to make sure to get what you want at restaurants. I don’t do those things. It doesn’t mean that they’re not good ideas for some people, but I feel they’re a waste of energy for me.

  • Calling in advance to make sure dietary needs can be met. Let’s say you’ve been invited to a birthday party at a restaurant. You didn’t choose the restaurant. Will it help to call in advance? Perhaps, but you could simply look up their menu online to see what you’re going to order. If you have any doubt about what could be in one of their items, then give them a call.
  • Talking to the chef to have something special. I just know that chefs typically hate these special requests from “health nuts,” and it comes across badly, especially in business or first dates, to have a long list of dietary restrictions to explain to the chef or waiter/waitress. Ordering a salad with dressing on the side, and something from the sides menu — without any further explanation other than “no cheese in the salad please” seems sufficient to deal with the situation in most places without too much fuss.
  • Bringing a card explaining your dietary needs. I know someone suggested that raw foodists bring a printed card to a restaurant that went something like this: “Because of health concerns, I only eat raw plant foods, without animal products or any form of cooking. Would you be so kind as to make me a meal containing any of the following ingredients: tomatoes, broccoli, avocado, apple…” (long list of ingredient followed). I don’t know how much success those cards had, but it seems overly complicated and fussy for no reason.
  • Making up an allergy. I know some experts suggested to say that you’re “deathly allergic” to oil, animal foods, or any other food you’re trying to avoid. That seems a little too much for me, and somewhat sneaky. I can understand that if someone needs to comply 100% with their diet for really health reasons, they could use that card. But otherwise, I’m not so sure…

Know a Few Good Restaurants

Usually, when you eat out, the question will come up “where do you want to go”? If you can suggest a place, then you should be prepared. Research the restaurants in your areas and find the ones that are the best for you.

For example, I know a few good restaurants in my area where I’m perfectly happy eating out. I know I can order something that won’t compromise too much my health principles. Therefore, it’s easy to suggest any of those restaurants when someone I know wants to eat out. I also know that my friends will also enjoy the restaurant.

Remember eating out is about enjoying yourself in good company. Don’t forget that! Food is secondary, as far as I’m concerned. Have a good time and don’t stress too much about the food! 

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Andrew Green says:

    Why not just avoid eating out at all??
    What is it with you north Americans, having to constantly eat out at restaurants?
    How often do I eat out? Well, how about NEVER, except when I’m on holiday in the 3rd world (in Europe, we always self-cater, since, again, eating out is too expensive)!

    • I would totally do that! Except when the rest of society is moving at a different pace, it’s difficult to be a complete outcast.

      • Andrew Green says:

        Well, Fred, since you are so much of an iconoclast, I’d imagine that you’d be quite happy to be an “outcast”!
        For me, simple is best and total control of the food you eat is vital to my vision of a better world.
        My views seem to coincide so little with modern society and have done for so long that I find it much easier to swim against the tide than go along with the crowd!
        See my website –

  2. Ronda says:

    This article is really helpful! It gives a very realistic and do-able approach to eating healthy. I enjoy reading all of your articles and tips, and they are always relevant to me. Thank you.

  3. Tim Miller says:

    I like your tips, Frederic, and I practice them already because I went to True North a couple of years ago for a 12-day fast and heard Dr. Klaper’s talk on the subject. I would just add one more tip to your list: bring your own salad dressing. Example: two days ago I had to go to a friend’s birthday celebration at a chain restaurant called The Golden Corral. It’s an all you can eat place that patterns itself after restaurants in Las Vegas casinos only with more choices! It truly is a decadent place with so many desserts on offer (not mention a chocolate fountain!) that your eyes glaze over just looking. Anyway, in addition to all else, they have a pretty good salad bar, and they have plain baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. So while everyone else loaded up on fatty, salty stuff and multiple desserts, I had three plates of salad and a baked potato. I make this wonderful SOS-free salad dressing a Vitamix at a time and freeze most of it to eat over a 5 week period. I just brought about half a cup of that with me in a little tupperware container, and ate it on my salads and baked potato. To me it was a fabulous and delicious meal, and I didn’t eat a single bad thing. So I agree with you, all you can eat restaurants work great, as do steak houses. Everywhere else and it gets really hard.

  4. Miriam says:

    Thank you.
    Why do you say balsamic vinegar on salad, what about apple cider vinegar? What about at home, is the acv superior ?

  5. NuNativs says:

    People that eat low-fat don’t live long and they have bad hair and skin to boot like D Graham, he is aging worse than anyone in the health movements.

    Fred you’re great at stirring the pot, but I’m not so sure your intentions are to get people healthy…

    • Unfair attack on a single person. Although I don’t particularly endorse him over any other health teacher and I don’t ascribe to his diet philosophy completely, I found Dr. Graham to be a very fit and heathy individual. I saw him overexpose himself to sunshine on a regular basis, which caused aging of the skin. But the same is true for many athletes who spend a lot of time in the sun. Having spent a lot of time with various health teachers and gurus, I can’t say that people following low fat diets have “bad hair and skin.” Certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for me (at 15-18% total fat intake). And “low-fat” doesn’t mean “no-fat.”

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