I used to be terrified of dining out at restaurants. I was a firm believer in keeping “clean” and stuck in my diet mentality, and the thought of anyone else touching my food freaked me out. Fast forward to today…while I do love cooking, I have also grown more comfortable with eating out–especially in a cool city like Austin where there are tons of unique restaurants. Enter the latest excursion: True Food Kitchen.
True Food Kitchen finally opened up in Austin.
When I first heard the Santa-Monica based holistic food dive was coming to town, my friends and I penciled opening day on our calendars.
Known for its real food concepts…eating at True Food is “cooking at home” meets “Food Network greats”—quality food (for your health) that you typically don’t find out at most restaurants cooked by someone else (with an amazing sense of taste and style when it comes to spices, seasonings and presentations on your plate).
One of the coolest things about the yuppie-attracting restaurant?
The kitchen is totally 100% exposed and open.
Standing by their name: True Food Kitchen, the restaurant goes out of its way to let you know that it is cooking with real food, quality healthy fats and gluten-free foods (or other allergens) won’t be mixed into your dish.
You walk away feeling amazing—an amazing tasty meal, without the negative stomach and digestive side effects often associated with eating out at restaurants.
Unfortunately, unlike True Food…What you see (on the menu) at many restaurants is not always what you get.
Although you may think you are just getting a chicken breast, salmon or even steak to go along with your vegetables…
The hidden truth lies behind closed doors in the kitchen where oils, lower-quality sourced meats and veggies, and other contaminents come into play.
Restaurant Eating Exposed
I’ll never forget my first and last day working as a waitress one summer during college at Corky’s BBQ.
Day one consisted of training—shadowing another server, who showed me “the ropes” for restaurant survival 101.
There were THREE STRIKES though within that 6-hour shift window that led me to turn in my apron:
STRIKE 1: Recycling dirty plates & silverware. During the dinner rush hour, the BBQ joint was running low on plates and silverware. The solution? The server showing me “the way” simply gathered some dirty plates and silverware in the sink, rinsed them quickly and voila: problem solved–using dirty plates to dish up the next order. Ehhh…
STRIKE 2: Questionable meat and handling. BBQ joints are known for their meat—pulled pork sandwiches, half chickens, ribs. The various meats at this joint in particular were kept in large vats for several days and spooned onto dishes as orders came up. In other words: it was not freshly prepared upon order, but instead available upon request. To make things a little less fresh: many of the employees were not wearing hair nets, using the same gloves (or no gloves at all) to plate each new order and smoking on their lunch breaks—leaving room for plenty of room for germs.
STRIKE 3: Old lady orders decaf. The straw that broke the camel’s back at Corky’s for me was when an elderly woman requested a cup of decaf coffee with her dinner. However, when the server and I checked the supply in the back—no decaf was made. Instead, the server poured her a regular cup of Joe, smiling, “She’ll never know.”
While these strikes may sound extreme, Corky’s was no McDonald’s and actually had a fine reputation in the community for “good food.”
And although I am a firm believer that “a little dirt never hurt” (and we can’t live in bubbles), the reason I often encourage clients cook the majority of meals at home is purely for the sake of quality food and nutrition (think 80% of your meals eaten at home at least, 20% out, or of the 21 main meals in a week, about 17-18 of those being home prepared and 3-4 being out).
Common Digestive Culprits at Restaurants
Have you ever eaten out at a restaurant, and walked away feeling like, yes, it was a tasty meal…but your stomach feels a little off—some bloating, indigestion, nausea, gas, loss of appetite for your next meal or typical eating schedule?
Here are common restaurant saboteurs behind closed kitchen doors:
- Hydrogenated & Low-quality Cooking Fats and Oils. Margarine, conventional butter, vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil—they are cheaper oils than say a coconut oil, grassfed butter, ghee or extra virgin olive oil. The reason that the grilled chicken, steak, fish or even ‘fresh veggies’ in a restaurant are so moist is because of fat used in the preparation that you wouldn’t use at home.
- Conventional Meat. Grain-fed beef, farm-raised salmon, Tyson-grade chicken breast, nitrate-infused bacon and deli meats, 99-cent eggs, conventional ground turkey. Again, these meats are cheaper than the grass-fed, pasture-raised or organic meats you may buy to cook yourself at home. Luckily some restaurants are moving to more and more of a “farm to table” approach and will often let you know on the menu if the meats are whole-sourced, organic meats (a plus in my book). I don’t live by the philosophy that EVERYTHING we eat has to be organic, but when it comes to meats and all the questionable meat-raising practices nowadays, organic sources are always optimal to avoid the hormones, antibiotics and poor-‘farming’ practices of many meats. If you are eating the majority of your meat from sources you know though, the meat you eat out can be negligible in the broad scope.
- Sneaky Sauces. Sugar, soy and poor-quality fats live in many sauces served up in restaurants. From BBQ and tomato sauce to hydrogenated mayo, ponzu sauce with your sashimi, gravy and other heavy-creamy sauces on your meats or veggie dishes, these sauces are often outside of your gut’s realm of what it typically recognizes—leaving your gut flora a little out of whack. Salad dressings can do the same thing—even if it says “vinaigrette”, sugars are sneaky. Opt for “olive oil and vinegar”, fresh squeezed lemon, guacamole or salsa to top salads.
- Poor-quality Salt. Salt and sodium is not necessarily a bad thing, but sea salt is frequently recommended as the optimal source. Why? Table salt or “iodized salt” is an altered food (not found in nature) that has been refined and highly processed. Many restaurants amplify the saltiness in dishes with refined salt to try to make up for the poor quality food sources they use and “up the taste” factor, often leaving you with more sodium than is recommended for an entire day’s intake. When we alter foods, we have a Frankenstein situation with unpredictable, often disease-causing effects.
- In sight in mind. Bread on the table, a bottomless chip basket with a bottomless bowl of queso, cocktails and beer, cheese and croutons, fried foods, a dessert menu—these are foods most commonly found in a restaurant—not your fridge or pantry at home. Mindfulness is a sabotage within itself. For some reason, many of us lose our sense of self-control and connection to our hunger-fullness/how we feel when we eat out. Stay in check with your gut and your brain while enjoying the foods you may not typically eat otherwise by plating your appetizers or chips on an individualized plate, pre-determining a number of alcoholic beverages you will be consuming, or asking for a to-go box upon the arrival of your meal to half the meal if it is a larger-than-normal portion. Know thyself.
So what to do about it?
The bottom line: NO, there is no need to live in a bubble!
Eating out is a great way to socialize and integrate other aspects of the eating experience into your life (fellowship, trying new things).
Simply be aware of the culprits to your digestive health lurking in many restaurants. When you live within an 80/20, or even 70/30, philosophy of balance, a little dirt never really hurt anyways.
Enjoy your meals out the best you can, and as you better understand your own digestion, you are also better prepared to select from the menu, and request substitutions as needed (for the sake of not walking out with a stomach ache or digestive distress).
In addition, I find Carbo-G digestive enzymes by Transformation Enzymes particularly useful when eating out—especially if gluten is a suspect contaminant in the kitchen and you are more sensitive to it.