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Watch out for Ethnic Restaurants

In 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 feel like Thai-flavored oil, sugar and salt? Or Italian oil, sugar and salt?”

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.


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.

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. It doesn’t really matter what you eat. So you might as well make it healthy!


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.