We all talk a good game about how to eat, what to eat, and the importance of preparing our own food from quality ingredients. The truth is that everyone faces the same dilemmas from time to time. Whether it's travel, working late, business lunches, social outings, or simply not being interested in cooking, there are many reasons that eating that home cooked meal may not always be possible.
I've decided to pose a series of questions to our members on a weekly basis on what gets them through these situations. You might be surprised at some of the answers and others might be exactly what you expected — either way, I'm hopeful that this will help you navigate your way through the myriad of awkward, inconvenient, or simply lazy situations you find yourself in.
Paul Grewal from New York, New York
CA: Do you put much thought into where you eat out? Or do you simply go anywhere and try to make do with what's on the menu?
PG: When city social life is centered around restaurant dining, it's important to have a few go-to spots, and to maintain control by being the first one to subtly suggest a healthy place! There are thankfully a vast number of great options where I live - My proxy for a restaurant's overall viability is whether or not they serve 100% grass fed beef, even if I'm not in the mood for steak. If the restauranteur is thoughtful enough to source ethically raised meat, there's a good chance that he/she is thoughtful about ingredient sourcing overall. Unfortunately, even in the health and wellness circles, most are not "in the know" about some of common toxic ingredients- Even in conscientious places I try to avoid sauteed or fried foods unless I know they are cooking in olive oil, butter, or even lard rather than highly toxic canola or other cheap, volatile solvent- and heat- extracted polyunsaturated seed oils (these oils are HIGHLY prone to oxidation, even post-ingestion).
Obviously there's a balance to be struck — I'm certainly not militant and shoot for a 90/10 approach. I find it best to be flexible, as social connectedness is often as important to health as what we eat!
Checking if a resto serves 100% pastured meat reminds me of the Eddie Van Halen M&M story: The rockstar would have a small-print rider in the venue contract stating that NO brown M&Ms were to be allowed backstage under any circumstances. Thought of as vain Rockstar excess, it was actually an ingenious way to ensure that the schematics for their dangerous and intricate pyrotechnics were read with the appropriate attention to detail — if he walked into a room and saw brown M&Ms, he knew the contract hadn't been read, setting up a potentially disastrous safety hazard.
CA: Most memorable restaurant meal in (or near) New York City?
PG: This is a tough one, as so much of experiential memory is tied to the people we are with and the frame of mind we're in at the time! The ambient light, the smells, and the company are impossible to render from the food itself.
For a quick, affordable bite, I'm a huge fan of INDAY, basically a healthy Indian version of Chipotle, replete with cauliflower rice and coconut chutney. We need more options like this!
CA: Most memorable restaurant meal outside of New York City?
CA: For people with special diets, how do you suggest they talk with restaurant staff in order to get what they need?
PG: Knowing many people in the service industry, I definitely don't like to rock the boat too much and so try to pre-empt this issue by picking the right restaurant in the first place. Many high-quality restaurants in the city have chefs who understand special diets and are usually happy to accommodate. I feel like the company you're with is more likely to give you a tough time about your diet than the restaurant staff!
An important thing to distinguish is a food preference versus a true food allergy or intolerance. The toxicity threshold for someone with full blown celiac disease is on the order of half a gram of wheat/gluten in a day — even that much can set off an inflammatory reaction. For someone with an anaphylactic reaction to a food, it's even less than that. Kitchen staff needs to be super careful for these customers and it's distracting for them to have to distinguish between them and say, someone just avoiding wheat and processed carbs for general health purposes. Just keep this in mind.
Find a balance between getting what you need and being "that guy". I don't think it's rude to ask if meatballs contain breadcrumbs or what kind of oil they are using for cooking, or whether a sauce is made with a significant amount of sugar.
Pro-tip: I love salads at SweetGreen (a popular salad chain in NYC), but they use polyunsaturated/potentially toxic grapeseed oil in all of their dressings, including the balsamic vinaigrette (sacrilege!) The good news is they have a bottle of REAL olive oil, you just have to ask for it! I go with EVOO, lemon, and a touch of balsamic or hot sauce.
CA: Do you prepare an emergency meal when you travel? If so, what do you include?
PG: I actually use my very occasional travel schedule as a great way to fast for 20+ hours. It's also a way to check if you're metabolically flexible from time to time. If you can deal with a day of traveling without eating, and don't get "Hangry", you're probably able to switch back and forth from carbs to fat as a fuel source.
CA: Your favorite quick meal to prepare at home?
PG: If it's not sous vide and seared fish/meat with a side of sauteed green veg and roast sweet potato, I usually improvise a curry dish based on what's fresh in my fridge, and my imperfect memory of my mom's recipes. Sweat down some onions and garlic, and ginger in olive oil or ghee, add turmeric, coriander, etc, or just an Indian spice blend. Add some cubed veggies and either coconut milk or cubed tomato, simmer, add some protein, and you're in business.
I also do a post workout smoothie with grass-fed whey protein, frozen ripe bananas or strawberries, cacao powder, and a fat source like full fat Greek yogurt, avocado, or almond butter. Use just enough water to get the consistency of fro-yo. Thank me later...
CA: Do you consume alcohol? Explain why you think it is or isn’t a good idea.
PG: I do, but I feel guilty about it! It's a dose-dependent toxin, but so are the stresses of modern life, so pick your poison, I suppose!
My general advice is if you don't drink, don't start drinking, but if you do, stick with the 1-2gl/day rule, and really as little as is practical.
For those with weight issues, alcohol is just as bad as sugar at gumming up the liver and causing a temporary fatty liver and liver insulin resistance. If you get the munchies when you drink, it's a double whammy of metabolic mayhem.
Do as I say, not as I do...
CA: In terms of food, what is your guilty pleasure?
PG: I'm trying to move away from associating food with feelings of guilt. If i'm going to have a less-than ideal choice, I try to just acknowledge that it fits into the "10%" part of the 90/10 compliance, and call it a day, knowing that lifting and muscle mass gives me some buffer/wiggle room for carb disposal. Guilt leads nowhere good when it comes to diet, I'm afraid.
That said, ice cream. All the ice cream.
Dr. Paul Grewal is an ABIM board-certified internal medicine physician, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Hofstra-NSLIJ School of Medicine, and has admitting privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital, North Shore University Hospital, and Long Island Jewish Hospital. Paul received his B.A. in cellular and molecular neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University and his M.D. from Rutgers – New Jersey Medical School.
He believes that the cornerstone of medicine is a close professional relationship with a patient — the kind that can only be developed through unhurried visits, and undivided attention.