Thursday, March 3, 2011

The "Vegetarian = Healthy" Misconception

When I was a kid, I use to read the Sunday comics. Amongst these comics was Cathy. Cathy is an overall unremarkable comic that plays on stereotypical "woman" issues. Cathy was obsessed with her weight, but never had much luck changing it - and her half-hearted attempts ended with chocolate. But I digress. I remember one comic strip in particular. Cathy talks about eating healthy and makes the following logic jump: vegetables are healthy -> potatoes are a vegetable -> french fries are made from potatoes -> french fries are healthy!

It's silly, right? But it's a common misconception that because something is vegetarian it is healthier. People do it all the time.

A good example: I'm trying to lose weight, so I'll have the salad.

Ever looked at the nutritional info for a salad at a restaurant? It ain't pretty.

In the case of french fries, the potato is a starch so it's calorie dense by itself. 1 medium baked potato is 137 calories. French fries are also deep fried in oil, which is liquid fat. Fat is 9 calories per gram. The potato absorbs the oil, so when you eat a fry, you're eating a starch soaked in fat.

A medium order of McDonald's french fries is 500 calories. For me, that's a meal's worth of calories for not a whole lot of benefit.

The same trick happens to a lot of vegetable and vegetarian dishes. I know that before I started focusing on it, I did the same thing: a sort of willing mental blindness to exactly how healthy a vegetarian dish was.

People will add oil, butter, cream, dressing, fat, cheese, etc. to vegetables to make them taste better. You can do that, but it adds calories and makes it a lot less healthy. They also tend to ignore the calorie density of a vegetable and automatically assume that's it's healthy. Potatoes, beans, etc. are much more calorie dense than cabbage or spinach.

To demonstrate my point....
Chili's Carribean Salad with Grilled Chicken = 610 calories
Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad = 1400 Calories
That's their lowest and highest calorie salads.
The Carribean salad's pretty reasonable, but the next highest one was the Chicken Caesar at 710 calories. You would be better off ordering anything off their Guiltless Grill menu, and it will usually be a reasonable portion of meat with steamed vegetables on the side.

Of course, if your experience at Chili's is like my last experience at Chili's, weight will not be your immediate concern. Toilet paper, on the other hand....

The advantage to vegetables is that they are loaded with nutrients and they are low calorie. You need vegetables. You're suppose to eat them. But added massive-quantities of high-fat ingredients is a bad idea. Eating vegetables steamed or maybe with a slight amount of fat (butter, dressing, oil, etc.) is the way to go.

If you're eating out and unsure of a dish, check the nutritional information for a place. Any franchise will have theirs either posted in the restaurant or online. Smaller restaurants will not, and you'll have to guesstimate.

No comments:

Post a Comment