I’m not a vegan, but I lean towards the plant-based side of the spectrum. My favorite type of fast-casual food places are raw vegan/ juice bar type places. When I first started my job as a Management Consultant, I was disappointed that traveling every week for work meant that I would have to largely give up cooking. However, I quickly got over this when I began researching the raw vegan juice bar type places in my first city of work travel.
I got into the daily routine of eating “healthy” vegan food for every meal. At first, it was great. I was trying all new kinds of vegan meals, getting great recipe ideas to cook at home, and eating delicious plant-based sweets that would require me so much more effort for me to make at home. I was ecstatic, until I started not to feel well anymore. I started gaining weight. I felt super full but was still hungry at the same time. I was lethargic. I was off. I wanted to get back to feeling good so I knew I had to make a change. But I wasn’t quite sure where I went wrong? I was eating at the most seemingly healthy types of restaurants I knew. Shouldn’t I be feeling great? I took a step back and made a few observations at what I was eating. These learnings have helped me flag certain items on the menu and have enabled me to order more wisely.
1. Skip dessert
When I first started traveling, I was ecstatic by all of the delicious, plant-based dessert options. I am obsessed with my homemade raw, vegan cheesecakes, but the option of having healthy plant-based desserts readily available and such a wide variety of options was incredible. I found myself tacking on a vegan brownie or carrot cake muffin to my orders. These desserts are typically made from whole foods like raw nuts, oats, dates, etc. so I didn’t sweat wondering if they were healthy. However, while all of the ingredients may be healthy, the quantities present are much more than you would normally consume. I was eating waayyyy too much fat. Nuts are great for you, but in small quantities because they are very high in fat and a calorie- dense food. Dates, although a fruit, are also high in calories, so you do need to watch the amount you are consuming. And lastly, the sugar. These seemingly healthy desserts are loaded with sugar, such as maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar, etc. Although these sugars are less processed and may have benefits not found in refined sugar, at the end of the day sugar is sugar. It all reacts the same in your body. If I was eating at home, I wouldn’t be eating vegan treats on a daily basis. These extra calories add up quickly, so it’s overall better to skip..
2. Watch your grain consumption
Grain bowls are a staple at several vegan restaurants. I tend to skip the bread because I generally avoid gluten, so quinoa bowls are a natural go-to for me. I know ketogenic diets are big right now, but I’m personally a fan of grains. However, the key is to not add too many grains to any meal. A 1/2 cup to 1 cup portion of cooked grains will make your meal more filling and satisfying, but nonstarchy veggies should make up the largest portion of your bowl (1 cup or more). I’ve noticed several vegan restaurants really pile on the grains in their meals. Not only will this leave you feeling ill, but it also takes away the great flavors of the produce in the salad! Grains are bland. I do not want my bowl to be primarily grains, I’d really prefer it to be primarily greens from both a health and taste perspective. In order to avoid a heavy dose of grains, I usually ask when I order for more greens than grains. If the portion is still off, I generally skip the grains or ask for then on the side. For me, it is not worth feeling like crap afterwards.
3. Watch your fat consumption
As a stated above, vegan desserts are largely composed of nuts and thus, high in fat. Not only is this seen in desserts, but nuts are prevalent in vegan entrees as well. Many meat and cheese substitutes are nut-based. Depending on what you order, you could be eating really high amounts of fat. I love healthy fats- I mean avocados, come on. Healthy fats are a regular part of my diet. However, I’ve found that when I eat too much fat, I feel terrible. I feel super full and experience unwanted weight gain and the worst part is I’m gaining weight when I’m trying to be healthy! I’m sorry, but no. I will accept weight gain from a slice of pizza. I will accept weight gain from happy hour margaritas. I will not accept weight gain from a meat-less, cheese-less, salad bowl.
4. Focus on fresh, plain produce
Last, I’ve noticed that I often feel dehydrated after meals. When eating out, restaurants often incorporate far more salt into their meals than I would add on my own. Because of that, I try to focus on ordering dishes with raw, plain, and hydrating produce. Smoothies are a great option. Stick to smoothies made with fruits and veggies. Many places have the option to build your own. Try to avoid the addition of fruit juices to smoothies- fruit juices are devoid of the natural fiber found in fruits and are high in sugar. Try instead subbing in unsweetened nut milk. For bowls and salads, choose options that contain fresh produce. I tend to avoid sauteed vegetables because it may contain excess sodium.