Travelling and eating in restaurants are challenges to staying on a healthy diet.
The challenge is doubled in a city like New Orleans that is known for fried beignets covered with sugar, and gumbos that contain seafood, chicken and pork sausages. A dish that sounds innocent like red beans and rice usually has bacon grease and ham hocks. When I heard that the Prevention 2014 conference was going to be held in New Orleans I anticipated difficult food choices. I was wrong, and very pleasantly surprised by my restaurant experiences in New Orleans.
Whenever I eat out I always order a “vegetable plate.” I judge restaurants by their response to that request and by what they consider to be vegetables. I spent three nights in New Orleans and went to three different restaurants. My vegetable plate request did not faze any of the restaurant staff, I had good options and enjoyed all of my meals. This to me was a testimony of hope for humanity and the environment.
On the first night I met with a group of colleagues and we set out to look for a restaurant. The group settled on Landry’s Seafood House on North Peters Street. I asked for a vegetable plate and the waitress gave me some options. The only question was about the appetizers, did the fried zucchini and fried green tomatoes have eggs in the batter. The chef came out to explain that the vegetable were dipped in eggs to make the bread crumbs stick but he could grill the green tomatoes instead of frying them. I chose that option and it was delicious. I had steamed asparagus and a large baked potato topped with mushrooms sautéed in creole sauce. My only negative thought was that they could have given me more mushrooms for the price I paid for the meal.
On the second night I met with another group of colleagues and we went to Gordon Bierch on Polydras Street. The restaurant had veggie burgers on the menu but I don’t trust restaurant veggie burgers. They often have eggs and/or cheese and the waiters may not know.
To be on the safe side, I chose three side dishes and asked to have them served on one plate. I ordered the Kale Quinoa Pilaf, sautéed mushroom and seasonal vegetables. I could not have been more pleased when I saw and tasted my dinner. The Kale Quinoa Pilaf was a mixture of kale and quinoa with cranberries in a very light tasty dressing. The slight bitterness of the kale was beautifully offset by the sweetness of the cranberries.
I loved it!!!
The vegetables were green beans, carrots and mushrooms in a Cajun creole tomato sauce. I mixed the sautéed mushrooms with the seasonal vegetable sauce and it was great! I totally enjoyed this meal. I felt full but not stuffed and the price was slightly less than any of the entrees on the menu.
The third night was the best. I went with two friends to see a Pre-Mardi Gras parade. We were looking for a restaurant along the parade route and found the Palace Café on Canal Street. It was a perfect location, we could look out of the large windows to see when the parade was passing. We had to wait about half an hour for a table, so before we reserved I asked the Maître d’ if I would be able to get a vegetable plate.
Her response was a very pleasant affirmative.
My appetizer was an arugula salad with strawberry vinaigrette and sliced strawberries that was usually served with goat cheese. I asked my waitress to hold the goat cheese. She was very pleasant about that and the salad was delicious. Although it was not listed on the menu the restaurant has a vegetable plate that was available on request. It was a vegetable stir fry with quinoa, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, olives, and other vegetables in a delicious Cajun creole sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed this! This was an expensive vegetable plate, but well worth the price.
My friends had chicken and seafood dishes and wanted dessert. I wanted some dessert too but there was nothing on the menu that did not contain artery-clogging eggs or dairy. I told my waiter this and he offered me a sorbet. I had a fantastic strawberry sorbet in a praline basket. The sorbet probably had lots of sugar and the praline basket had butter and sugar. I had a few small pieces of the praline basket but could not eat much of it because it was sitting in cream. So, in the end New Orleans did get me with the praline basket, but just a little and I enjoyed it!!!
If you are serious about unclogging your arteries and preventing chronic diseases, you have to eat a mostly plant-based cholesterol-free diet. This is possible and delicious even in the restaurants of New Orleans. You may not see healthy options on the menus, but restaurants want happy paying customers. If you ask for healthy options, they will usually accommodate your request.
Dr. Jennifer Rooke is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine. She recently joined the faculty at Morehouse to start a lifestyle medicine clinic. Lifestyle Medicine is the use of interventions such as evidenced-based nutrition, physical activity and stress management to treat disease. Dr. Rooke has practiced medicine for over 27 years and is board certified in both Occupational Medicine and Public Health/Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke is a fellow of both the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke serves as adjunct faculty in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University. Contact the author or visit her website www.advancedlifestylemedicine.com