This week's Email Monday is a revamp/replay of one of my favorite early Email Mondays all about questions to ask at restaurants; AKA: how to be sure you don't accidentally ingest industrial processed garbage when you're enjoying a meal out on the town.
While some folks choose not to worry about what might be lurkin' on their hot plates (more power to ya!) others have important reasons for being extra-careful at restaurants.
Some folks react strongly to hidden grains and processed oils. Some just like to know exactly what they're eating. Whatever the reason, even the sharpest questions might leave a few stones unturned.
Since most folks, including waitstaff, are well-educated on how to avoid grains and gluten (ask for a gluten-free menu, inquire as to the ingredients in sauces, marinades and dressings, never eat at IHOP); and most of us now know that our favorite sweet potato fries are almost always dusted in flour (I know - I cried when I found out, too) these questions focus on avoiding the insidious processed oils - including trans fats - that lurk in even the nicest restaurants' foods.
The gluten-free movement is in full force. It's easier to avoid wheat than ever. But highly processed "vegetable oils" - which aren't actually made from vegetables, but legumes (soybeans) grains (corn) and seeds (canola and cottonseed) are STILL considered a-OK in mainstream culture, even to the health-conscious.
But they're not so safe. (And they're even less tasty.)
"Vegetable oils," as I discuss in my book, Eat the Yolks, are highly processed and incredibly unstable. In my experiences as a Nutritional Therapy practitioner, I've seen a hidden epidemic of severe sensitivity to processed oils. They're not worth the risk, or the assault on our taste buds.
They're widely used not because they're healthy, like their marketing promos claim; they're simply cheap and easy to obtain.
In contrast to these cheap-n-easy oils, whole, stable oils and fats like those from coconut, lard, tallow, ghee and butter are delicious, minimally processed and healthful. Why take up space in the diet with anything less worthwhile?
Here's what to ask at restaurants to ensure you don't get vegetable-oiled:
"Do you use soybean, canola, or corn oil to cook with?"
Chances are, the wait staff may not know; unless their chefs are working directly from a clearly-labeled bottle of high-quality olive oil or, more rarely, openly using fats from pasture-raised animals, the cooking oil is likely in a huge, poorly labeled vat. It's probably a mix of so-called "vegetable oils," and it's likely damaged before it even touches your food.
It gets more complicated. If you order a salad, the pre-made dressing may be made from this same junk. If you ask for oil and vinegar, the oil might have been poured straight from the vat of VO.
If the wait staff can't verify exactly what the oil is by way of the label itself, you'll need to ask a follow-up question:
"is your cooking oil in a big, plastic, see-through jug?"
If the answer is "yes," you're probably dealing with processed oils. You can either order something totally fat-free (gasp!) and add your own olive oil, or you can take a chance and hope for the best. (Unless you've got an iron-clad gut, I wouldn't recommend the latter.)
Now, we may think we can cleverly circumvent these oily situations by simply asking that our food be cooked in butter; or by requesting butter to top our fat-free order.
But here's the unfortunate truth: many restaurants these days - heck, many people these days - don't know the difference between butter and margarine. Businesses order boxes of Land O' Lakes, and they don't know whether it's from a cow or from a factory.
You may ask for butter. But they might bring you margarine. They might cook with margarine. They might bring you a lovely little ramekin of it, or they might bring you a non-descript little foil package of unlabeled who-knows-what.
Why is this such a bummer?
Because not only is margarine MADE from vegetable oils - often several kinds of vegetable oils - but it's also filled with emulsifiers, stabilizers, colorants and additives.
Some margarines are even made with partially hydrogenated oils. This means: TRANS FAT. And trans fat is the worst kind of processed food.
Compare this to butter, which comes from one source (a cow), which has a long history in the human diet, and which is - contrary to popular belief - quite good for you, as I discuss in Eat the Yolks...
(And while butter from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows is leaps and bounds better than any other, even the lowest-quality butter is far superior to the best-quality margarine.)
So here's what to ask...again and again until you're SURE you've got an accurate answer:
"Do you all use butter or margarine?"
No matter what their answer, follow up with:
"Sometimes it's hard to tell thanks to the odd packaging. Would you mind double-checking?"
If you're able to see the package and verify the ONE ingredient is CREAM, you're good to go.
If you CAN'T see the packaging, ask...
"Does the package say 'Butter...' or 'Butter Substitute?'"
(as if there's a substitute for butter!)
Sometimes this'll turn on a light bulb. They'll wonder: did I see the word "Butter?" Or did it actually say "Butter Substitute?"
And if things are still murky after the double-double check...
...order something baked and add some o' that flavorful fat that you brought from home.
I promise, getting the best, highest-quality fats and finding the restaurants that use 'em is no annoyance. It's no sacrifice. It makes life healthier and more flavorful. There's nothing wrong with that!
What questions do you make sure to ask at restaurants? Let me know on the Facebook page!