Better Than Salad at Wendy’s

Dining out lo-co can be a challenge – especially if you find yourself at a fast food joint. Yes, of course, you shouldn’t be there, but if you are going to dine fast-food style (and you know you are), there are some good lo-co choices.

And it’s not just salad anymore.

Woot.

Last week, my son and I were finishing up our it-feels-like-1000-doctors-he-has-to-see-before-he-leaves-for-college expedition, and we had 2 appointments in one day and an hour to kill.  And it was lunchtime.  Naturally we went to Wendy’s.

Now, I was all set to order their Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, the virtues of which I wrote about in this post, I Heart My Fitness Pal.  But I’ve been eating a lot of salad lately, and I was a bit sad about the possibility of salad once again.

Suddenly, I perked up at a sign I’d never seen before advertising a Smoky Honey Mustard Flatbread Grilled Chicken Sandwich — and this pretty sandwich proudly wore a big red button proclaiming it had just 370 calories.

Must be lo-co!

I whipped out my iPhone and looked it up on My Fitness Pal (again, I love this app), and it turns out, this grilled chicken flatbread sandwich is even BETTER than the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, lo-co wise! (And of course, far healthier than even the smallest burger.)

I gasped. My son nudged me, and hissed, “What is wrong with you?” When I showed him my phone, he rolled his eyes. But I ignored him and soldiered forward.

The details: Wendy’s grilled chicken flatbread sandwich has 30 more calories than the Wendy’s Half Apple Pecan Chicken Salad… BUT it has less fat and less cholesterol! And, to me, the chicken sandwich is far, far more satisfying than a salad for lunch.

Plus, with a burger, fries are just plain required…  whereas with the chicken sandwich (or a salad) I could get away with just swiping a few from my son and not feel, well, cheated.

Here are the stats, courtesy of My Fitness Pal:

Wendy's Lunch Options
I’m thrilled to find another fast food option — beyond the boring salad (though I will admit that Wendy’s salad is good, as salads go) — that is a decent lo-co choice.

But I am very, very sad to find out this sandwich might not  be available for very long! The Wendy’s site says this sandwich is, “At Participating Wendy’s, for a limited time.”

Please don’t take my chicken flatbread away, Wendy’s!

Please!

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I heart My Fitness Pal

Apologies for the lame post title, but I thought it fit with the lameness of the name of my new favorite app: My Fitness Pal. Why Mike and Albert Lee, the brothers-developers who created this wildly handy app, thought the word ‘pal’ was a good idea I’ll probably never know. But in the end I don’t care – because this app is awesome.

Though I will admit to the need of dropping a few post-holiday pounds, I was not in the market for an exercise or food tracking tool. I like love technology, sure, but the thought of tapping into my iPhone every single morsel of food that passed my lips sounded…let’s just say less than fun.

What made me try My Fitness Pal was this cholesterol-compelling NYT article. The opening paragraph made me both LOL (literally) AND groan with recognition (cross outs are mine):

“When I received the results of a routine cholesterol test this summer, I was certain there had been some kind of mistake.  I’m young, unstressed and healthy, or so I imagined. I work out, too, and most impartial observers — and some partial ones — would describe me as lean. Plus, I eat a nutritious diet, I swear. So why did my LDL levels surpass my I.Q. — or, for that matter, Einstein’s?

The facts were stark: My genes predisposed me…”

Read the whole article here.  It was page 2 that sold me on the (sadly-named) app where the author describes My Fitness Pal’s enormous food database. And I concur – it is EASY AS PIE (sorry) to find and enter meals and snacks.  Truly.

In the ten days I’ve used this app I’ve lost 2 pounds (!) but best of all, I’ve made different (better, more low cholesterol) food choices – and felt good great about it.

Like, I went to Wendy’s and ordered a (gasp) salad.

This has NEVER happened before. Two years of blogging about adopting a more lo-co lifestyle and every time I lunched at Wendy’s I still ordered my traditional single hamburger, small fries and small chocolate Frostee (and I don’t finish the fries or Frostee). Yes, they have salads and baked potatoes, but NO I never once ordered one. Instead I just tried to limit how often I went. Rather unsuccessfully. Then felt the guilt.

But MyFitnessPal caused me to alter my order.

What happened was this. There was a long line at Wendy’s so to pass the time, I used MyFitnessPal to type in what I considered my pretty-low-fat-for-fast-food typical order. I was horrified to find it had over 1,000 calories (my goal for the day was 1,500 calories!) and 128 grams of cholesterol.

YIKES!

If that’s what’s in my teeny tiny order, how many calories and cholesterol are in the double bacon and other burgers? No wonder America has an obesity problem.

So, still in line, I studied the ‘Healthy Choices’ posters and typed Apple Pecan Chicken Salad into iPhone’s MyFitnessPal app. This healthy choice has just 340 calories and 55 grams of cholesterol: much more appropriate to lunch (meaning, only 1/3 of my goal calories for the day). Not to mention, it was a far more lo-co choice than my usual.

So I ordered the salad, which is topped with WARM CHICKEN (the only way I’ll eat a salad – something  has to be hot!) and some blue cheese, and was shocked to find it was delicious pretty tasty.

And that smug feeling as I looked around at the overweight diners eating enormous burgers?  Priceless.

My MyFitnessPal victory (see, it’s just a bad name, all around) was not limited to this solo outing.  At dinner last night at our local diner, I tried Multigrain Pancakes instead of my usual 2 eggs-over-easy on whole wheat toast (no butter) with sausage links and home fries.  Didn’t love it, but loved that I’d made a  healthier dining out food choice twice in one week.

Astonishing.  I guess knowledge really is, um, power.

Another great thing about MyFitnessPal is that it helped me exercise every day. Yes, I know I’m supposed to exercise daily – and I do, a lot, but, well, never DAILY.  But I have for 10 days in a row. Why, you ask? Well, when you put in your desired weight loss you get a calorie goal for the day and you get more calories when you exercise. I wanted needed those calories for wine. And it worked. Daily exercise meant I got to have wine, guilt-free, every night and still be at my calorie (and cholesterol) limit. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I exercised for 10 days in a row.

One last great thing about My Fitness Pal: this easy-to-use app helped me see just how lo-co my daily diet is – and the answer was surprisingly low cholesterol except for the eggs and sausage diner order.  That felt great.

For weight loss AND cholesterol counting, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve done in the past two years that I had more fun using & was more motivating than My Fitness Pal.

Oh, wait – I forgot.  The really great one last thing about My Fitness Pal — IT’S FREE.

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Barley lowers cholesterol

Everyone knows oatmeal is a cholesterol-lowering food. But frankly, oatmeal leaves me cold. The consistency kind of grosses me out, and it reminds me of poor, sad Oliver Twist holding out his porridge bowl.  And that is no way to start every day.

So I reverted back to my 1/2 bagel-with-smidge-of-cream-cheese-and-lox daily breakfast. True, the momentary culinary delight gives way to guilt over skipping the holy grail of cholesterol-lowering foods. But I’ve made peace with that.

Or I had – until I realized my next 6 month cholesterol check is not so far away. And with no daily oatmeal, kind-of-sort-of daily Metamucil and far too many Wendy’s runs, I’m likely to see poor results.

So I set out to see what other food I could start eating that would lower my cholesterol. A food that would not make me sad.

And happily, I found barley. I’d heard of it, of course – but never eaten it. And certainly never cooked it. In that wow-karma, the universe will provide way that sometimes happens, I opened the NYT Dining section last week and found Melissa Clark ‘s article, “Mushrooms and Barley, A Spring Jump Start.”  Which was exactly what the, ahem, doctor was calling for.

Though the recipe itself is called a ‘salad’ (and you know I am not salad-girl), the picture showed NO salad greens so I decided to try it. I bought the ingredients but even then waited a few days because the recipe said it would take a daunting 90 minutes…which it DOES. But it’s not difficult – just a ton of chopping.  So if you don’t like to chop – and/or your knives aren’t sharp – this is not the recipe for you. But if that sounds OK to you, forge ahead because this is tasty…and pretty easy.

My tips about this recipe:

  • I used parsnip instead of celery root because I couldn’t find celery root and had never cooked parsnip. Turns out parsnip is a cinch to cook with, and imparts a slightly sweet taste that was great in this dish.
  • As I did not find the ‘special’ mushrooms the recipe called for, I just used pre-sliced baby bella and white mushrooms. Totally fine – am sure would be better with special mushrooms, but ‘typical’ mushrooms were great in this dish.
  • You MUST toast the pearl barley. I’d never done before and it’s simple – and fills the house with a delicious nutty aroma.
  • The recipe explains why you should cook the barley in a virtual vat of  boiling water – I did, and it did not stick!
  • I used champagne vinegar rather than cider vinegar.
  • I wish I’d tasted it BEFORE I added the vinaigrette – my son despises vinegar of any sort, and had I served it to him sans vinaigrette he probably would have liked it – because he liked the barley (!)
  • I served this as a main dish – it took 90 minutes so that was all I was cooking!  But in my view, it’s more of a side. Probably would be good with an actual green salad.  Gak.

So fabulous…now I know how to toast and cook barley, and am free to play around with other add-ins and non-vinaigrette versions of this recipe. But the question remains: is it worth finding and fiddling with barley recipes?

And the answer is YES – because barley reduces cholesterol.

This Lower Cholesterol: Eat More Barley article, on the website of the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, a “leading authority in natural medicine” explains the clincial study that proves barley lowers cholesterol. It’s well written and a great explanation of how oatmeal – and barley – lower cholesterol:

“One study showed that for every 1 gram of soluble fiber consumed per day, total and LDL cholesterol decreased by 1.55 mg/dl. This means that consuming a diet high in soluble fiber can have a clinically important effect on serum cholesterol levels.”

This study is also well explained in WebMD’s Barley Helps Lower Cholesterol article. And you can find out more / all about barley and its nutritional values at the Barley Foods site: www.barleyfoods.org.

 

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Control-less

So far 2012 has not been a banner year for me lo-co wise.  For weeks now, I’ve been out of lo-co control.  The good habits I’d built have flown the coop in the face of these events:

  • On Jan 2 my boss called to say that as of February 1st, I had to go on a ‘temporary leave’ while funding issues got resolved. The stress begins.
  • In mid-Jan I had LASIK, and though I can’t complain (it went incredibly well) it has not been an easy journey:
    1. I felt forced into it because the only contact lens that fits my apparently oh-so-oddly-shaped eye was discontinued.
    2. That huge bill arrived right as my job ended, which was, um, NOT the plan.
    3. The stress persists: every morning I’m a little afraid to open my eyes. Every morning. (Yes, I get this is irrational. Can’t seem to stop it though. Sigh.)
  • I finally worked up the courage to meet with an Integrated Health Medicine ‘doctor’ and it went to hell in a handbasket in under a minute.
    1. He stated – without a look at any medical info – that my problem is not cholesterol but inflammation, and that I should: a) find something else to blog about, and b) have him do a TON of blood tests to get at the root cause of said inflammation.
    2. His credibility fell further (I know – not possible, right?) when I asked whether his dog was always in his office because I’m allergic to dogs. His reply? Allergies aren’t real – that my issue was due to an immunosuppressant deficiency that he could fix as well. I sneezed my way out of there as fast as I could.
  • Then last week we visited 6 colleges. And while we had a great deal of fun family time, this was peppered with continual reminders that college is, oh, $50k+ per year.  Not to mention the screaming matches about where to park – which is NOT the way to introduce your kid to your alma mater.  I’m just saying.

The result of all this has been an acute, long-lasting and embarrassing case of  STRESS EATING. I’ve stopped preparing dinner. And have eaten at Wendy’s so often in the past several weeks, that to count – which I will not do – I’d need to use toes.

It’s bad enough that I’m not cooking – and eating at Wendy’s.  What’s even more suprising (and yet, I’m doing it) is that I’ve somehow managed to give up the good lo-co habits that TAKE NO EFFORT.

  • In recent weeks I’ve stopped taking my daily Centrum Cardio vitamin (I ran out…which is true, but how dog-ate-my-homework of me, right?)
  • And I’ve stopped taking Metamucil.  Which is LAME because the giant orange container sits right out on my counter – next to the coffee machine.  And somehow, I manage not to notice it so I keep forgetting to mix and chug.

So far in 2012 I’ve been feeling totally out of control. Actually worse: control-less.

Want to see what control-less looks like?

It looks like this. Yes, that’s candy. And no, I did not buy just a few of those oh-my-goodness-these-are-back-I-must-eat-them-right-now Russell Stover Marshmallow Eggs.

In fact, I’d already bought a few. Like 6 at a time.  On previous visits. For example, in preparation for our college trip. Those other times, I bought them like a normal person – put them in a hand cart and brought them to the register with other items.

But not this time.  This time, without even a hint of shame, I removed the entire CASE from the shelf and carried it up to the cash register.  A case. All the while lying to myself that it wasn’t THAT BAD because it was only 1/2 full.  That I was just taking the case to the register because I didn’t have a hand-cart and it was easier to grab the case.

Oh, the lies.

What’s worse is that Easter isn’t until April. You may remember from, “The Siren Call of Girl Scout Cookies & Easter Candy” that I find these marshmallow eggs along with Thin Mints – which are sure to be just around the corner – completely irresistible.

So I’m at risk for further candy-case purchases.

Luckily this new low seems to have sprung me from my hamburger and sugar-induced coma. Yesterday I bought a new pack of Centrum Cardio vitamins… and also managed to pluck that Metamucil container from its hiding place right out in the open.

I swallowed a vitamin (along with my Fish Oil pills which I, luckily – and for no apparent reason- did not stop taking) then chugged a glass of Metamucil.

Then I did it again today.

I’m hoping I can get back to ‘normal’ before all the marshmallow eggs are gone from that case. If I ration myself to one-egg-a-day, I’ll have 5 days to get it done.  Wish me luck.

 

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The Lo-Co Burger-Off

Combine my inability to plan nightly low-cholesterol dinners (all right, any dinner) and the need to feed a teenaged boy who plays sports, and the all-too-frequent result is dinner at a burger joint.

So not lo-co, I know.  But it happens.

Worse, it’s happening more regularly because the famous ‘Shake Shack’ (chef Danny Meyer’s take on fast food) just opened in our town.  We’ve been there a few (ahem) times.

I decided it was time to think about this…not just pretend it wasn’t happening. So I tabulated the nutritional info of what I usually eat at the three burger places we like: Wendy’s, Five Guys and Shake Shack.  And though I knew a burger and fries was not a good meal choice, I was appalled at what I found.

First – they are all pretty bad.  All three chains.  None is far worse than any other.

Second – even my choice of the smallest hamburger option with a small/regular-sized fries has nearly HALF of the daily recommended calories and cholesterol, and nearly ALL of the total fat & saturated fat I should be consuming in 1 day, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

And that doesn’t even include the small Frostee I always order at Wendy’s (for calcium, right?).  Nor the not-so-small beer offered at Shake Shack.

Huge sigh.

[table id=1 /]

Burger comparison, INCLUDING Fries.  All have lettuce, tomato, mayo & ketchup.  ShackBurger has cheese.  Five Guys fries are approximately half of an order of regular fries.  Wendy’s is a small fry order, Shake Shack is 1 order of regular fries.

Even without fries, it’s a bleak picture.  I’ll write a separate post that compares the burger & fries with a just-burger order, so you can see the difference.

But what’s immediately important is finding a healthier fast-food option for me (as it’s clear we will still be dining at fast food places.)  So here’s what I’ve decided:

  • Five Guys has basically NO lo-co alternative – their ‘veggie burger’ is just their toppings on a bun. I literally LOL at that. So I guess I’ll be skipping Five Guys trips and let that turn into a father/son dinner option.  Sad, but no choice – just looking at that 52 grams of fat has my head spinning.
  • Wendy’s has healthy choices like salads, but I just have trouble ordering them. They’re actually pretty good (annoyingly, my husband often orders them) but I just usually don’t choose them with the burger lure right there.  But I will now.
  • Shake Shack has a ‘Shroom Burger as a vegetarian option, but it is STUFFED with cheese, so totally not lo-co. In fact, it has nearly double the fat of a ShackBurger!
  • I did find ONE GREAT CHOICE that’s not a salad, is tasty and a much healthier/ lower cholesterol fast food choice than a burger and fries.  The Shake Shack Bird Dog is a healthy option – it’s a chicken sage sausage on a bun.  It is HALF the calories and cholesterol, and 1/3 of the fat of their ShackBurger:

[table id=4 /]

So, I’ll be bird-doggin’ it from now on.

That should leave enough calories for a beer with my dinner, don’t you think?

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