Food Review: Eating healthy while dining out: it’s possible

So you’ve made the common New Year’s resolution to start eating healthier. But what does that mean? Does it mean you want to eat gluten-free, vegetarian, sugar-free, Paleolithic, or heart-healthy? Maybe you just need to eat less.

The first thing to know is that you are most likely to stick to a healthy diet by cooking at home, where you have control of ingredients. In restaurants, it’s nearly impossible to avoid excessive salts and fats. Further, most restaurants serve oversized portions.

So where to eat and not break the bank? First, keep this name in mind: David Sweeney. He is by far the city’s best vegetarian cook. Unfortunately, his groundbreaking restaurant, Dynamic Dish, closed a few years ago. Now, he does pop-up dinners—frequently at Octane in Grant Park. You’ll have to visit his Facebook page or Twitter feed to keep up with him. Believe me, meat eaters will not miss anything.

My favorite cuisine and one of the world’s healthiest is Vietnamese. While their cooking includes meat, it is almost always lean and served in smallish quantities. My favorite is the classic “bun” (rice noodles) typically topped with herbs, bean sprouts, shaved pickled carrots, ground peanuts, lettuce, and the meat of your choice.

Buford Highway is lined with Vietnamese spots, including some that serve pho, a rich broth filled with your choice of ingredients. My fave is Com (4005 Buford Hwy., 404-320-0405) In town, there is Le Fat (404-439-9850), So Ba (560 Gresham Ave., 404-627-9911), and Saigon Basil (1870 Piedmont Ave., 404-892-8688), which is fast-casual-style and also serves Thai food. Thai cuisine is controversial because it makes frequent use of fatty coconut milk, but one of its fatty acids is extremely beneficial for its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. We all know where to get the best Thai food in Atlanta: Little Bangkok (2225 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-315-1530).

If you want to remain mainstream, one of the best healthy eateries is MetroFresh (931 Monroe Dr., 404-724-0151). The menu is mainly traditional, ranging from salads and rich soups to fish and meat, but owner Mitchell Anderson rarely lets seasoning over-power ingredients. I do have one complaint: sandwiches are made ahead and wrapped in plastic. They can get soggy.

I know some people shun it, but I’m a regular at Panera Bread (1544 Piedmont Ave., 404-853-3273). I like to go there for a light lunch just before hitting LA Fitness. I always order the surprisingly sophisticated arugula salad with “ancient” grains and chicken. I get the 210-calorie half-size and it costs under $7. Ask for a sprouted-grain roll instead of the baguette or mealy apple. The big annoyance here is dressings that are ridiculously sugary. Order it on the side. Healthy eating has become quite easy in most casual Atlanta restaurants because a menu without such options is going to lose significant business. Even the gay-popular Radial Café (1530 DeKalb Ave., 404-659-6594), a classic diner in many respects, offers numerous vegan and gluten-free options.

Finally, a plea. I beg you picky healthy eaters to do us all one favor. Call or check out the web-site menu of any restaurant before you visit. It’s a widely parodied cliché, but hearing a vegan or gluten-free zealot go nuts at the table really is a huge, embarrassing spectacle. Remember: you want whirled peas, so be peaceful.