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Birmingham - (reasonably) healthy eats?

As you might be able to tell from some of my recent outings for dinner in the area, I sometimes eat a bit too much rich and/or fat laden foods. I love them. But sometimes I have a craving for something a bit more on the healthy side for lunch or dinner. What are some of your favorite places to get light/healthy eats and please make specific recommendations for dishes, when possible.

For example, I thought the falafel with a side of pita chips (and a little tzatziki on the side) for like $7 at Nabeel's was pretty tasty, filling, and somewhat on the light side side. The falafel there is a pita wrap with the following ingredients - hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, and crushed falafel balls (which may or may not have been fresh, but yes, they were still fried - unless they make so many that they pre-bake them). Maybe some onions, I forget. It was better than the one, I guess, at the Sultan that I had last week.

Maybe some Asian restaurants with steamed vegetables and protein of your choice? I find that most times these are too bland for my taste buds.

gulp, maybe even some well done tofu dishes?

Or great salad options?

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  1. Bottletree has some relatively healthy options, including a number of dishes geared toward vegetarians/vegans. The menu is fairly limited (primarily sandiwiches, soups and salads). The Birmingham News recently voted its chili (which is meatless) as the city's best. The web site is thebottletree.com.

    1. Jim & Nicks has a really good salad that you can top with grillled chicken or pulled pork. As with any salad, it's the accoutrements that can add fat & calories. The salad comes with cheese, tomatoes, boiled eggs, sliced almonds, croutons and delicious cheese muffins. Pick & choose your must haves and get your choise of dressing on the side. I always get a lite ranch, but I cut it with some of the varities of hot sauces on the table. Another good place for salads is Zoe's. Watch the feta and the great Greek dressing can be a diet buster depending on how much you use. But a little goes a long way. Franklin's Gourmet has a wonderful Baby Blue Salad. Fresh spring greens with blue cheese, strawberries, pecans/walnuts in a balsamic dressing. YUM!

      Sushi/sashimi is practically fat-free so I find that it's a good option for healthy eating. As I recall, you're not really into it, but I think Surin West has the freshest around (stay away from the Phillie roll if you're watching fat). They also have a thai beef salad that is very tasty. I get mine thai hot so it requires alot of water to reduce the heat, thus making me feel full faster. (We women definitely have ALOT of tricks up our sleeves. )
      The Fish Market has plank grilled salmon on a salad. Tasty. Ocean should have plenty to choose from. The wood-grilled or oriental-steamed fish & steamed veggies are lite. However, the mashed potatoes and fried feta on their salads are diet-busters. But you could employ portion control on these items. (It would be hard though . . . yummo!) I'd recommend staying away from the Lobster pot pie if you're looking for something lite. But if you're going full-fat - GO FOR IT!!

      3 Replies
      1. re: sheilal

        Thanks, I had the beef salad at Surin for lunch today. I requested it thai hot (pet-pet), and it had a nice kick (but not too much really) which went well with the salad and side of rice. I also really like their coconut based soups.

        1. re: Dax

          The chicken/coconut soup is fabulous. Just a hint of spice (I always add more). It has a different start and a different finish on the tongue. However, I wouldn't think it would fit into a "healthy" category though. Also a Surin, the Pad Prik would probably be a good choice as well. The ingredients remind me of a fajita-type mixture. I always get it in pork because their pork is really lean.

          1. re: Dax

            Here's another tip about Surin. Ask for containers of the chili-garlic sauce and dried thai chili flakes to be brought to the table. That way, you can control your own heat. Several years ago, I went and they could not or would not get the dish hot enough for me. I sent it back a couple of times and I guess they got a little gun-shy. They presented me with containers of delectable heat & spice and I haven't had a bland meal since.

        2. Dax, the Vietnamese restaurant on Greensprings across from Publix offers some fresh and healthy alternatives. Sadly, the quantity and quality of the food is not as good as I remember when it first opened. Still, it's worth your dining dollar to go.

          The Rose Garden Cafe in Hoover off of Hwy 150 (again close to a Publix!) also offers some Vietnamese dishes as well as standard (and not as fresh tasting) Chinese-American fare.

          Taj India on Highland Ave offers a good buffet lunch 7 days a week. Tandoori chicken and many of their lentil dishes are tasty and lower in fat. I love their eggplant and the spinach with small new potatoes instead of the paneer.

          1. The chef at icon has a flair for flavorful food that is clean and healthy. The green tomato soup, the salmon with soba noodles, the blueberry monster smoothie (breakfast/brunch), the farmer's salad (to which you can add grilled chicken, beef or shrimp), thai rice noodles, are all dishes I have had and loved. Not sure what is on the menu now, but maybe this will give you an idea anyway.

            1. I am new to Birmingham, so I don't have specific recommendations for restaurants, but as an educated and experienced professional in wellness/ fitness, I have quite a few tips to share about making good choices at restaurants and I've summarized some of them below. They work well for me and for many of the people I've counseled, but they are simply suggestions, so take 'em or leave 'em.....

              #1 (and most important). Do not allow yourself to go to a meal when you are ravenously hungry! This is probably the most common mistake people make. Eat at least SOMETHING every couple hours with a glass (or bottle) of water. Take a few (well-chosen) snacks to work to eat between meals. Suggestions include: cereal bars (whole grain, low sugar), a handful of almonds, low-fat string cheese with a piece of fruit, one half of a PB&J, crunchy raw veggies

              #2. Portion down. Remember that portions are usually bigger than what we need for one meal. To make up for this, either split an app and entrée with a companion or ask your server to box up half of it in the kitchen before it’s brought to the table.

              #3. Veggie up. Add veggies to your plate… either as a side dish or by picking an entree that is vegetable-heavy. The more veggies you can cram in, the less of the bad stuff you will eat. And besides, the American diet falls WAY too short on the 5-10 servings a day—we need to boost our veggies. By the way, macaroni and cheese is NOT a veggie.

              #4. Use fries minimally. I have learned to acknowledge the healthful qualities of food items, even if it is a bit of a stretch, as long as they’re eaten in moderation. For example, ice cream… high in sugar and fat, but also kind of redeemable for the milk content; chocolate chip cookies… well, the walnuts are a good source of heart-healthy omega3 fats… Fries??? I’ve got nothing. In fact, calories aside, fries are loaded with heart-disease promoting transfats and carcinogenic acrylamide. Chips? same thing.

              I hope this is helpful to you and/or anyone else here. These are the big tips (or tricks of the trade) I can think of now, but I have a feeling I’m forgetting something. I may be adding more to this list shortly.

              2 Replies
              1. re: katiei

                Please report back as you find good healthy eats in the HAM.

                1. re: katiei

                  The point I was trying to make seemed to get a bit lost. By being mindful of a few things, you can confidently go anywhere and eat just about anything, while at the same time, reducing your portion size substantially… then voila… you’ve had a much lighter meal without denying yourself too much.

                  That being said, I really enjoyed the tabouli at Makarios near 5PS. Inexpensive, loaded with veggies… you can’t go wrong! Pair it with a simple kabob (kebab/kabab??) and you have a very light and satisfying meal. :o)

                2. Though I am hopelessly unqualified to answer any question about eating healthy, when I'm feeling guilty for being unusually glutinous, I have two go-to spots. The Fish Market and Newks. All of the simple grilled fish (esp. snapper) at the Fish Market is excellent. The salads at Newks are enormous; I like the Newks' Favorite - which comes with grilled chicken and enough other stuff (dried cranberry, artichoke hearts, etc.) to make it interesting. The grilled chicken feta wrap at Nabeels would also rate on the healthy side.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Bluehound

                    I tend to do Tazikis for lighter meals. Their Greek salad with grilled lamb is good, as is their plain Greek. Greek with chicken also available. I try to use dressing very, very sparingly because I know it is packed with calories. I also think their Pesto chicken wrap is a decently healthy lunch or dinner, though you are getting lots of carbs from the pita.

                    My gripe with Newks is that many of their sandwiches, etc, are premade. I've asked for whole wheat bread with their veggie club a few times, and they always tell me they can do whole wheat bread because their sandwiches are already made.

                    1. re: eatyourveggies1

                      Weird, I'm pretty sure I see them making most of the sandwiches to order at the Southside location. Or maybe they just heat them to order.

                      1. re: eatyourveggies1

                        I wouldn't give credit to any restaurant in B'ham for serving all healthy foods. Instead you must be selective on the menu and avoid certain things. On the obvious side, fried foods or creamy sauces or dressings are going to be unhealthy/fattening. But then there are some things that aren't so obvious when eating out. You mentioned pita chips at Nabeel's. They are delicious but they are fried (and thus quite fattening). Someone mentioned chicken coconut soup at Surin. Coconut milk is an very fattening food (though you can make this easily at home with reduced fat coconut milk and it tastes just as good, to me). Also, Indian food can be fattening, particularly any creamy spinach-based dishes (and poppadums are fried). Some sushi is laden with fat if you choose rolls with cream cheese. Thus, while some cuisines are inherently healthy, it is possible to make less healthy choices.

                        So, the rule of thumb is to stick with grilled or steamed foods if you are trying to avoid fat, skimp on the dressings and sauces, and keep bread intake low. Eating out frequently makes it difficult to eat a low fat diet, since you don't really know what is being used to cook your food.

                        1. re: mb123

                          I said reasonably because I do not necessarily want to stick to (mostly) boring steamed and/or grilled foods.

                    2. For good tofu dishes, check out New Chinatown in Five Points South. Their selection of tofu dishes appeals to both my vegetarian wife and me, a meat lover who also digs tofu. Good prices, too.
                      I like the ma po tofu at Wan's in Cahaba Heights (tofu and pork in a spicy sweet sauce). My wife likes the sizzling tofu and vegetarian ma po.
                      I haven't tried any of the Korean restuarants lately, but they generally do some interesting tofu dishes.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Big Daddy

                        I try and drink one glass of red wine at lunch. That's healthy....

                      2. Our go-to for lunch after over-indulging is Golden Temple, which serves some good vegetarian and vegan fare. A lot of dishes feature their very tasty black beans. My favorites are the GT stack, which may not be "light" but is healthy and delicious -- brown rice, black beans, fresh garlicky guacamole, sour cream, a little cheese, jalapenos, salsa, all stacked in a bowl. Also the GT sandwich, their great whole wheat bread with your choice of hummus or guac, mushrooms or olives, some farmer cheese and some other veggies, lightly grilled.

                        1. My latest go-to place is Zoes. I love the chicken plate - grilled chicken w/ Greek spices, rice and salad. Their Greek slaw is great too!