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Aug 17, 2009 09:55 PM

Best healthy dish

Hey all,

I'm recently on a diet (tragic, I know) and so I'm trying to find some restaurants that I can go out to and have a good healthy(ish) meal that I won't feel so badly about eating. (salads, wraps, soups... etc. I'm not a vegetarian but I suppose I am open to veggie options if the dish is worth it.)

What, if any, are your recommendations for favourite healthy dishes in Toronto?

Thanks a bunch.

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  1. Good post racheljenna....I am interested in this also. I hope it brings some new and interesting ideas.

    Not sure what area of the city you iive but you should check out Mocha Mocha on the Danforth, near Chester. They have wonderful salads, soups and a few specials each day. I particularly love their tuna cakes which is only available on Tuesday and Friday. Everything is very fresh and healthy. The portions are huge so you may have leftovers to take home depending on how serious you are about the diet.

    Good luck with it.

    12 Replies
    1. re: millygirl

      Sushi and sashimi, Cha Ca La Vong (dry-fried grouper on noodles, fresh herbs and sprouts and a sprinkle of peanuts) at Hanoi 3 Seasons, light Thai (mostly) veg stir-fries with rice, mussels and a lightly dressed green salad (ask for mussels to be done with a small amount of olive oil, onions/garlic and white wine -- no butter or cream), grilled fish or chicken breast (or even a 4-ounce filet mignon) with double veggies or else veggies and a side salad, small portions of grilled protein. Places like Fresh, that have a wide variety of veggie bowls with soy protein, noodles, rice, nuts or seeds, are good choices.

      You can eat in many, if not most, places, provided you are willing to go a little bit Type A and request a few minor changes. Be wary of sauces, dressings, starchy accompaniments (for the butter, cheese and cream that makes them so tasty) and anything fried. If you want to eat pasta, try to convince a dining companion to share one with you that has a simple, vegetable based sauce, or else an aglio e olio sauce. Share a salad and a main as well, and allow your non-dieting partner to eat more and/or the starchy side to the main. If you have no dining companion or yours is not interested in sharing, show some restraint and eat only half of your meal, taking the other half home for tomorrow. Avoid the super high-end restos for a while, as they are renowned for serving smaller portions that are doubly rich in luxurious (and high-fat) ingredients.

      1. re: 1sweetpea

        Is stir-fried anything really healthy? The amount of oil used can sometimes be scary.

        I would stick w/ grilled proteins as far mains go. The general rule is the simpler the dish the better as far as dieting goes. This is because you know more precisely what went into making it and have more control over what is included.

        For example, you can be almost certain what went into a wrap/sandwich or salads and you have total control of what goes in it - dressing on the side, whole-grain bread, hold the cheese, etc. Same goes for sashimi/sushi.

        I agree that very high end is usually best saved as a splurge. Dessert can also be a problem; Usually I stick w/ gelato or cheese for dessert. Cheese is high calorie but I know HOW MANY calories and can control for it accordingly.

        Finally, vegetarian food can be very unhealthy/high calorie and this is a common dieting + dining out mistake.

        1. re: Hmm

          You'll note that my stir-fry recommendation was for "light Thai vegetable-laden stir-fries, not heavy Chinese-style (meaning proteins run through deep-fry oil before stir-frying) stir-fries, though healthier meals can be had at Chinese restaurants, if you choose carefully. Oil and fat are not enemies, as long as they are used judiciously.

          You'll also note that I was quite specific regarding the types of dishes to look for in vegetarian places. I'm not suggesting french fries, fried vegetable cutlets, Nayonaise-based dressings or cheese sauces.

          I tried to give a wide variety of options, as grilled chicken and salad gets pretty bloody boring after a few meals, especially if you feel as if you're being deprived of variety and the richer choices on menus. As someone who shed a lot of weight a number of years ago and kept it off, trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Nobody is more aware of what goes into restaurant food than me. I have learned how to choose wisely, without alienated my co-diners or making them feel guilty for their choices.

          I apologize for not addressing dessert options. I am not a dessert eater ... anymore. Thankfully, I largely grew out of my sweet tooth and traded it for a savoury one. If you have a sweet tooth, I'd recommend getting those teeny tiny one-bite dark chocolate bars and eating no more than one per day, IF the craving strikes. In restaurants, forgo dessert knowing that your rich and decadent chocolate nibble awaits (or else carry one with you). Failing that, sorbets or sherbets with fresh fruit are both sweet and refreshing. Gelato isn't much better than ice cream, so if it's what you crave, make it an occasional indulgence, along with any other dessert options. If you want to order a dessert, do what my SO's mother does: order something decadent, then ask for forks for everyone at the table and encourrage the others to do most of the indulging, while you eat one or two bites only.

          1. re: 1sweetpea

            My post was in reply to but not criticism of yours just to be clear. I also think I am pretty knowledgeable on the subject. I worked in nutrition related medical research for 4 years and have actually done diet consultation/meal planning.

            I agree that stir-frys can be done healthy but I find that a lot of restaurants use more oil than necessary. It is because of this inconsistency that I would not recommend stir-frys if going to untested restaurants regularly. I was not aware that Thai style stir-frys are done in a more healthful manner (beyond being more vegetable heavy) but it is good to know if that is the case.

            Also, I agree that fat is not to be avoided on diets (beyond trans-fats). The fat hypothesis has been put on notice at the very least. The fact is, however, that dieting comes down to a caloric balance and fat IS higher calorie so you have to be more careful about it when you are not cooking the food yourself.

            I was also not insulting your mention of vegetarian dining as an option. I think it is a good option but my point was just a reiteration that one has to be careful. I have dealt with a good number of people/clients who simply think that something is universally healthier because it is labeled vegetarian.

            1. re: Hmm

              The focus on the regional boards is on where to find delicious chow in a given region. Please try to keep replies here focused on where to get healthy chow in Toronto (or, if you have specific information that a suggested dish is actually high in calories/fat/etc, that would be fine to share), rather than on discussing what constitutes healthy chow in general. That's a much wider topic that's really outside the scope of this board, and would be better as a thread on General Chowhound Topics.

              1. re: The Chowhound Team

                Okay then, to be more specific, I'd suggest Toronto sushi places that offer traditional rather than modern fusion sushi and sashimi, which tends to involve more deep frying of oils, use of kewpie mayonnaise and oils drizzled over items. Even a teriyaki stir-fry can be reasonably healthy, though sweet. Have a small salad to start and ask for less meat and more veggies and you'll have a better balanced meal.

                I mentioned Hanoi 3 Seasons in my earlier post, but I think Mimi also offers some healthy choices. If you're willing to go vegetarian, many of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the GTA offer soups and plates that are vegetable and/or tofu based, though the tofu is often fried. Ask and they may be willing to make the dish without frying the tofu. If a place has skimmed the fat off of the pho broth, you could potentially have a reasonably healthy pho with just rare beef or chicken breast. Make sure to use lots of sprouts and herbs, the lemons or limes and even the chiles, if you like heat, to up the nutritional value.

                I haven't found too many outstanding Thai places in Toronto (haven't tried Sukhothai), but I have been to a few places over the years that produced green papaya salads without any oil, very lightly stir-fried veggies with your choice of protein, cold summer rolls and lovely mango salads. The only real issue is sodium and sugars, but hey, everything in moderation!

                I used to frequent such places as Autogrill (for mussels), Cafe Brussels (which is no longer) Rodney's, Phebe's, Terra and Starfish (for oysters and salads). The Miller will cook fish to your specifications and will substitute lightly stir-fried veggies or salad for traditional sides. Okay, it's overpriced and not spectacular, but I find myself there on occasion nonetheless. Even Trapper's makes pretty tasty mussels which can be requested with very little oil.

                Steakhouses are easy, be it The Keg or Harbour 60. There is often a fish or seafood option that can be simply grilled, not to mention chicken breast. Sides can usually be tailored. A small filet is okay as well, as long as you're careful with the sides and avoid unhealthy sauces or butter/cheese toppings. On a baked potato, I use a small amount of sour cream, chives or onions, lots of black pepper and a little salt. It really isn't necessary to slather the potato with tons of butter, bacon bits, cheese and sour cream. Many high end steakhouses, such as Harbour 60, offer most or all sides a la carte, so you can order any, all or none, as you wish. I've shared a massive grilled rare tuna steak, a side of sauteed spinach and a plate of mushrooms and been very satisfied there. A one-pound piece of tuna is way too much for me, but 8 ounces with vegetable side dishes is just perfect.

                When dining at pubs or lower end places, I'm more likely to choose grilled chicken sandwiches with all the condiments served on the side, with a salad instead of fries (dressing on the side). Standard pub-issue Greek salads are options as well, though I often ask for the feta on the side and the dressing to be very light. For better Greek salads, hit the Danforth.

                I recently had outstanding grilled squid, octopus, Greek salad, grilled snapper and grilled striped bass (with a large party) at Pantheon. The salad was the weakest element. I've had healthy items, such as lentil soup, mussels, grilled squid or octopus and salads, at Ouzeri and Mezes.

                Even healthy Indian food can be had, though I'd stick to South Indian restaurants that offer idli and sambhar, dosas, kachumbar salads, raitas. I understand that Cambros makes vegan, super-healthy Indian and Persian foods. It might be worth a visit for a take-out meal.

                As long as you avoid places that have pre-made sides that can't be altered (such as Tex-Mex ---> rice, refried beans and fried tortillas and chips), you can tailor a meal to your dietary needs at most establishments. Be honest with your server and politely ask that a few changes be made and most will be quite accomodating.

                1. re: 1sweetpea

                  I too live by the 80/20 rule. When Im dining with the "80" mindset, I love going to Rodneys for shrimp cocktail or oysters to start (oysters are about 10 calories a piece!!) and a lobster for the main (without butter, lots of lemon and skip the fries it comes with). When you get to eat lobster, you dont feel deprived at all! Plus the meal is practically fat free and very low calorie.

                  1. re: 1sweetpea

                    curious about the sushi suggestion. some quick research a little while ago suggested that white rice was among the worst for caloric intake with regards to starches. i was surprised that potatoes were minimal in comparison. not entirely sure if i have this right but i checked a few websites for caloric content since it sounded so odd to me. so i would then suggest mostly going the sashimi route or finding a restaurant that does brown rice sushi.

                    as per the thai suggestion, if you went on a slower night to sukhothai it would probably be easier to communicate dietary needs and they would gladly adjust i'm sure. very friendly people. they might even make up a dish for you based on a low cal requirements and what they have in the kitchen. again though if my research is right, i would try to hold back on eating rice with most of your meal. i could imagine a lightly sauced basil eggplant dish would probably be a good option.

                    ethiopian immediately sprung to mind but i have to admit i'm not much of a calorie counter so i can't be absolutely sure. if you didn't eat tooo much injera then i'm sure that would also help as well. often very protein laden items (lentils) and most of the flavour comes from spicing rather than fat. the most aggressive spicing i've had was at nazareth but to each their own. lailibela is a good option and in the same neighbourhood.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      white rice, in moderation, is not bad for you, especially if it's eaten with a protein, such as fish, as it will be absorbed more slowly. Also, calories are not bad per se, as long as they are accounted for within an overall diet

                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                        White rice and potatoes have about the same ratio of calories from carbohydrates and protein. Neither have significant fat in them, unless this is added during/after cooking. The thing about rice that makes it more caloric by cooked weight is the grains pack those carbs more densely than does potato, so it contains less water and more carbs/protein per unit of cooked weight than rice does.

                        I was recently reading about satiety index, which seems to need more development as a widespread rule of thumb, and the researchers determined that potatoes were high in satiety, something that may be useful for those of us who tend to eat too much. Not French fries, or potato chips, though...


                        Neither rice nor potatoes is bad, necessarily. But, sushi with brown rice would be considerably healthier.

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          thanks for the info both of you, i figured it couldn't have been so simplistic. the satiety thing is interesting, i'm pretty sure i can pack away more rice than potato myself but damn i also love potatoes so i guess that isn't a completely bad thing.

            2. re: 1sweetpea

              oh i love that grouper dish at Hanoi! It is not too heavy, tasy and filling. Love the use of dill!

          2. I am always trying to eat healthy (80/20 rule - 80% healthy, 20% try not to think about it). Some examples of regular healthy choices include:

            Fresh - any of their salads, some of their smoothies (as long as you account for the calorie punch in a smoothie). You can also get their burgers and wraps on a salad, instead of the bun or wrap.

            Takesushi or Katsu Sushi (NOT the AYCE, because a la carte is always fresher and you can control your choices) and usually get the wakame salad (seaweed) and scallop maki or at Katsu they have roll with tuna and spring onions (I stay away from the maki that have the mayo, breading, etc.) and split edamame with my dining companions.

            Mango salads and papaya salads and a little steamed rice or chicken on a stick are decent choices at most thai restaurants (in toronto).

            If you're talking about lunch and you're in the downtown core, the salad places are good options - Fresh Food Fast, etc.

            Also, for lunch, I'll often get the chicken or tofu and plain rice dishes from the japanese places in the food courts and ask for a half portion of the rice - this way they give you more veg. They do not use oil when cooking in these places and I pass on the sauce and add my own sriracha.

            There's nothing particularly wrong with a turkey sandwich on dark rye (hold the mayo, etc.) with mustard from say Druxy's with a side of small coleslaw. Ya, there's a lot of salt, but it's still a decent option once in awhile.

            I eat at a lot of the Greek restaurants on the Danforth because I live near there. A large Greek salad, hold the dressing and just add vinegar - is a good option, even with a little bit of pita - a lot of them have whole wheat pita now and you can get chicken on your salad.

            Green Eggplant (in the Beach and on Eglinton near Avenue) is good for big healthy salads and egg white omelettes, etc.

            Honestly, I can figure out how to eat healthy in almost any restuarant (in Toronto) I go to. Pubs can be harder - or a place specifically dedicated to splurges - such as a poutine joint - but then those are best left for the 20%.

            1. Hi Rachel,
              not sure if these two have been mentioned:

              1. Camros located at Yonge/Hayden just south of Bloor. Their dishes are based on Persian cuisine and they pride themselves on healthy, organic, nutritious and delicious meals. I haven't eaten there in a while, but I fondly remember their rice balls, kale salad and vegetarian stews and thoroughly enjoying it!

              2. Tintos located on roncesvalles about two blocks north of queen west. I eat here often, getting any of their salads or wraps and sandwiches. All the food here is also organic and chicken and tofu is available as protein. The food is fresh and light and healthy. www.

              Unfortunately both places are a bit on the pricier side. You can check their web sites for menus and prices. If there are any other places, it'd be great to know as I'm also, tragically on a 'diet'.


              1. I really enjoy the food at Jean's Vegetarian Kitchen (Danforth near Coxwell) and I think the stir-fried mushrooms & tofu dish is particularly healthy, though I don't really know. It just seems to me that it's light on the fat for the amount of fresh, yummy veggies in it. Price is good, too, and the place is very clean with a sleek decor.

                1. The tuna sashimi at One in Yorkville is fantastic. Their fish mains are also very good and very healthy.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Cat123

                    Fish entrees at Starfish are also very very good. Usually feature 'wild' fish cooked with minimal of oil and often accompanied with interesting veggie sides.