The undercover health cafe raid

A new food chain that serves 'diet fries' and 'healthy samosas' on the menu recently opened in the city, claiming to serve 'low calorie junk food'. Sunday MiD DAY took a nutritionist along to sniff out the real health-food joints and answer a simple question: Can we find a meal that's not just tasty but really nutritious too?

We belong to a culture that defines food as reward and aspires to eat out often and more. But we're also the sort to call someone who puts on weight, 'healthy', so we might need a crash course in perspective. "Most people assume that health food will be boring and bland.

Nutritionist Samreedhi Goel goes undercover at Khar's Fellas
Cafe and is served a Wheatgrass shot. Pic/Santosh Nagwekar

The idea is that, 'if I am going to eat out, I want to enjoy my meal'," says nutritionist Samreedhi Goel, who runs Size Wise, a personal training studio in Santacruz. As in life, healthy eating comes down to choice, says Goel.

"Start with the choice of restaurant you are going to eat out at," she says, explaining, "Dieting is about strategy. You need to plan your calories over the next three hours. If you know you're going to have a lazy day, then you need to consume fewer calories during the course of the day."

When looking to eat healthy at a restaurant, Goel suggests opening up a dialogue with the staff. "Talk to the waiter, ask about the options available and see if they can have a particular dish served steamed, instead of fried," she advises.

Other tips Samreedhi recommends are starting a meal with a clear soup or a salad (with the dressing served separately). "When you are at a buffet, pick up a small plate instead of a large one, and walk away from the buffet once you're done serving yourself," she adds. We took Goel along to four of Mumbai's healthy eateries.
Here's a detailed report card of how our experience went.

Fellas cafe
Claim: To be a health food cafe
What we ate: Grilled Chicken Sandwich with whole wheat multi-grain bread, Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato and Basil soup, Wheatgrass shot, Spinach-pineapple-apple juice

Opened earlier this year, Fellas is run by a bunch of "fellas", one of whom started juice parlour J-Kart. The cafe takes up most of the driveway of a building, with a tailor shop and a barber shop running parallel to it, and leads into what one presumes was once a garage, so the ambience isn't much to write home about. Its plastic chairs and tables are also less than comfortable.

In better news, the 10-page menu boasts lots of 'healthy' options with calorie counts listed alongside each. The calories for the Grilled Chicken sandwich (255 calories), Wheatgrass shot (20 calories) and Spinach-pineapple-apple juice (169 calories) seemed fair, according to Samreedhi, who had her doubts about the Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato and Basil soup being just 20 calories.

"It is difficult to believe that such a generous portion of soup would be only 20 calories, as one medium-sized tomato is in itself 20 calories," she said. "Based on my calculations, the soup has at least 90 calories (100 gm tomato (40 cals); Red bell pepper (50 to 30 cals); remaining ingredients (20 cals)), assuming that no oil/fat went into it!"

Goel says, "The Grilled Chicken Sandwich that we ordered had boneless, skinless chicken. The added flavours were light and enjoyable, but the sandwich became a little dry after it went cold. The multi-grain bread looked and tasted genuine, as it breaks easily, and the high-fibre was quite filling, so much so that I couldn't eat the whole thing.

The Wheatgrass shot felt like it contained a sweetener, and while they admit that they might occasionally use a little sugar or honey or pineapple or grape juice to sweeten the juices, to me, it felt like an artificial sweetener (aspartame) had been added, because of the metallic after taste on the tongue.
Goel adds, "I don't see the need to sweeten wheat grass juice since the person opting for it is likely to be someone, who is health-conscious and is not ordering it for its taste."

At: 14A, Ahimsa Marg, opposite Mahavir Hospital, Khar (W).
Call: 32267678 Open every day from 7 am to 11.30 pm

Billo's cafe
Claim: Bakes junk food without using a single drop of oil
What we ate: Diet Fries, Samosa, Chilli Garlic Potato pops

The tag line of Billo's cafe claims: Junk Food Is Now Guilt Free. The closer you near a counter of any of Billo's outlets, including those housed inside multiplexes in the city, the more fantastical the claims get. 'Up to 70% oil free', '0g trans fats, 0g cholesterol', 'Up to 80% fat free'.

Our curiosity is piqued, especially given their product range lists Diet Fries, Chilli Potato Pops and the legendary A1 samosas. Could it really be possible for us to indulge in these deep-fried favourites, without worrying about calories and cholestrol?

Here are some of the claims made by the eatery, and what our nutritionist had to say about them. No use of oil: "If it sounds too good to be true, it is! We did a small test by placing the food on a tissue paper. Within a few minutes the tissue had started to absorb oil from each of the products."

Up to 70% oil free: "If you are watching your weight or even just your fat intake, bear in mind that if this claim is true, the product still has 30% fat. To give you an example, if you eat a large boiled potato which weighs about 100 grammes, it will have approximately 95 calories and 0% fat. Based on their claim, these fries have 30 grammes fat per 100 grammes of fries. This exceeds the ideal daily fat intake, which is 20 to 25 grammes of fat in an entire day."

0g cholesterol: "Cholesterol is usually present in animal products like red meat, liver, egg yolk, cheese, shrimp and pork. Grains and vegetables have an insignificant amount of cholesterol. Cholesterol is produced by the human body in the liver.

A vegetarian product (potato) that is cooked in vegetable oil is bound not to have cholesterol. People who end up with high cholesterol are those who continue to consume high-fat foods over a sustained period of time."
Solution: "If Billo's wishes to catch the attention of dieters or people trying to get fit, they should advertise themselves saying, '70% less fat than other French fries' instead."

At: CR2 Spoon food court, Nariman Point; Infiniti Mall, Versova; Cinemax, Sion; Fort, near Sterling cinema.
Opening soon at Breach Candy.
Call: 67477666 (Spoon)

The yoga house
Claim: To be a destination for the health conscious
What we ate: 3-cereal Bento Lunch Box, Virtuous Juice (beetroot, carrot and celery), Wheatgrass shot

Opened in April of this year, the Yoga House is a macrobiotic cafe, a yoga studio and a store housed inside the ground floor of a bungalow on Chimbai Road. The idea is to serve as a wellness destination and to promote health as a way of life. The emphasis is on soothing colours, which explains the white cane furniture and blue walls.

In keeping with their Yoga philosophy, the place serves only vegetarian food. Breakfast options include sandwiches and homemade granola. For lunch and dinner, you can choose from salads, sandwiches, paella and specials that includes The Yogi's Lunch with Quinoa Taboulleh, a mini salad, granola with yoghurt and fruits with honey.

They recommended we try the 3-cereal Bento Lunch Box, which had brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat, served with grilled tofu and a red pesto made with tomatoes and beetroot and garnished with alfalfa sprouts. Grilled veggies and a sweet potato mash were served as accompaniments.

Goel liked the portions: "The meal quantity was perfect for the calorie-conscious." The presentation: "The colours and presentation would appeal to anyone, and not just those on a diet." No addded flavours: "The wheatgrass shot and juice did not taste as if it had been artificially sweetened." The ambience: "The mantras playing in the background, the look of the place with natural sunlight streaming in and the light breeze enhanced the overall sense of well-being."

At: 53, Chimbai Road, St Andrew's Church, Bandra (W).
Call: 265545001 Open every day from 8 am to 9.30 pm

Claim: To offer a 'healthy' version of the burger
What we ate: Gostana Chicken Burger (whole wheat bread), 3-fruit Smoothie (mango-strawberry-banana), Spinach and Cottage Cheese Burger (multigrain bread), Chocolate Shake

Started in August 2009 as a place where you could get 'healthy' burgers, two years and one venue change later, this cosy Bandra eatery is hoping to copyright their trademark recipes. Any attempts, therefore, to get details on the ingredients that go into the burger patties and cooking processes were thwarted.

Apart from the non-vegetarian and vegetarian burgers that can be served as either whole wheat or multi-grain options, Gostana also does a few salads and snacks. These include a potato salad that's tossed in a mayo made with egg whites, and chicken nuggets that they claim are steamed, not fried. They also offer teas, coffees, yoghurt smoothies and shakes.

The Gostana Chicken burger was heartily recommended by the staff, who are well equipped to answer most questions you might have about the menu. The burger patty is made from an entire chicken breast that is marinated and then "steam-cooked", a 'secret' process that the management refused to divulge details on.

Streaked with cold sauce that lists lemon juice and an all-spice blend as ingredients, the patty is served between two whole wheat burger buns, with a small portion of cucumber and carrot batons tossed in an egg-white mayo. "Egg yolk is the most important ingredient in mayonnaise, as it acts as an emulsifier, binding the oil and vinegar together," says Samreedhi. "If the mayo is eggless, the consistency would not be as perfect as this, for which it would require at least a little yolk, unless they are using an artificial emulsifying agent."

Goel says: "The chicken patty is low in fat and tasty, but the whole wheat bun was less than fresh. The Spinach and Cottage Cheese burger is a fantastic option for vegetarians, as it beats the normal, boring veggie burger with a potato patty. The let-down, again, was the bread, only this time it is the multi-grain burger bun that is a little stale."

Goel suggests: "If you are watching your weight, the fruit smoothie made with yoghurt and fruit pulp (they use 'natural' frozen fruit pulp when fruits like mango and strawberry are not in season) makes more sense nutritionally, than the Chocolate Shake. You won't feel like a deprived dieter, as it will take care of that sweet tooth."

At: Fatima Villa, 29th Road, Pali Naka, Bandra (W).
Call: 64533359 Open everyday from 12 pm to 11 pm 

The kala ghoda cafe
Claim: To serve organic food
What we ate: KGC Chef's Salad

This tiny cafe lists food and drink sourced from organic food suppliers on its four-page menu. You can choose from their selection of coolers and juices (Carrot juice for Rs 75; Fresh apple juice for Rs 160) and organic teas, and coffees. They also claim that all their coffees -- in keeping with their philosophy -- are sourced directly from plantations that engage in sustainable practices.

The place is also part-bakery -- they use organic non-GM (genetically modified) wholegrain flour, so you can drop by to grab a loaf of multigrain bread or a slice of chocolate cake. The white walls also double as neutral backgrounds for artists hoping to showcase their work.

We ordered a half-portion of the KGC Chef's Salad (Rs 160) that was a mound of lettuce, grated carrots, sprouts, boiled baby potatoes tossed in a vinaigrette and sprinkled with almonds and generous cubes of salty feta. The Carrot Cake (Rs 85) tasted a little eggy, but the special cream served on the side was superlative.

Goel's advice: "If you're looking to cut back on calories, but must have something sweet, Carrot cake, minus the cream, is the lesser of two evils. Similarly, stay away from the feta cheese in the salad to further reduce fat calories."

At: Kala Ghoda, Fort 10, Rope Walk Lane (if you enter the lane from the Rhythm House entrance, take the second left).
Call: 22633866 Open every day from 9 am to 11.45 pm

Kala Ghoda Cafe Hummus
Serves: 10
Calories: 215 (approx) per serving

200 gm chickpeas, boiled
7 flakes of garlic
2 tablespoons of tahini (white sesame-seed paste)
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

Place the boiled chickpeas, garlic, tahini and olive oil in a blender and whizz. Season with salt. Place a serving of the hummus in a ramekin and serve with multigrain toast.
Recipe courtesy the Kala Ghoda Cafe

Bento Lunch Box Recipe > serves: 1

3-Cereal mix
Calories: 360 to 380 (approx)

50 g bown rice, soaked for two hours
50 g quinoa, soaked for three to four hours
50 g buckwheat, washed and transferred to a sieve to drain
2 to 3 garlic flakes, chopped
50 g onion (1 small onion), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
A few mint leaves, chopped
A few parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Each of the grains has to be cooked separately. It is best to cook each grain in more water than required, so that once it is cooked, the excess water can be drained off. Add the brown rice to boiling water. It should take approximately 25 minutes to cook. Strain the rice in a colander or sieve to drain off excess liquid.

Add the buckwheat to boiling water and cook it for 10 to 15 minutes and then strain it. Add the quinoa to boiling water. The grain cooks relatively quickly, taking 5 to 10 minutes. Be careful to take it off the flame before it acquires a porridge-like consistency.

Once the three grains are cooked, heat the olive and butter in a pan, chuck in the garlic, onion and celery. Stir. Make sure that the garlic and onion don't brown. Chuck in the three grains. Stir-fry for two minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper and add the chopped mint and parsley. Mix. Take the 3-cereal mix off the flame.

Marinated tofu
50 g tofu, sliced in two
1 tbsp extra virgin
olive oil
Dark soya bean sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

Season the tofu slices with the soya sauce, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a wok or non-stick pan and pan-fry the tofu slices.
sweet potato mash
Calories: 100

50 g sweet potato (1 small potato)
1 coffee spoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 coffee spoon butter, melted
A few basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the sweet potato in hot water for 20 minutes. Once the potato is cooked, mash it with a little melted butter and olive oil. Add the basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper and mould into a patty.

Stir-fried veggies
Calories: 120

Broccoli, 3 to 5 florets
Carrots, 3 to 5 slices
Red bell pepper, 3 to 5 pieces
Yellow bell pepper, 3 to 5 pieces
3 to 5 green beans
3 to 5 mushrooms, sliced
One or two spinach leaves (10g)
Tomato, 3 to 5 pieces
1 big spoon of extra virgin olive oil
25 gm garlic
25 gm spring onions (whites)
coriander and parsley leaves, chopped

Add the olive oil to a wok or pan. When it is hot, chuck in the garlic and the spring onions. Give it a quick stir.
Add the vegetables and stir-fry them on a high flame. The vegetables should be a little crunchy before you take them off the flame. Add the fresh herbs to garnish.

Red pesto
Calories: 160 (approx)

50 g tomato (1 small tomato)
10 ml beetroot juice
10 g almonds
5 ml lemon juice
1 big spoon extra virgin olive oil
a few basil leaves, chopped

Whizz all the ingredients in a mixer. Garnish with a few strands of alfalfa sprouts. To assemble, take two glass bowls. Place the stir-fried veggies and sweet potato mash in one bowl. In the other bowl, place the 3-grain cereal, add the tofu over it, add a few spoonfuls of red pest and garnish with alfalfa sprouts.

Recipe courtesy Maud Chuffart of
The Yoga House

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