That's What You Get For Eating Out In Vegas

Las Vegas.  Flickr: http2007

I have always been an advocate that you can find healthy food anywhere. I tell people this all the time when they ask if I dine at restaurants or how I handle social events involving food. Boy, did my trip to Vegas prove me wrong. 

I traveled to Vegas with hard-core meat and junk-food eating friends. Besides their affinity for foods I consider grotesquely inedible, I love these people and cherish them as my friends. They tried to please me in our restaurant choices and I figured there would be vegetable options on every restaurant’s menu, so I was initially pretty easy going about where we went to eat. I figured worst-case scenario, I could ask the chef to steam some vegetables for me. It would be no big deal, I thought.

Upon our first lunch outing, my friends chose a Japanese restaurant. I was famished and as such, agreed to eat wherever they desired. When I glanced at the menu, I was a happy girl. The menu was a treasure trove of vegan and vegetarian options, all which seemed as tasty as any home cooked meal. I ordered the Crispy Lettuce Rolls, which were to be filled with mushrooms and tofu. Can’t go wrong with that, right? Wrong.

When my meal arrived it looked delicious, so I eagerly took a big bite. What I tasted was pure salt. That’s what my meal was. Lettuce wrapped in salt. Much to my later regret, I continued to consume the meal because I was famished and as a salt-binge ingénue, didn’t comprehend the repercussions that eating this meal would entail. Throughout the day I felt perfectly fine, but by dinner time I no longer felt like my vibrant, healthy glowing self. I actually felt positively disgusting. I was bloated, very thirsty and uncomfortable in my own skin. In my state of physical lousiness, I began pondering how in the world other people could eat like this every single day and function normally. For dinner I was going to stay as far away from seasoned food as possible. My friends chose a Mexican restaurant with plentiful salad options. Okay, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a salad. 

I was proven wrong once more. I asked for Portobello mushrooms instead of chicken on my salad and when I bit into those mushrooms they were oozing with salt and vinegar. I couldn’t eat my side order of beans, which I had attempted and failed to order salt free (they were pre-prepared), because they also tasted like a mouth full of salt. Needless to say, I wasted my money on food I didn’t consume. Apart from one evening meal at the Wynn in which I custom ordered a vegan meal of steamed vegetables (I loved the meal and Steve Wynn for going vegan!), I could not find healthy food anywhere.   It was a nutritarian nightmare. For lunch one day I ordered what appeared to be a healthy, grilled vegetable wrap, only to take a bite into a mouthful of grease. I couldn’t eat it. Just like the overflowing decorative opulence of many of the Vegas hotels, apparently all of the chefs at the Vegas restaurants assumed they should opulently season, sugar and grease their dishes. 

My memories of the trip will be of the wonderful shows and places we went to, but I will also remember how bloated and disgusting I felt after eating salted food. I guess the moral of this story is to arrive on vacations better prepared. I was too naïve and didn’t realize until it was too late that you must assume all food in restaurants are loaded with salt. I should have known to ask for plain vegetables and salads with the dressing on the side. I should have known to travel with a stash of nuts and apples or other healthy options to curtail my hunger. My father would have been saying, “I told you so!” I learned my lesson. No more veggie junk-food hangovers for me!

     

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Comments (33) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
michaelle fikowski - January 12, 2011 9:37 AM

That's why I live on fruit plates from a restaurant off the strip and pea pods from grocery stores while in Vegas. I come home having lost weight. Love it there!

Rita - January 12, 2011 9:52 AM

Great article, Talia. Sorry, though, that you had such a miserable time of it with the food choices. You must be ecstatic, however, in knowing that your dad is working diligently to change how America eats, which, in turn, soon will have an impact on what the restaurants serve.

Elizabeth - January 12, 2011 9:57 AM

You can always get a good vegetarian sandwich at Subway, and if that town doesn't have a Subway, apply for a franchise immediately - or better yet, let me know. I'll open the franchise.

Jen - January 12, 2011 10:11 AM

Talia: I have learned this the hard way too.

Be thankful your friends aim to accomodate you. I often feel pressured by friends and family because of my "strict diet" and "restrictions."

I recently moved to Israel, which is proving to be quite the food challenge for me. It's a dairy and gluten loving country and I'm far from a natural food market. I'm being kind to myself and trying to take the transition slowly. But if I don't get "my" kind of food, I'm not going to be a happy camper.

Gilles Arbour - January 12, 2011 10:30 AM

Hello Talia,

Thanks for the report! I am sorry you had to go through this but your experience is very helpful to all of us. Thank you for taking the time to write about it.

In general restaurant cooking is all about salt and fats - as if these 2 products are at the basis of the Restaurant Food Pyramid. It is all about increasing the taste but for us nutritarians who appreciate the actual taste of simple foods it is simply overwhelming and very unhealthy.

Unfortunately good restaurant food is hard to find. I always try to get fruits and vegetables and nuts from a store and eat before going to the restaurant with my friends. Then I am not really hungry and usually can get a salad with dressing on the side. I am not vegan so I may ask for a hard boiled egg too - this way I know they won't add salt to it.

Anyway you know all that already and heard it probably too many times from your father! :-)

Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) - January 12, 2011 10:49 AM

I just had a parallel experience in Marco Island, Florida. Luckily, I had a kitchen where I could prepare my breakfast and lunch, but dinner was out every night at a restaurant for 10 days. Not bad, right?

Well, holy guacamole, there was nothing on a single restaurant menu that I would order. Vegetables do not exist in restaurants there. All of my food was some "creative" use of what I could find on the menu, which oftentimes amounted to a baked potato and a side salad. At least the weather was wonderful and the ocean beautiful! Travelling as a Nutritarian takes planning, preparation and patience! I won't let it stop me . . .

natala - January 12, 2011 11:52 AM

Oh I wish I had known you were going - we have been a few times and have found some AWESOME places that will really make you amazing healthy, nutrient dense no junk vegan foods. There is a sushi place that uses whole brown rice, and only veggies, no oils, sugars or other junk - called Miko. And then there is an all raw place that will make no oil foods, and another cafe called Red.. Also the Whole Foods near the strip has a great salad bar with "Health Starts Here" labeled foods. And even some prepared all vegetable, no oil, low/no salt dishes. And there are a few amazing spots that if you call ahead, the chef will personally make you your own dish.
So sorry about the bad food you had to experience!

Jill, The Veggie Queen - January 12, 2011 12:00 PM

Live and learn. If you've ever watched cooking shows, when they say to add a "little" salt, it's usually a teaspoon or more.

I watched America's Worst Cooks (or something like that) and they keep talking about salt, as if food doesn't taste good on its own. Hmmm....

You are correct in wondering how people get by feeling so crappy all the time. It's not until they make changes in their diet, do they realize how much better they can feel.

BTW, I believe that there is a Las Vegas Vegetarian Group. They might have been able to give you good direction.

mike rubino - January 12, 2011 12:19 PM

Its really too bad that no matter where you go its difficult to get a decent meal. Me I figure any restaurant Im in is out to kill me.

Carrie (Love Healthy Living) - January 12, 2011 12:23 PM

I'm starting to realize that there's no substitute for healthy, home cooking. I have yet to find a restaurant that doesn't use tons of salt or added fat to make the food more appetizing. Bottom line: for better health, eat at home.

Danny - January 12, 2011 12:37 PM

I know exactly what you're talking about Talia...I've visited Vegas the past 2 years on business and have struggled with the same thing. As you asserted to, your best bet is to pack plenty of healthy food and snack options; (eg. fruits, bars, veggie protein shake mix (with shaker cup) etc.
Also, there's a nice Whole Foods Market off the strip that's well worth the taxi fair.

Theresa Anderson - January 12, 2011 12:48 PM

Talia, We ( all six of us here) know what you mean! We recently went to my Mom's for a brief holiday visit and all I can tell you it's like going to the moon. We bring all our own food. It's not that hard. When we go to a motel or something we ask for a microwave, however you can warm a can of beans on the manifold of your vehicle (if your husband is a mechanic that is)...
We do the Subway thing in a pinch, or vegan pizza, but they are salty! Lots more I could say, but just remember, you are going to the moon!

Bev - January 12, 2011 12:58 PM

Talia, thank you so much for sharing your experience. That has happened to me as well.

I agree with the suggestions to travel with healthy snack foods - even visit the supermarket while you are there to pick up some fresh fruit. I travel with my own mix of vinegar and seasonings for salads at restaurants that don't have vinegar or non-fat dressing.

You are so lucky to have grown up with healthy eating habits. I still struggle with occasional cravings for cheese and sweets.

Howard Veit - January 12, 2011 1:02 PM

I agree. Eating at home is by far the best option. To avoid being a social outcast, however, I must eat in restaurants more often than I would like. Whether I am with my family, or with friends I push hard for Asian restaurants. I almost always can find something both healthy and reasonably good. Most Chinese restaurants will prepare steamed vegetables with rice. Yes, the rice is white, but a reasonable compromise in my view. In Japanese restaurants, veggie sushi and various good salad options are usually available. Beware of Wakame salad. It is usually loaded with soy sauce. Staying away from soy sauce is the big challenge in Japanese restaurants. Thai restaurants often have brown rice, steamed vegetables, rolls that are decent, etc. Italian and most Mexican restaurants are a disaster and I try to steer clear. Steak houses, ironically, are not too bad. They usually have a salad bar.

Bottom line...I work hard to eat at home as often as possible. When I can't, I work hard to get healthy food and end up doing the best I can. I am hard on wait staff and usually make my companions uncomfortable. Even Dr. Fuhrman concedes that a little bad food very infrequently can't hurt.

Jim Bowlin - January 12, 2011 1:02 PM

I know it's not going to be perfect when we eat out, but i try to make some preparations before going on a trip. One of them is a web site happycow.com that gives you some insight on vegan and vegatarian friendly restaurants. Give it a try!

Laura - January 12, 2011 1:47 PM

I agree! I now travel with a suitcase full of fruits and nuts, and I always fine the nearest grocery store to load up on raw produce!

James - January 12, 2011 2:27 PM

I lived almost my entire adult life in Taiwan, 20 years. When we moved back to the US with my Chinese wife and five children, we discovered (and not even being Nutritarian at the time) that we couldn't eat in any "western" restaurants, ALL the dishes were much too salty (there were rare exceptions). We always ate in Asian restaurants, mom & pop places ran by Asians. Any chain restaurant and western Asian restaurants were out of the question.
I do not understand why restaurants insist on salting the foods so much? Is it because all Americans like that much salt in their food? The same with chocolate and candy here, much much too sweet. In Taiwan the chocolate was much, much less sweet. Is is the food industry that wants to addict consumers to their products? Is that why foods are so sweet, salty and greasy?

Howard Veit - January 12, 2011 2:59 PM

One other comment....I try to steer clear of most vegetarian and vegan restaurants. They, too, love to put oil and salt in their foods. I prefer Asian to vegan restaurants. One exception is Loving Hut. This is a vegan restaurant with a terrific menu.

theresa angeletti - January 12, 2011 5:28 PM

I had the same experience this late October for a week in Vegas (drove out and back). I was so hungry by the time we got home I had lost three pounds. Finally, we found a grocery and I stocked up the car with cans of beans, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds. We found a couple gas stations scattered acrossed the trip that had packaged fruits and veggies (just great for the kiddos) and my sweety ran down to the restaurant in the hotel for the fresh fruit plate every morning (expensive but I was starving!) I know there were vegan places there, but we weren't familiar enough to drive around and not get lost. I just don't understand the american foods that are out there. I was even lied to: there was hidden butter and salt in my "just plain brown rice"! Best thing: stay where there is a fridge in the room and visit the grocery store. It's sad to say I found more fresh fruit and veggie options on our trip to Puerto Rico than I did crossed country to Vegas and back. God bless the few who "got it" and had some real food to munch on! I woulda starved!!!LOL

Johanna - January 12, 2011 7:11 PM

If you are willing, one thing I have done when out and hungry is to purchase an Earthbound salad clamshell with some baby lettuces or whatever in it. Sometimes there's a dressing you can buy and deli forks nearby.

Ann - January 12, 2011 8:16 PM

FYI - ALL of the restaurants in the Wynn / Encore complex have a complete vegan and vegetarian menu upon request. They are all wonderful. We spent my birthday weekend there and ate exclusively at the Wynn for just this reason. Bravo Steve Wynn and thanks.

Mr Stuff - January 12, 2011 9:15 PM

I've gone to Vegas once a year for the past 9 years. I eat vegan nutritarian. There's a massive, righteous & inexpensive vegan friendly salad bar in just about every hotel on the strip. They always have balsamic vinegar and/or lemons to boot.

Karrie - January 13, 2011 1:35 AM

Thanks for posting this. My partner and I are both vegetarian, and she is also gluten free. If we make a trip to Vegas, we will certainly plan ahead. I am totally fine with simple meals and soaking ups the sights and music instead of the unhealthy and salty food.

David Meyer - January 13, 2011 10:30 AM

Jack Lalanne always orders a salad with ten different raw vegetables finely chopped at restaurants that don't have healthy options.

He gets a vinagarette dressing and just dips his fork in it before he takes a bit of the salad.

I have found that unless you are EXTREMELY SPECIFIC you will get some really nasty food and it will usually have butter in it somewhere with all the salt.

Americans like EXTREMELY salty and fattening food. It still amazes me to watch people eat salted nuts by the bagful.

Eating 3,000 calories in nuts covered with salt is no big deal to many people I have met who just cannot figure out why they cannot lose weight. Huh?? I wonder...Could it be the 60 - 80 grams of fat and thousands of mg of sodium on those salted nuts...

Eileen - January 13, 2011 11:54 AM

I agree with most folks here that there seems to be a standard restaurant protocol that requires lots of salt and butter on every single dish they produce. Even the vegan restaurant in my area loads up their sandwiches with sugar (ketchup).

Usually I ask the manager specifically to submit my order to the cooks because I have food "allergies" :-) but most of the time I just don't eat out. It has become too cumbersome and I enjoy my own cooking much more. Not to mention, with the new year, I have resolved to spend less money on dining out since it usually isn't the healthiest food for me anyway.

In regards to dining with friends, that is a tough battle. You can only host dinner parties so often and when out of town, well I guess it would be a big bowl of salad with dressing on the side for me.

Sharon Warden - January 13, 2011 12:36 PM

Since I began reading the Nutritarian literature in November, I have modified my diet a lot and even been able to rationalize it and explain it to my friends. After the explanations, they don't think I am so weird. I have found that no salt, grease and sugar tones down the appetite so I am not always hungry and looking around for a "goodie". I wouldn't call myself a Nutritarian completely the way y'all use the term, but I would classify my diet as "nutrient dense". So far, a little poundage has slipped away and am waiting for the other health benefits. Going out to eat does get to be a problem, but even at Mickey D's, you can order a tired old dollar salad with dressing on the side. When I ate the burgers there (before November), I would order a plain unsalted burger (that way I knew it was cooked fresh), buy a side salad and stack the veggies on the burger -- that was before I found out how much sugar they actually put in the bun! (Not a bad meal for $2.00 - before I knew what I now know, add a senior coffee and you've got a meal for $2.71-with leftovers - rest of salad - out the door!) Cheap lunch for old lady living on a fixed income of $1,000 per month. Now no more burgers, even plain. Besides I am taking the vegan motto to heart: Friends don't eat friends!

Good luck to everyone here. I continue to look forward to this newsletter and enjoy taking part in it. I no longer am a part of the member center, due to monetary considerations, but have the Eat To... books and other literature. The recipes are great, use them as a base sometimes to create my own, made a killer "Neatloaf" last night with great northern beans as the base. God bless everybody here in their efforts to maintain the diet He intended us to eat!. People ask me what kind of a diet I am on and I usually respond, a biblical diet, and give as my rationale that He made us and He should certainly know what our best fuel is! Refer to Genesis and Exodus. When He described "land of milk and honey" as a wonderful place, honey was scarce cause you had to face angry bees to get it and the milk was, I am sure, fermented goat's or sheep's milk because what else would you get after it sloshed around in a camelskin bag for a couple of days in 140 degree heat (my son who is deployed over there just got through with such a summer. It was, shall we say, hot!!!!)?

Amy - January 13, 2011 2:27 PM

Sorry to hear about your experience, I haven't been to Vegas in years but it did not strike me as a very healthy place. It is impossible to find a decent meal at many restaurants due to the high fat and sodium content. David Kessler's "The End of Overeating" has some pretty entertaining facts about the restaurant industry.

carfree - January 14, 2011 10:46 AM

Vegas is also choking in cigarette smoke. Ugh! It stinks! I'm not surprised you can't find a decent meal there. Who can taste anything?

Nicole - January 14, 2011 2:25 PM

I love this post! I, too had the same problem! My family and I spent our Christmas in Vegas. I faced the same situation. Fortunately, there is a super terrific Whole Foods Store at the beginning of the strip. We ate most of our meals here. It was funny to tell family and friends that while in Vegas we ate at Whole Foods. I just couldn't believe that I could not find a smoothie any where on the strip! Wanna make some money, open up a smoothie bar on the strip! Thank you Las Vegas Whole Foods for your smoothie bar and deli.

Dani- danielleislosingit - January 14, 2011 5:56 PM

What gets eaten in Vegas stays in Vegas;)

Patty - January 14, 2011 10:04 PM

I can't stomach Vegas, but not just for the food. (I agree with carfree...it smells like stale cigarettes and cleaning fluid!) My nightmare came in Cabo San Lucas just last week. Having been to Cabo before, I was expecting the food I had remembered: lentil salads, plates of sauteed vegetables and tofu, tossed salad with black beans. I could not have been more wrong! I was reduced to living on breakfasts of toast with peanut butter, lunches of iceberg lettuce and chips with salsa, and dinners of cheeseless pizza for five days. I am thankful for the sun for it made it all bearable!!

Amber K - May 11, 2011 5:11 PM

I'm definitely nervous about my Vegas trip. I not only have a hard time finding vegetarian items, but I have to be gluten-free which generally leaves out any veggie option available. (Often wheat is in sauces, and I can't do pizza, pasta, or sandwiches).

Maureen - September 4, 2011 12:49 AM

I was just in Vegas a few weekends ago and experienced similar troubles finding healthy dishes. If you're there again, there is a Whole Foods at the end of the strip (Mandalay Bay end of the strip) in a shopping center. It was a life saver as I could pop in and grab some essentials to take back to my room or find some suitable food at the vegan buffet. They have a juice bar as well!

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