Nutritionists give their take on J Street

Eating healthy hasn’t gotten harder, but it might seem that way. Organic, locally grown, trans fats, saturated fats – all these terms are used to describe what we eat. But what does it mean? Which foods go along with the right choices?

For GW students, eating could mean a quick spot on campus, a fancy ethnic restaurant in Adams Morgan or a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Chinatown. It’s up to you – with a few exceptions. All incoming students will at some point be required to spend $1,900 at Sodexo venues, including J Street.

So how healthy is J Street? How many calories are you eating when having some General Tso’s from Ya-Ya’s or when you are gulping down a Freshens’ smoothie? More important than just the calorie count is the nutrition. Are students being supplied with options to make healthy, balanced choices at J Street?

The Hatchet took two tours of J Street, one with the Senior Nutritionist from Medical Center’s Surgery Department Claire LeBrun and another with Unit Marketing Manager and registered dietitian Jill Wilson from Sodexo. While there were some surprising differences in their suggestions – mainly over fast food – both women agreed that nutrition and health could be found at J Street.

Ya-Ya’s Asian House:

Ya-Ya’s serves up freshly prepared sushi every day along with traditional Chinese cuisine like General Tso’s and vegetable fried rice.

LeBrun: “The sushi and the edamame are really great choices. Each sushi roll is about 230 calories and very low-fat option. Either one of those options would be a great lunch.”

Wilson: “If someone wanted to come in here and get a very healthy meal they could get brown rice, steamed vegetables and teriyaki chicken. It is still fried but they use a less amount of oil than other Chinese places.”

Bottom line: Stay away from General Tso’s chicken, it nears 850 calories and half of the nutritional value is fat. Opt for the 100 percent whole grain brown rice and lean beef options instead – they are available every day.

Chick-fil-A:

Chick-fil-A is one of two brand-name dining options at J Street. They serve an abridged version of their full menu, including favorites such as waffle fries and the classic chicken sandwich.

LeBrun: “Avoid eating it if at all possible.”

Wilson: Fast food can still be a part of a balanced diet. “They have a grilled chicken here on a whole-[wheat] bun, which is the best choice if you are going to eat at Chick-fil-A.”

Bottom line: Even Wilson’s ‘healthy’ recommendation adds up. The Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich with two packets of ketchup, a large soda and a large order of waffle fries is 950 calories and 27 grams of fat.

Staxs:

Like J Street Café, Staxs is a pay-by-the-ounce dining venue with a make-your-own-sandwich section and a variety of salads.

LeBrun: “You have a variety of fresh meats, turkey and ham. Actually all luncheon meats are healthy and, when fresh, low in sodium. The sliced cheese is relatively thick, which adds fat and calories to a meal. That does not mean you cannot ever have it, you may just want to limit it.”

Wilson: Wilson stressed the value of the bread at Staxs, saying “this is a whole grain bread; it has three grams of fiber per slice, which is really what our students need to look for when choosing a whole grain bread.” She added that even the white bread has two grams of whole grain per slice. Wilson also emphasized that all the meats are roasted and sliced in house.

Bottom line: Turkey, chicken breast and pastrami are the leanest meats. All white cheeses, like mozzarella, are the leanest and have less fat than yellow cheese. Compare 4.5 grams of fat with mozzarella with the 13.4 grams with American cheese. When it comes to dressings, pick mustard over mayo. For a healthy, quick meal at a value, grab some whole grain bread, pair it with turkey, tomatoes, lettuce and mustard for just under 430 calories.

The Market:

Stocked full of sodas, bottled water, juices and a variety of take-away items, the market section is a favorite for students to stock up at before J Street closes for the weekend.

LeBrun: “My number one choice of beverage is always water. Often people get juices because they seem healthier but they often have the same amount of calories as sodas. With energy drinks you really need to be careful because of the amount of caffeine and herbal stimulants in them. I would suggest students stay away from these because caffeine can make your heart beat faster.”

Wilson: Working with Sodexo means that Wilson is in J Street a lot, she said. Often she will find herself wanting to snack but not wanting to sit down for another meal. When this happens Wilson heads directly over to the market area to grab an energy bar. “Our energy bars are great to take on the go.”

Bottom line: The drinks are where most students go wrong when visiting The Market. Most sodas have high sugar and calorie levels, which can turn a healthy meal upside down. An increasing risk for college students is also their consumption of energy drinks. Many energy drinks have five times the level of caffeine than a regular cup of coffee and can pose a health risk for students who drink more than two a day.

Little Italy:

Students looking to find some amoré – for food at least – visit Little Italy, the center for all things Italian in J Street. They serve a variety of pizzas and hot sandwiches throughout the day.

LeBrun: “The pizza can be very high-fat and high in sodium so my rule with pizza is stick to one [piece] and supplement it with salad and a low-fat dressing.”

Wilson: “Here at Little Italy you would think all this food is junk but even pizza can be part of a healthy diet if you pair it with the correct foods.”

Bottom line: Sodexo says it uses the highest quality sliced cheeses and dough to make their thick slice pizza. One slice of cheese pizza has 350 calories and 12 grams of fat. One slice of pepperoni is around 450 calories and 18 grams of fat.

Energy Zone:

With 18 smoothie options, Energy Zone caters to students on the go. The low-calorie section offers smoothies with as little as 90 calories, but the rest of the smoothies can be packed with sugar.

LeBrun: “The protein in a smoothie can make it a meal substitute so I would suggest having these every once in a while. They do not list the calories in the juice smoothies and those are the ones that tend to have more sugar in them.”

Wilson: Students looking to watch their calorie count “should go for the low-calorie smoothies,” and limit their intake of ice cream in favor of frozen yogurt.

Bottom line: Frozen yogurt is always a better option if you are looking for a sweet snack in between meals. Wilson estimated that each ounce of frozen yogurt has 20 to 30 calories. The smoothies should also be viewed as meal replacements not additions.

5th Ave. Bagels and Deli:

5th Ave. is GW’s kosher dining option. Overseen by a rabbinical council, it offers a fixed selection of sandwiches, salads and bagels.

LeBrun: “Bagels tend to be around 400 calories each so you want to be careful in how often you eat them. You do have some lean meat choices like roast beef and turkey pastrami. The tuna salad, potato salad and regular pastrami tend to be high fat though.”

Wilson: “5th Ave. has some really healthy options; whole wheat bread, smoked salmon and meats. Of course everything is completely kosher so that means the quality will be higher.”

Bottom line: Bagels, while tasty, are never the healthiest option, the nutritionists said. LeBrun says that eating one bagel is like eating four to five slices of bread, which adds additional carbohydrates to your diet. One bagel at 5th Ave. Bagels and Deli is estimated 354 calories – 100 more than a Snickers Bar – even before cream cheeses or toppings.

Wendy’s:

Wendy’s is the second brand-name venue in J Street. It serves a slightly abridged menu when compared to franchises but all of the classic items are available.

LeBrun: “As you might have guessed most of your choices here are fairly high in fat. There are some lower fat options, like a plain baked potato, but Wendy’s is pretty unhealthy.”

Wilson: “You can definitely eat healthy at Wendy’s. If you get a baked potato and top it with chili that is very healthy, it’s what I get. Salads too, like the chicken salad, are very good for you.”

Bottom line: A meal at Wendy’s can easily take up half of your recommended calories each day. A double cheeseburger, large fries and a large soda will run you about 1,500 calories and 66 grams of fat. If you decided against a burger you can go for a Mandarin Chicken Salad for about 540 calories and 25 grams of fat. An ice cream Frosty starts at about 500 calories with 19 grams of saturated fat.

J Street Café:

Nutrition information is available for everything served in J Street Café. Just like any buffet option, portion control and proper choices will allow you to have variety and health in this venue.

LeBrun: “The best way to go here is to start of with the individual lettuces and add toppings from there. Condiments is where you have to be careful; if you go light on the olives and eggs, it can go along way. The grilled chicken is very good for you when paired with a little bit of cheese.”

Wilson: “We either have a fried or grilled chicken every day, which is a healthy option for a protein source for students. All of the vegan options are sourced from D.C. It’s natural, healthy and with no preservatives.”

Bottom line: A variety of fruit is brought in fresh every day but the price has most students turned off – apples cost almost twice as much as local vendors. Even the sliced fruit, which Sodexo says is “competitive with the local market,” is heavy, increasing the final cost. The soups are relatively healthy, at 60 calories for chicken noodle soup, but the sodium count, 610, is high. While most of the options are what you would expect from a college dining hall, Sodexo mixes it up every once in a while and adds a very unusual dish like alligator and tomatoes.

Burrito Del Rey:

Burrito Del Rey was not open when The Hatchet toured with LeBrun and Wilson. Sodexo Dining Director Mo Emami said that all the meat is “roasted in house” and claimed it was a healthier option than Chipotle.

The bottom line for J Street dining:

LeBrun urges students to look at more than just the calorie counts of their meals. She suggests eating “all foods in moderation and variety” with the realization that there are no magic foods that will make you lose weight.

College students, because of their hectic lifestyles, should make sure to get ample amount of “lean meat, fish or poultry,” or any of the “least refined meat alternatives like soybeans and milk, tofu [and] legumes,” she said.

While eating sandwiches, try to stick to whole grains as much as possible, and always load up on vegetables.

“Fill up half your plate with multi-colored vegetables, ideally steamed or raw,” LeBrun said. “Eating with the color of the rainbows is always a good idea.”

The amount of calories you should consume is a personal choice and no two bodies behave in the same way. The FDA stresses that every diet should be “nutritious and well-balanced, low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

All calorie information was taken from Sodexo, the national Web sites of Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A, or from NutritionData.com.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.