Nutritionists give their take on new J Street options

After persistent complaints aimed toward J Street’s dining options, GW pushed a massive overhaul of its dining program this year featuring a new look and new food.

But how healthy are the new venues? The Hatchet took two tours of J Street, one with Hallie Klocek, a registered dietitian and graduate student in GW’s public health program and another with Marketing Director for Sodexo, Katy Kash. While there were some surprising differences in their suggestions – mainly over fast food – both women agreed that nutrition and health could be found easily at the new J Street.

Metro Diner

This venue replaced the old J Street Cafe. Featuring a cook-to-order grill, the Metro Diner serves up burgers, fries, salads and sandwiches.

Kash: The menu items that meet the “Your Health, Your Way” criteria are marked with a heart. Sodexo selects items that are lower in calories and fat, and higher in fiber and protein, such as leaner meat sandwiches. An egg-white omelet is also a great choice, at about 200 calories.

Klocek: “The turkey burger, the black bean burger, the grilled chicken sandwich would all be good choices,” she said. Avoid items like the steak and cheese sub, which packs in 970 calories and accounts for 95 percent of a person’s daily saturated fat, and the grilled cheese, which nears 470 calories and provides half the daily amount of saturated fat. For students looking to add a side to their meal, choose a fruit cup or multigrain chips.

Bottom Line: You have to be careful about what you order. A 530-calorie cheese omelet adds up to 260 percent of the recommended daily cholesterol intake and 90 percent of saturated fat. Anything fried should be avoided. Instead of a 480-calorie cheeseburger, opt for a grilled entree on a whole-wheat bun. A grilled chicken sandwich totals 390 calories and the turkey burger has 270 calories.


The Coffee Shop

Students can grab coffee and pastries for a price GW boasts is comparable to Starbucks and Au Bon Pain. It also sells fruit juices, milk, pre-made salads and fruit cups.

Kash: Cut down on calories in your coffee or cappuccino with skim or soy milk, which can save 40 calories per cup.

Klocek: “Cream and a lot of sugar can make coffee a calorically-dense drink,” she said. The best option for pastries is a multi-grain muffin with raisins, which is about 440 calories. Eating refined carbohydrates, like those in the doughnuts or scones, “turn straight to sugar in your body,” which will spike your blood sugar level.

Bottom Line: The experts agree the nutritional value of coffee depends on what you add to it.


Nosh

This kosher venue resembles a deli from New York City. It offers a wide range of lunch-meat sandwiches as well as bagels.

Kash: The best option is fresh-cut turkey because it is “leaner meat.” Students looking for a snack or a side should choose a fresh fruit cup, which is about 100 calories and high in vitamins C and A.

Klocek: “This is a place where people can get a really good, filling lunch that has a lot of nutritive value to it, or you can also get a sandwich with salami and cheese.” An Italian sub with salami and cheese totals 560 calories and more than 75 percent of a person’s daily dose of sodium and 55 percent of saturated fat.

Bottom Line: Nosh offers a wide spectrum of choices. Students’ smartest options include oven-roasted turkey with a small portion of potato, pasta salad or fruit for a filling and healthy lunch. It is best to avoid fattier meats like salami and pastrami – one pastrami and cheese sandwich packs in 670 calories with high levels of fat, sodium and cholesterol.


Freshens Energy Zone

The Freshens at J Street offers an abridged version of its chain menu. This menu includes smoothies, shakes and frozen yogurt.

Kash: “They have the fat-free vanilla and chocolate yogurts, they have fresh fruit toppings.” A wafer cone of fat-free chocolate yogurt is 210 calories – a good option for an occasional treat.

Klocek: Look for something under 100 calories, featured on the low-calorie category on the menu, which is “a good choice if you had a craving for something cold and sweet.” Choose a small size in a cup, not a cone, to cut calories. She recommended the frozen yogurt over fruit smoothies because of the sugar content.

Bottom Line: The fat-free frozen yogurt is not a bad choice, calorie-wise. Fresh fruit and granola can also make a treat from Freshens healthier. The classic fruit blended smoothies are loaded with sugar, ranging from 59 grams in the strawberry shooter to 90 grams in the tropical pineapple, but only total about 200-300 calories each.


Pesto

The popular pizza and pasta venue also offers a vegetable and meat of the day, cooked before students’ eyes. Pesto, living up to its name, also offers a range of sauces.

Kash: It’s better to get pasta with lean meat, vegetables and marinara sauce instead of fattier meats and creamier sauces, like alfredo. There is also a choice between a half and whole bowl of pasta, allowing more freedom for portion control.

Klocek: “Definitely choose the smaller portion of the pasta,” even for dinner. To balance the meal, add a tossed salad or a side of grilled vegetables. The smaller, eight ounce container of pasta fits about two servings of carbohydrates (one is about the size of a fist) and about six fists can probably fit in the larger container. The smaller container fits about 8 ounces of pasta, which would total 480 calories of penne pasta with no sauce. One half cup of alfredo sauce is about 180 calories and about the third of a person’s recommended fat intake. One half cup of tomato sauce is about 30 calories, and it is also fat-free and high in vitamins A and C.

Bottom Line: Adding vegetables to a bowl of pasta contributes nutrition and balance to a meal. Avoid cheesy or creamy sauces, which are high in calories and fat, and choose a vegetable-based sauce, like tomato basil, instead.


Simply to Go

At this mini-version of a convenience store, students can purchase bottled beverages, snacks and pre-made sandwiches.

Kash: Simply to Go has a host of healthy options such as nuts, apple chips, soups and pre-packaged sandwiches. A cold turkey sandwich is less than 300 calories and takes up about 10 percent of a person’s daily fat allowance.

Klocek: Multi-grain chips and apple chips are good choices for snacks. Stay away from Cheese Nips and other processed foods. Greek yogurt is also a healthier snack because it has twice as much protein as regular yogurt, both at about 150 calories per container. The smoothies at the new shake machine are loaded with calories, upwards of 280.

Bottom Line: Like shopping at any gas station or convenience store, a little common sense could go along away. Fruit is always the best bet. Sticking to whole-grain snacks is another good way to cut down on processed foods. A serving of nuts, in particular almonds, is about 200 calories per serving but high in protein and the “good” fats.


Greenfields

Greenfields is the revamped version of the J Street bar, offering different sides and entrees daily. Greenfields charges $1 less per pound than last year’s J Street bar.

Kash: At the make-your-own sandwich station, students can make great choices with a lean meat sandwich. “There’s also the option of getting a half sandwich,” Kash said. To “build a better salad,” students should start with dark lettuce, then add legumes, beans, fish or lean meats, then garnish with nuts and seeds, and finally top with colorful veggies and fruits.

Klocek: Get turkey as opposed to ham or roast beef when making a sandwich to cut out about 100 calories. A whole sandwich is fine, but getting a half sandwich with salad or vegetables is a better option. When making a salad, darker greens like spinach are more nutritious. Don’t add more than a tablespoon of cheese and avoid heavy, fat-loaded dressings, like Caesar, which is about 180 calories for two tablespoons.

Bottom Line: Turkey is the healthiest choice when making a sandwich, but beware because one slice of cheese is about 100 calories and one tablespoon of mayonnaise can set you back 150 calories. Always opt for whole wheat bread, which your body will take longer to digest and provide energy for longer periods of time.


Thyme

All of the dishes here are labeled with nutritional facts to help students make the best decisions about their meals.

Kash: Choosing this venue is “your easiest, best bet for knowing that you’re getting a good, hot meal that’s still good for you,” she said. The “Buff and Blue Plate” will always follow the strict Sodexo health initiative criteria, “Your Health, Your Way”, that typically includes an entree and two sides. Popular entrees include grilled chicken, whole grain rice and pasta and vegetables. For example, the herb-crusted cod is served with steamed vegetables for 380 calories and high levels of protein, fiber, iron and vitamins A and C.

Klocek: Overall the “Your Health, Your Way” dish is the best. She advises students “to be mindful of sodium because it could lead to hypertension, so it’s something to think about for the long run.”

Bottom Line: The dishes served at Thyme change every day. It’s useful to know the nutritional facts of each item and base a purchase off of that. The meal that falls under “Your Health, Your Way” is the best bet.


Bamboo

Bamboo serves Asian cuisine, offering grab-and-go style entrees of chicken, beef, pork and tofu.

Kash: Sushi without fried ingredients, like tempura, is the best option. Bamboo uses low-sodium soy sauce, which can eliminate up to half of the salt. Also, all items with noodles are made with rice noodles, which are gluten-free and lower in sodium.

Klocek: Asian food “typically has a lot of salt in it” and students should try to steer away from the venue.

Bottom Line: Sushi is also a good choice but shouldn’t be eaten everyday because of the mercury found in fish. Beware: A full-sized platter of chicken pad thai packs in a whopping 1,330 calories with 104 percent of the daily sodium level recommended.


Bottom Line for J Street

Students can find healthy snacks and meals at the new J Street. The expanded salad and side bar is a great place for students to find healthy and filling food. Like in any food venue, portion control is key. Both tours stressed a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats as part of a balanced diet. Variety is also crucial.

All calorie information was found on Sodexo’s nutrition calculator at yourhealthyourwayonline.com and NutritionData.com.

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