Upbeet... My Dream Healthy Restaurant!

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I've always said that I would love to open a healthy restaurant that served organic, locally- and ethically-sourced ingredients in a casual, hip setting.  The menu would include my daily personal favorites and would have to include: fresh veggie juices and smoothies with awesome salads with healthy dressings and grain bowls - perhaps a couple other healthy sweet treats.  When dining out I've usually had to "sacrifice nutrition for convenience" which is why I prep so much at home.  Plus I actually enjoy playing with food, creating healthy new recipes with the ingredients I have available.  That was a skill my stepmom had and I always admired it - eventually replicated it with the plant-based twist.

After a weekend visit to Boston a couple of years ago for the U2 concert, I came close to finding my ideal restaurant when we stumbled into Sweet Greens on Boylston Street (although the seating was always packed forcing us to take out and eat at Copely Square).  This restaurant was an obvious goldmine and I kept praying that Atlanta would catch onto the organic made-to-order salad trend.  Then last year while traveling to DC with BLAST I reconnected with Sweet Greens. Their salads were the saving grace for basically our entire staff while we were opening the new studio.  

So knowing this, you can imagine my delight when I heard about Upbeet opening, the sister restaurant to one of my default healthy casual restaurants Yeah! Burger in Virginia Highland.  I was addicted to their Cobb Salad with some renovations (after all, I am a dietitian) until they cut the salad in half - boo! I'm still depressed about that one but order their cauliflower and Brussels sprouts sides + a veggie burger or sometimes a turkey burger wrapped in collard greens if I feel like I need that B12 and iron boost.  I just don't go as much since the salads are smaller... I miss the heftier portion size because I can EAT some salad like no one's business.

I knew YB was in the process of opening another of casual healthy concept joint and all I can say is HIP HIP HOORAY my wait is over! My goal was to check out Upbeet on Saturday for their grand opening but the weekend ran away from me.  Finally I reached out to a girlfriend/now client who worked on the Westside and suggested we meet up for lunch so I could do some healthy restaurant recon.  It was an easy sell I must say and I love people who are not afraid to dine with me because I am a dietitian!

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Upbeet has a pretty modern exterior, totally my design aesthetic btw, that definitely matched the clean, healthy-vibe interior.  Before I switched majors to Nutrition, I studied Interior Design and I always check out the restaurant bathrooms.  Old habits die hard. 

The menu at Upbeet is well-executed with clever names like Cobb your Enthusiasm and Shroomin' salads.  For the first-timer the salad and grain bowl offerings can seem overwhelming - they all sound amazing! To keep it easy I decided to start with the first grain bowl on the menu and I will just work my way through it this summer. Eventually I hope to graduate to Building My Own Bowl but for newbies, I recommended ordering straight off the menu.  Honestly, I don't think you can make a bad choice with anything here.

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The Aloha Bowl is made with all organic items including bamboo rice (the green rice above - oh so good and nutritious definitely order it), mango, jalapeno, scallions, coconut, macadamia nuts, wild-caught tuna poke and a ginger miso dressing.  However, they ran out of the dressing and were making a fresh batch so I think I went with the cashew lime (?). I want to say all their dressings are vegan (bonus) and they ask you if you want your salad or bowl dressed light, medium, heavy or on the side (double bonus that they give you the option). UpBeet offers a nice selection of additional premium items for an upcharge so I added goat cheese because I was in the mood and it definitely took my bowl to the next level.  The end result was a fabulous grain bowl that tasted as AMAZING as it looked.  I would definitely hit repeat on this one with some changes but since I'm committed to trying a different salad or bowl with each visit, I definitely savored this and ate quite mindfully.  

While I felt nourished and totally satisfied, it would be super helpful if UpBeet calculated the nutrition information for their meals. While delicious and healthy items like avocado, macadamia nuts, goat cheese and dressings can provide wonderful nutrition for the body they also can add up quickly in the calorie and fat department. I was able to eye-ball ingredient portion sizes as I watched my Upbeet guru create the grain bowl masterpiece and later entered them into MyFitnessPal so I could estimate my lunch. In all honestly, I expected it to be pretty hefty given the generous servings of fat but I was surprised that it was approximately 820 calories and 60% fat (!!!) without the dressing. Holy guacamole!  That would be a fabulous meal for my hubby, but for me, that's almost half of my daily caloric intake. No regrets (or ragrets if you're a "We're the Miller's" fan), it was well worth it, but I'm planning on approaching my next visit from another angle. Which could very likely be tomorrow in all honesty!

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And this is where dining out can be tricky because I have clients who come to me confused about how to order at restaurants.  It is really challenging to know exactly what you are eating nutrition-wise unless the establishment will spell it out for you. Given our growing obesity epidemic, providing nutrition facts should be commonplace. I prefer to keep my daily macronutrient ratios at about 40-50% healthy carbohydrates (think rice, mango, jalapeno, scallions) 15-20% protein (tuna poke) and 25-30% healthy fat (avocado, macadamia nuts, goat cheese, dressing). If I order this in the future I'd omit the mac nuts and goat cheese to slash the calories in half and have the dressing on the side dipping my fork into the dressing first.  OR I'd grab a take-out box and pack up half of this bowl before taking my first bite because looking back now, I totally would have been satisfied with eating half of it.  Seeing as it was my first time, I really wasn't thinking too much about calories; I wanted to enjoy the experience. Moving forward I will definitely be more mindful about what I am ordering.  Or just eat half and have another delicious meal later! 

My only recommendation at this point would be for UpBeet to calculate menu item nutrition facts on either their website, a handout, or labeled somewhere so that diners can make informed choices (perhaps I missed it somewhere). The healthy "salad and grain bowl" vibe can be deceiving and make you feel like anything and everything you eat here is A-ok.  I mean it looks super healthy right? Don't get me wrong the food IS healthy but it can be easy to wind up eating more calories than you think or your body needs. 

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Clients who are reading this are thinking "is Jennifer drinking a Coke???" Oh no darling, that is definitely HNAT a Coke, it's very lightly sweetened Charcoal Lemonade. Charcoal, a food-grade carbon, has been the trendy rage for a couple years now as the next detox elixir. Some people claim that it does everything from boosting energy to wiping out hangovers. I'm not endorsing either because frankly there is not enough research proving that to be the case.  I've kept a bottle of activated charcoal in my supplement supply for GI issues like gas and bloating but clinically charcoal has been used for 150 years for poisoned and overdosed patients (research here). 

From lack of use I think my bottle hit the expiration date so I dumped out the capsules and mixed the black powder with water to create a paste then apply it topically as a facial mask. I also have charcoal toothpaste that I've used from time to time that my lunch guest turned me onto.  It's sweetened with stevia so for me it can get too sweet after a weekend of using it plus the sink is, well, black.  But I think my teeth look whiter and I wind up going back to my regular but it's kind of fun to brush with nonetheless.  But I digressed.

So the Charcoal Lemonade...  I agree with fellow colleague Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD who says that activated charcoal may be recommended by physician's to decrease chemotherapy side effects or long-term dialysis treatment but due to inadequate research it's a bit early to embrace activated charcoal as a home remedy or everyday wellness strategy since it can bind to nutrients and substances you want like vitamin B and C (read more here).  

Take away message by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, the expert in food and nutrition is:  don't go drinking this by the gallons or even daily because of the unsubstantiated hype that this is the magic tonic, especially if you are taking prescription medication.  Since charcoal is used with patients who have overdosed, it's quite possible that it can decrease the effectiveness of your medication.  While I am thankfully not on medication and work hard to maintain that as a goal, I wanted to sample it to see what the hype was all about.  It was fun to drink something black but I will categorize this as something I'll drink once in awhile versus pounding daily in hopes of increasing energy and detoxing my body.  

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Which is kind of a bummer I know, it matches my outfit right? I'd love to enjoy a fun Black Lemonade drink and think it was pulling all the nasty Atlanta air toxins from my body but I don't want to end up with nutritional deficiencies either since I eat so clean (95% of the time) and spend extra money for organic foods. Can someone pleaasseee fund additional well-designed charcoal research to test it in a healthy body so we can drink more of it? I considered making some at home because in all honesty, it really grew on me!

My lunch date made the leap of faith and ordered the Build Your Own Bowl - she started with the Bamboo Rice (I have to admit it was delicious) added a nice pop of color with the watermelon radish, jalapeno, cucumber, edamame and tuna poke.  Comparing her bowl to mine, I'd estimate that her healthy rendition was 450-500 calories before the dressing.  Bravo darling, good job on creating a Healthy Bowl!

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So yes, you will see me frequent Upbeet on the regular.  I'm super excited to support this establishment.  Hey Upbeet, if ya'll want to do some trade or need help creating new menu options and/or calculating your menu macronutrients, I'm GAME!

xo- Jennifer

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