Fueling up on Cava Grill’s tasty grilled proteins with tzatziki and hummus may feel like you’re living the Mediterranean diet dream, but watch out. At this Chipotle-style, create-your-own plate system, it’s possible to wind up with an 1,000-calorie entree that veers off from your nutritional goals.
After giving Cava’s online nutrition calculator careful study, I walked into the Dupont location and was delighted to find that my perfect-on-paper meal also passed the taste test with flying colors (literally—take a look at that photo!). It also kept hunger in check for four straight hours—impressive for just 507 calories.
The Best: A half portion of greens with a half portion of lentils; the dark greens offer bone-building vitamin K and cancer-fighting compounds like beta carotene and glucosinolates (in arugula, broccoli, kale and cabbage). The lentils are both vitamin and mineral-rich, contain protein, and loaded with fiber. A low glycemic index carb, they help keep blood sugar in check.
The Worst: Pita bread and soup. White bread pita offers no fiber, and soups are generally high in sodium.
DIPS AND SPREADS
The Best: Eggplant and red pepper—compounds in eggplant called “glycoalkaloids” help fight cancer, and red pepper is vitamin C and beta carotene-rich. Also, the roasted red pepper hummus—hummus contains a lot of vitamin and minerals, along with fiber.
The Worst: Crazy feta and tzatziki, which are little high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat, and harissa, which is high in sodium (which can raise blood pressure). But do note: Any of these are okay in moderation.
The Best: Falafel, made from chickpeas, which have a similar nutrition profile to lentils, and parsley, which is rich in vitamin K and a wealth of health-promoting phytonutrients. Also, the skinless grilled chicken, which is low in saturated fat and rich in cancer-fighting selenium and the B vitamin niacin, which helps convert food to energy, among many other things. Oddly, protein-poor “Roasted Seasonal Vegetables” is also a choice. Nevertheless, they’re delicious and healthy—get half an order with a half order of chicken.
The Worst: Braised beef, braised lamb and spicy lamb meatballs—they’re high in saturated fat (the meatballs also high in sodium), and red meat is linked to cancer, heart disease and an earlier death. If you’re really jonesing for red meat, go with the grilled meatballs which are lower in saturated fat.
The Best: Cabbage slaw and cauliflower quinoa, which offer cancer-fighting glucosinolates and vitamin C, while the carrots and currants, cucumber, lemon wedge, mint, pickled banana peppers, pickled onion, shredded romaine, and the tomato and cucumber salad offer vitamins, phytonutrients, and fiber. (If you’re watching your sodium intake, opt for just two of the first three toppings; have as much as you want of the rest.)
The Worst: Kalamata olives, which are not worth the sodium, and pita crisps—the white flour makes them not worth the calories.
The Best: All of the salad dressings at Cava are good from a nutritional standpoint—they’re made with good fats like olive and tahini and with a reasonable amount of sodium.
A HEALTHY CAVA RECIPE TO TRY
Base: Half portion greens + half portion lentils
Dips and Spreads: Eggplant and red pepper and roasted red pepper hummus. You can order four, but I stuck to just two servings to keep sodium down.
Protein: Half portion chicken + half portion roasted vegetables. The reason I opted for a half serving of chicken is because I also have lentils, which are also protein-rich. This way I get more vegetables—and really healthy ones!
Toppings: Cabbage slaw, carrots + currants, tomato + cucumber, mint, lemon wedge
Dressing: Lemon Herb Tahini
Nutritional Facts: It’s all good except for the sodium, the Achilles heel for many restaurant entrees. 507 calories, 29 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 1206 mg sodium, 49 g carbohydrates, 12 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 28 g protein.
Janis Jibrin is a registered dietitian who has spent much of her career writing about nutrition, Janis’s articles have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Self, and other magazines. She’s also written best-selling diet books and helped develop a year-long weight loss program for United Health Group. Her nutrition counseling practice is located in Dupont Circle.