We all should be more mindful of the fuel we’re putting into our bodies. And when you’re trying to eat for heart health, it’s especially important to pay attention to your food choices. But how can you eat healthy food at restaurants, when you don’t know how meals are cooked or even what all is put into them?
There will always be some unknowns when it comes to the nutrition in restaurant meals. But it is possible to make better choices when eating out. Below, we share healthy eating out options in the Twin Cities from the fall of 2022.
Where can I find heart-healthy restaurants to eat at in the Twin Cities?
If you’re wondering where you can find heart-healthy restaurants near you, we’ve got some great recommendations for healthy eating in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and beyond.
We include healthy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as healthy bakeries and cafes. But this list barely scratches the surface of healthy eating out options. So for even more choices, consider trying a service like mymenuusa.com that can help you find healthy choices in the Twin Cities or wherever you might be.
Eating fresh, organic and plant-based foods can help you meet your heart-health goals. Agra Culture creates delicious, healthy food that’s free from hormones, antibiotics and refined sugars. Plus, their menu includes many heart-healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner options packed with vegetables and whole grains. Agra Culture has six locations in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. So, it’s easy to eat healthy in the Twin Cities.
French Meadow Bakery & Café
French Meadow was a “farm-to-table” bakery and restaurant long before the term became popular. The large menu includes many exciting vegetarian and vegan options, including “burgers” and “chicken” sandwiches made with plant protein.
There are still some less healthy options on the menu – like pastries, bars and scones. While their treats are made with healthy ingredients, it’s important to remember that these goodies can be high in fat and calories. It’s not a health food just because it’s organic, vegan and gluten-free.
The French Meadow Bakery and Café has locations in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Good Earth has been serving healthy food for nearly four decades. So, it’s no wonder the restaurant continues to be a popular destination for food that tastes great and is good for your heart.
If you’re watching your salt or fat, ask your waiter about which options would be best for you. They’ll likely be able to make some recommendations. It’s even possible that the chef will be able to modify your meal to meet your dietary needs. You can find Good Earth restaurants in Roseville and Edina.
Mediterranean Cruise Café
You may have heard that a Mediterranean diet is better for heart health. The reason is that Mediterranean dishes are generally low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat. Mediterranean food also tastes great and will leave you feeling satisfied and full.
A great place for Mediterranean in the Twin Cities is the Mediterranean Cruise Café located in Burnsville. They make a great baked fish, and their hummus is amazing (plus, it’s a superfood for heart health – and is found at some local Twin Cities grocery stores labeled as Baba’s Hummus).
Of course, not all Mediterranean dishes are healthy. “Spinach pies” made with filo dough can be high in fat and calories. And, if you choose the lunch buffet make sure you watch your portion size.
Mill Valley Kitchen
The Mill Valley Kitchen in Saint Louis Park is a haven for foodies looking for interesting dishes made with nutrient-rich ingredients.
Their menu focuses on fresh, feel-good cuisine and has options for different dietary needs, including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian – and they’re always happy to accommodate other allergies or restrictions. Plus, you don’t need to spend time hunting down nutrition information since it’s listed right on the menu.
My Urban Eatery
Looking for a hidden gem that serves healthy fare? My Urban Eatery, located in the Minneapolis Uptown area boasts tasty items made from fresh ingredients sourced from local farms. Depending on the season, you may even find dishes filled with wild mushrooms foraged in Minnesota.
There are plenty of interesting vegetarian items on their menu. And, if gluten is a problem for you, a significant number of menu items can be made gluten free.
The menu includes indulgences too, such as desserts and deep-fried cheese curds. Still, with the variety of healthy options, you should be able to find an option that is both delicious and good for your heart.
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
If you’re looking for Vietnamese-French dishes made from local and sustainable ingredients, look no further than the Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in Saint Paul. This restaurant is known for having some of the best pho in the Twin Cities.
Pho is a delicious soup made with bone broth, seasonings, veggies and rice noodles. The soup is topped with meat such as chicken, beef or oxtail. But if you’re on a low-sodium diet, pho may not be the best option. Instead, consider trying one of their fresh rice noodle dishes.
Peoples Organic is known for simple and nutritious dishes packed with local, organic produce. And there are plenty of tasty vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Their earthbound salads are a great way to load up on a variety of organic veggies and grains. To add in some lean protein, top your salad with organic tofu, local chicken or wild salmon. Other menu options include egg dishes and cold and hot sandwiches.
There are five Peoples Organic locations across the Twin Cities, including Eden Prairie, Edina, Minnetonka, and uptown and downtown Minneapolis.
If you’re trying to eat healthy, sushi can be a pretty good option. A place to get great sushi is Sushi Fix in Wayzata.
When choosing sushi, look for options that include salmon, mackerel and tuna – fish that are high in good fats. But remember, fish isn’t good for you if it’s fried. So try to steer clear of tempura. You’ll also want to pay attention to the sauces. For example, spicy mayonnaise has unhealthy fats and soy sauce can have a lot of sodium.
Heart-healthy fast food and take out in Minnesota
Fast food doesn’t have a great reputation for being healthy, and for good reason. Many fast-food menu items are filled with preservatives or are high in sugar, fat or salt.
Still, it’s possible to make better choices at nearly every fast-food restaurant – start by finding the nutrition information on their website or mobile app. Looking at the nutrition information can help you find foods lower in calories, fat, sugar and sodium – and higher in fiber and protein. For example, salads and grilled options tend to be better than hamburgers and fries.
Of course, not all fast food is created equal. These local and national fast-food restaurants have more options that are good for heart health.
The African diet has a lot going for it. The dishes are packed with flavor (and vegetables) and they include few or no processed foods. Plus, these foods often include curry powder, a spice that may have valuable heart benefits. While research is ongoing, some studies show that eating curry 2-3 times a month can lower bad cholesterol and even improve blood flow in your heart.
The Afro Deli is a great option for healthy African fare such as chicken curry and veggie stew. Still, it’s best for your heart health if you steer clear of the fried menu options and rich cream sauces. Afro Deli has locations in Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Aloha Poké Co.
Poke can be a great heart-healthy option on the go. Not sure what poke is? It’s a combination of rice, vegetables, seasonings and protein. Originally a Hawaiian dish, poke was traditionally made with diced raw fish. But you can also get poke with other proteins.
At Aloha Poké Co. in Woodbury, you can easily build a heart-healthy poke bowl. Start your bowl with brown rice, cauliflower rice or mixed greens. Then, fill it with healthy edamame, pineapple, avocado and cucumbers. Finally, top the bowl off with a lean protein like chicken, tofu or fish (to be extra heart healthy, opt for ahi tuna or salmon).
If you’re watching your sodium intake, it’s best to get your protein without marinade. Also, try to go light on the sauces since many are high in sodium and calories.
Eating healthy Mexican food is just a matter of making good choices at Chipotle. After all, you have complete control over what goes into your burrito, taco or salad. The good news is that Chipotle uses fresh, local produce and meat that’s hormone and antibiotic free.
Choosing a burrito bowl can be an excellent way to get more veggies and fewer refined carbs and calories. You may also want to go easy on sour cream, cheese and chips or skip them altogether. Chipotle also has a nutrition calculator that shows how healthy your food is based on your choices.
Noodles & Company
Noodles generally aren’t seen as a health food, but Noodles & Company menu is working to change that. The company offers a variety of Asian, Mediterranean and American menu items that are highly customizable based on your needs and preferences. There are also salads if noodles aren’t your thing.
When choosing your meal, you can remove less healthy options, swap in healthier choices and add new healthy options. For example, you can swap out normal pasta for zucchini noodles, whole wheat noodles or high protein noodles. You can also add different vegetables or lean proteins such as tofu, cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free, hormone-free bacon.
As usual, there are choices that are less heart healthy – like dishes with rich cream sauces and the dessert items. So, using their MyMenu option can be a great way to find menu items that are lower in salt, fat and calories.
Panera bread boasts a wide range of healthy eating options for every meal, including salads with all-natural, antibiotic-free chicken, grilled sandwiches, and steel cut oatmeal with nuts and fruit.
But not all choices are equally healthy (bakery items can have more calories and fat than some meals). So, it’s a good idea to check out the nutrition information before you order.
How to choose heart-healthy eating out options
Making healthy dining choices starts before you head to the restaurant. Below are three steps that can help you know which menu items are better for you and your diet.
Step 1 – Know the healthy things to eat when eating out
There are certain foods you should eat regularly as part of your heart-healthy diet. When looking for healthy dining out options, a good first step is to look for menu items that include one or more of the following:
Vegetables of all kinds can boost your heart health. Potassium-rich potatoes and squash help lower blood pressure naturally. And asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli and leafy greens have nutrients that fight heart disease in other ways.
When deciding on a protein for your meal, choose a fish, chicken or turkey option rather than red meat. Red meat has a high level of saturated fat, and that’s what raises your bad cholesterol.
Another reason to choose fish? The omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna help lower your blood pressure.
Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa contain disease-fighting antioxidants that can’t be found in refined grains. Plus, they’re naturally high in fiber.
Beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils
Legumes and beans are a great fiber source and can lower your cholesterol levels. They are also heart-healthy protein options, so try any of them in place of meat.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a small but mighty addition to any diet. Walnuts, in particular, are a superfood when it comes to heart nutrition. Other great options include almonds, cashews, pistachios, flaxseed and chia seeds. But it’s important to remember that nuts are very calorie dense, and you should be careful not to eat too many if you’re on a low-calorie diet.
Fruit is almost always a healthy choice. Even better, many provide specific heart benefits. Raspberries, acai berries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are great sources of fiber and vitamin C that can lower your bad cholesterol and risk of having a stroke. Plus, potassium-rich fruits like bananas, apricots, oranges and cantaloupe help your heart beat regularly and can help lower your blood pressure.
Avocados are a great source of good fats that lower your bad cholesterol. They also help protect your arteries from inflammation and hardening.
Step 2 – Understand how quality and preparation affects food nutrition
The next thing is to think about the quality of the ingredients and how they’re prepared. While you can’t sneak into the kitchen to check the labels, you should have a better idea after looking at the menu.
Are fresh foods better for your heart?
It’s no surprise that fresh foods are healthier than processed foods. But are they better for your heart? In most cases, yes.
Fresh foods arrive at your table with all their nutrients intact – and aren’t loaded with preservatives and extra sugar or salt. Vegetables and other foods that have been canned often have higher sodium levels. Processed meat such as sausage, jerky and lunch meat have high sodium levels and contain nitrates which are linked to other health problems such as colon cancer and diabetes.
Are organic foods better for your heart?
A growing number of heart-healthy restaurants are using organic ingredients grown or farmed without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components. You may wonder if organic foods are better for your heart.
Some studies suggest that organic foods are better for your health because they have higher level of nutrients and lower levels of toxins, but more studies need to be done. But if a restaurant uses organics, it usually signals they’re focused on providing higher quality food to their customer and that’s certainly a win for you.
Why does food preparation matter?
Food preparation can add excess fat and calories to any meal, making heart-healthy options a lot less healthy. Still, there are some things to look for when determining the heart health of a menu option.
For example, are the vegetables deep-fried or stir-fried? Is the chicken fried or baked? Is the pasta dish covered in a cream sauce or a red sauce? Does the salad come with ranch dressing or a vinaigrette? (Bonus points if you know that the second options in the above examples are the heart-healthy choices).
Step 3 – Scope out the menu beforehand
Researching a restaurant’s menu in advance can help a lot. When you’re going to eat out for a meal, try to make a habit of first looking closely at ingredients and finding out how dishes are prepared. Every menu is different, but there are always things you can do to make healthier choices. Here are some examples:
Healthy or low-fat restaurant choices
- Order a grilled option from the menu, not a fried one.
- Ask for light cheese on your entrée or do without it altogether.
- Don’t lather your meals with butter or margarine.
- Say no to mayo and sour cream – or at least limit these condiments to small amounts.
- Choose a vinaigrette for your salad dressing.
- Skip entrees with cream sauces.
Low-sodium options at restaurants
- Request that no extra salt gets added to your meal when it’s being prepared.
- Choose salad instead of soup for your starter – many soups tend to have high salt content.
High-fiber restaurant choices
- Opt for whole-grain bread choices over white bread, and brown or whole-grain rice over white rice.
- If your meal comes with fried and starchy sides, sub fresh fruit or a salad instead. Not only will you get in more fiber, but you’ll eat less fat.
- Pair your meal with water, black coffee or unsweetened tea.
- Skip dessert. Or if you need a sweet treat, share with others in your dining party.
By deciding which heart-healthy dish to order before you arrive, you’ll be more successful in meeting your health goals. And if lots of menu choices tend to overwhelm you, you’ll find that this approach also helps make ordering less stressful.
Healthy eating starts in your own kitchen
Eating healthy at restaurants can be a struggle. Even if you know what foods make up the dish, it’s hard to know exactly how much of each ingredient actually went into your specific plate – especially when it comes to things like salts, seasonings, butters and cooking oils.
You can’t exactly barge into the restaurant's kitchen. So, what can you do?
The answer is: spend more time in your own kitchen. If you prepare your own dishes, you can load up on healthy ingredients while limiting the not-so-healthy ingredients. This can make it easier to follow a heart-healthy diet.
There are other benefits that come from being your own chef, too. You’ll likely find yourself saving some money, which may ease financial stress that’s not good for your heart. Plus, if you choose to host your own dinner parties, you won’t be peer-pressured into making an unhealthy meal choice at the restaurant – nor will you be under pressure from a server to keep your visit with your friends brief!
If you’re not sure what you should be eating for heart health, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your primary care doctor is a good place to start. They’ll be able to share tips for healthy eating and refer you to a registered dietitian or another specialist if necessary.