No city is immune to the surge of ethnic restaurants opening up in your community. If it isn’t Indian, it’s Mexican, or an Asian variety (sushi joints are almost as visible as the golden arches). The question is do you know what to order?
Loaded with host of veggies, beans, legumes, tofu, and herbs and spices not often present in American food, ethnic cuisine also comes with its share of unwanted fat and calories (the good the bad and the ugly).
Asian: On the plus side, Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, and Vietnamese) incorporates lots of veggies and tofu (a great low-fat protein alternative). Plus peanut oil (mostly unsaturated fat) is generally the oil of choice for stir-fries. On the negative, Asian food is no stranger to fried food, high calorie sauces, and sodium…all bad for the heart and your skinny jeans. Your best bet is to keep an eye on these buzz words: steamed, broiled, stir fried, and anything low in sodium. Good choices are: steamed whole fish, stir fried chicken or shrimp and veggies, Moo Shu chicken or shrimp, satay’s (meaning grilled and on a skewer), steamed dumplings, and brown rice. Steer clear of fried foods (for example egg fu yung is like a fried omelet), and sweet and sour (generally means fried first). If your not sure, ask. A little knowledge goes a long way.
Indian: Indian cuisine is healthy in terms of its use of complex carbohydrates (lentils, chickpeas, and basmati rice) and spices (spices have antioxidants), but not so healthy in terms of some of the sauces. You may not be expected to understand the language, but you are expected to know what you’re ordering. Ghee for example is clarified butter and no stranger to an Indian menu. Coconut oil, mostly saturated fat, is often used in sautéing and frying. Samosas are fried turnovers. Curries are often made with coconut milk and/or cream. Stick to Tandoori (Indian version of grilling) meats or vegetables, shish kabobs, and yogurt base sauces.
Mexican: Mexican food can be very healthy and low calorie if your choosing grilled protein, salsa, ceviche, gazpacho, black beans, and enchiladas or fajitas. Calorie and fat hoarders are in the trimmings…cheese, nachos, and excess guacamole (although avocados have good fats, they still have fat and calories, portions need to be closely monitored). I recommend making Mexican at home, giving you total control.
Spanish Tapas: Tapas are a dietitians dream in terms of portion sizing—small plates designed for sharing. But, if you can’t read the menu, you may end up with plates of cheese, fried foods, and your squid swimming in oil—not so good. Look out for the words frita (meaning fried), al aceite (cooked in oil), and choose asado (roasted) and a la plancha (grilled). Cheese (mostly Manchego) and chorizo (Spanish sausage) are a must on a tapas menu, so watch your portions, the fat, calories, and sodium can rack up.
Herbs and spices (used in many cultures) add not only flavor, with less fat and calories but health benefits in terms of its antioxidants. Don’t be shy to ask your server to explain what you don’t know.
My husband and I are always scouting new ethnic cuisines and restaurants…maybe we’ll see you out.