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Ethnic and exotic foods

Food, glorious food! We love to eat out! And with about 25 percent of all our meals taking place away from home, we must make the most nutritious selections from restaurant menus. Here, find some mouth-watering strategies for choosing healthy fare while dining out ethnically.


According to the National Restaurant Association, the year 2000 will be another record-breaking year for restaurants. Sales are projected to shoot upward with fast food accounting for about one-third of our eat-out dollars. About 25 percent of all meals take place away from home, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
“We’re the most overweight country in the world,” says Ruth Adams Bronz, a nutritionally savvy chef, author and host of her own radio-cooking program in Great Barrington, Mass.

Bronz believes it’s simply because we eat too much. “Portions in restaurants are huge,” she says. Most ethnic groups eat far less than restaurant portions offer. However, we can control where we eat, which foods we choose and the portions we consume. Better food choices can decrease risk of heart disease and some cancers. Choices low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories lead to a healthier weight, and decrease risks for high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Below find some mouth-watering strategies for choosing healthy fare while dining out ethnically.


“Opt for the plain bread instead of garlic,” says Maria Walls, R.D., senior nutritionist at Weight Watchers International. Garlic bread contains butter, adding unnecessary saturated fat. Walls recommends minestrone, or broth-based soups as appetizers. Any dish with a red marinara sauce is a good choice vs. an Alfredo sauce, which is cream based and high in fat and calories.


  • Ask for dressing on the side (Use the fork-dip method to apply dressing).
  • Steer clear of parmigiana dishes (breaded, fried and loaded with cheese — a triple whammy).
  • Avoid dishes with pepperoni and sausage — high fat meats.
  • Sorbet, Italian ice and fat-free cappuccino are excellent desserts.


“The only problem with Japanese food is the soy sauce,” says Bronz. Soy sauce is high in sodium. Use it sparingly or avoid it. Walls recommends broth-based or egg drop soups. Steamed dumplings, veggies and white rice are all good choices. Select a lot of vegetable-based dishes vs. meat-based. Fried rice, meat and egg entrees contain plenty of oil — avoid them. “Japanese food is slightly healthier than Chinese because of the fresh fish options,” says Walls.


  • Avoid “crispy” and “golden” items (otherwise known as fried and fatty).
  • Egg rolls and wontons are also full of saturated oils.
  • Noodles are a good source of carbohydrates, but watch those fried crunchy ones (500 calories a cup).
  • Chinese and Japanese foods can have hidden fat. “Wok cooking becomes unhealthy when too much oil is in the bottom of the wok,” says Bronz. ” You can cook with two tablespoons of oil,” she notes. It’s important to measure or if dining out — ask.


According to Bronz, Americans are eating more salsa than ketchup; a trend that shows we fancy the zesty flavors of Mexican cuisine. “Mexican food can be beautifully light food,” says Bronz. Baked tortillas with beans, and bean or chicken soft tacos top the healthy choice list. Walls recommends bean or veggie burritos and enchiladas. “Fajitas are also a pretty good choice,” she says. Especially chicken or vegetable ones. Bronz recommends instead of frying tortillas — pass them through an open flame — a technique that eliminates tons of artery-clogging fats. Ask your favorite Mexican place to try it.


  • Hold the cheese, sour cream and guacamole. These extras add most of the fat to otherwise healthy dishes.
  • Order a healthful appetizer such as black bean soup or warmed soft tortillas with salsa instead of eating those fried chips on the table. See if they offer baked chips (a healthier alternative).
  • Portions are huge. Request a half portion or get a doggie bag.


Deli food is a healthy choice — but it can be a fat and calorie-laden trap. “A half-pound of meat stuffed into a sandwich is what you normally get when you order at the deli,” says Walls. Instead demand a healthier sandwich. Order three to five slices of meat instead of the half-pound usually found on the sandwich. “It makes a 300-600 calorie difference,” says Walls. Ask for the roll separate and make the sandwich yourself. Avoid chicken, tuna and egg salads at the deli — they are not usually made with low-fat mayo. Use mustard or light salad dressing.


  • Turkey and lean roast beef make healthy sandwich choices.
  • Skip the cheese.
  • Add lettuce, tomatoes and onions to sandwiches to pack on the veggies, or try a total veggie sandwich with sprouts.
  • Avoid those mammoth deli muffins (about 25 grams of saturated fat).


Pizza doesn’t have to have a bad rep. It can be a nutritionally sound and healthy choice — with the right toppings. “Topped with vegetables, pizza makes a nutritious meal,” says Walls. Steer clear of meat toppings. Pepperoni, sausage and ground beef are high-fat toppers. Some pizzerias offer low fat cheese. You can even ask them to hold the cheese, but never ask for extra. Other hints:

  • Salad (or vegetable) pizza (pizza topped with salad ingredients) has become the rage in some parts of the country. It’s an excellent source of vegetables and good nutrition.
  • Fruit topped pizza gained popularity several years back with delicious toppers like pineapples.
  • Watch portions. Eating half the pizza defeats the purpose. A few slices with salad on the side is a healthy meal.


    “Portion control is the key,” says Bronze. “Virtually nothing is no fat/low fat when you eat a ton of it.” A 4 to 6 ounce portion of an ethnic dish is great, an 8 to 12 ounce portion however, is excessive – -even if that’s how much restaurants offer. Restaurants are in business to attract customers. “Most people way underestimate portion size,” says Bronz.
    Don’t forget to recognize the efforts of your favorite restaurant. Let the manager or chef know how much you appreciate the healthy choices. The deli that lets you make your own sandwich, the pizzeria with the low-fat cheese, the Chinese joint that uses little oil in the wok — tell them what an impressive place they have. Bring friends, visit often and eat healthy.


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