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Heart-healthy ethnic dining
Dining out is a normal part of life for many Americans—so is being overweight, which can increase one’s risk for heart disease. Eating at restaurants does not have to be unhealthy, especially at ethnic ones.

Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiovascular dietitian Roberta Jupp says that you can enjoy healthy ethnic dining by understanding food names and preparation techniques. Ask your server to explain menu items that you are unsure about.

Mexican food is warm, spicy and comforting—and the tortilla chips and salsa are usually free. Unfortunately, each chip equals about one gram of fat. If possible, ask for baked chips, or limit your portion to a handful. Instead of chips, order a low-fat appetizer such as gazpacho, a cold tomato soup, or black bean soup.

Mexican food can be high in fat and salt, so choose your entrée carefully. Enjoy a grilled chicken salad, chicken fajitas with corn tortillas, or whole beans, instead of refried. Order plain enchiladas or burritos with extra vegetables and tomato-based sauces on the side. Go easy on the cheese, including the queso dip!

The typical pasta dish at an Italian restaurant contains at least three to four servings of pasta. One serving equals about one-half cup of cooked noodles, so consider sharing the entrée, or saving half as leftovers. Instead of alfredo sauce, choose dishes with marinara and primavera sauces. Ask your server if whole wheat pasta is available.

Italian restaurants also are famous for large salads, which are a great choice if you choose your dressing wisely. Try a vinaigrette or light version of your favorite dressing served on the side.

Minestrone soup can be a meal in itself. This tomato-based soup with beans, vegetables and pasta is low in fat and packed with fiber. Other heart-healthy entrées include chicken cacciatore and grilled meat or fish.

Heart-healthy Greek dishes include shish kabobs, souvlaki (grilled and marinated lamb), plaki (broiled fish), or dolmos (stuffed vegetables). Try tzatziki, a low-fat, yogurt based sauce on a whole wheat pita. Or order a pita stuffed with heart-healthy tabouli, a mixture of soft wheat kernels, tomatoes and herbs.

Oriental Cuisine
When dining on oriental cuisine, enjoy the wide variety of vegetables, such as snow peas, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, bok choy, and carrots. Boiled, steamed or lightly stir-fried seafood, chicken, vegetable or bean curd dishes are generally low-fat foods. Ask for brown rice instead of white or fried rice. Avoid battered and deep fried dishes. Also avoid MSG and limit soy sauce.

Indian Cuisine
There is a wide variety of healthy, flavorful food at Indian restaurants because of the unique spices used. The key is to know the meaning of the words on the menu.

Excellent choices include dals (bean and lentil-based dishes), biryanis and pilafs (rice-based dishes), and naan and capitis (baked breads). Try the vegetable curries, salads with raita (shredded vegetables), tandoori chicken or fish, which are low-fat, tasty meals.