When selecting ethnic fare, be kind to your heart

November 21, 2000

When selecting ethnic fare, be kind to your heart

Americans like to eat out. And we do, often four to five times a week on average. We also like to try different restaurants and ethnic cuisine.

Can we be adventuresome and maintain a heart-healthy diet? Yes, if we understand food names and preparation techniques.


Here are a few tips for choosing ethnic foods that are low in fat and calories.


Boiled, steamed or lightly stir-fried seafood, chicken, vegetable or bean curd dishes are generally low-fat fare. Other good choices include abalone soup, moo goo gai pan and vegetarian or chicken chop suey.

Limit the number of battered and deep-fried dishes you choose.

Enjoy the wide variety of vegetables in Chinese dishes: snow peas, lily pods, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, bok choy and other vegetables. If you don't know how vegetables are prepared, ask.


Greek restaurants offer many healthful choices. Try tzatziki as a salad dressing or sauce on pita sandwiches. It is made with yogurt, garlic and cucumbers and is low-fat.

For a nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat lunch, try whole-wheat pita bread stuffed with Greek salad or tabouli. Tabouli is crushed wheat kernels that have been parboiled and mixed with chopped tomatoes, parsley, mint, olive oil and lemon juice.

Heart-healthy main dishes include shish kabobs, souvlaki (lamb marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and herbs, then grilled) or plaki (fish broiled with garlic and tomato sauce). Dolmos (stuffed vegetables) make an excellent choice because they are usually steamed or baked.


There's almost always a wide variety of healthful food choices when eating out Indian-style. Unique spices used in Indian dishes add flavor without fat. The key is knowing what the words on the menu mean.

Excellent choices include dals (legume-based dishes), biryanis and pilafs (rice-based dishes), and naan and capitis (baked breads).

Vegetable curries, salads with raita (shredded vegetables) and lentils make good high-fiber additions to your meals. Try tandoori chicken or fish for a low-fat meal with a flavorful twist.


Mexican food is one of America's favorite ethnic foods. Some Mexican food is high in fat and sodium, so choose carefully. To start off, try a low-fat appetizer, such as gazpacho (cold tomato soup), black bean soup or jicama with salsa. This will keep you from filling up on nachos and cheese.

For the main course, choose baked or stir-fried entres such as fajitas, enchiladas or burritos. Other good choices include corn tortillas and Mexican rice. Chile Verde (pork simmered in vegetables and green chiles) and Veracruz-style dishes (cooked in herbed tomato sauces) are also low-fat.


Italian food is the most popular food ordered in American restaurants. For starters, Italian restaurants are famous for large salads. These are a great choice if you choose dressing wisely.

Try a vinaigrette or light version of your favorite dressing served on the side. Minestrone can be a meal in itself. This tomato-based soup with beans, vegetables and pasta is usually packed with fiber and is low-fat.

Red clam and other tomato-based sauces are lower in fat than cream sauces like Alfredo. Other heart-healthy entres include chicken cacciatore, pasta primavera, or grilled meat or fish.

Again, if you're unsure of ingredients or how something is prepared, ask your server.

Ordering from a menu of ethnic foods doesn't have to be a mystery. If you know key words and phrases and ask questions, you can choose wisely to make ethnic dining fun and healthful.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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