When I went to Italy two summers ago, I was completely shocked when I sat down to eat dinner the first night. The food they served was nothing like the “Italian” food I was used to in the U.S.: huge portions of pasta and pizza loaded with creamy sauces, pounds of cheese and grease. Rather, the food was prepared simple with Extra Virgin Olive oil, a small amount of cheese and delicious, fresh Italian spices.
“Now this is real Italian eating,” I thought to myself. I actually felt wonderful because it was easy to eat healthy, effortlessly. (I can’t say that about most pizza I’ve indulged in back home.)
I’ve heard similar stories of people who have been to Spain, China, Mexico, and various countries around the world where they learned what healthy, authentic eating was all about. “If only we could eat this way back at home,” many say to themselves.
But, fortunately you can. You don’t have to travel across the world to enjoy a country’s cuisine the healthy way. If you put some thought into the restaurants you choose and the food you order, you can bring that pure, ethnic flavor to you…guilt free.
Below are some of our top favorite cuisines, with tips on how to indulge without feeling bad about it later on!
ü Ask for brown rice, rather than white rice or fried rice, to save calories.
ü Opt for steamed choices like steamed dumplings or spring rolls.
X Avoid fried appetizers like crunchy noodles or egg rolls.
ü Start your meal with a low-cal Chinese soup to fill you up.
ü Chose a veggie dish or pair your meat dishes with vegetables (think: half and half like chicken and broccoli)
ü Ask for sauce on the side, because many people don’t realize how quickly those calories add up when poured on top of your meal. Rather, dip your food cautiously in the sauce. Even soy sauce is high in sodium which can leave you feeling extremely bloated!
ü Use your chopsticks if you know how, eat slowly and enjoy!
ü Ask for low-fat sour cream, or substitute it altogether with a tomato-based salsa.
X Take it easy on the cheese. Opt for guacamole (in moderation) instead.
ü Get your taco salad “naked,” that is without the fried, greasy taco shell.
ü When in doubt, opt for soft tortillas rather than hard taco shells, because they are baked, not fried.
ü Go for black beans as a side or on top of your dish! They are low fat and packed with protein.
X Skip refried beans, which are usually high in fat and calories.
ü When ordering pizza, choose a thin crust variety packed with veggies, instead of fad-laden pepperoni or sausage.
X Hold off on nachos for an appetizer, which are packed with cheese and fatty meats, pretty much a meal in itself! Request simply chips and salsa instead.
ü Go for the grilled or baked dishes, rather than something heavily fried and breaded like Chicken Parmesan.
ü Use olive oil with vinegar or salt and pepper for a healthy, delicious salad choice.
X Try to resist the breadbasket, or ask the waitress politely to not bring it to ward off temptation.
ü Start your meal with a healthy salad or soup, like hearty vegetable minestrone.
X Avoid creamy, cheesy dressings and sauces, or keep them to a minimum.
ü Load up on vegetables, making them a good portion of your meal.
ü Skip dessert and order a coffee to end your meal, or ask for a few extra utensils and share a decadent dessert with your friends.
X Never finish your plate! Most Italian dishes served in America are enough to feed two people. Instead, wrap your meal up to eat the next day.
ü Spice your meal up with common Indian and Thai seasonings like lemongrass and curry for extra flavor and all around health benefits.
ü Request Basmati or brown rice to go along with your meal, rather than the deep-fried rice or white rice alternatives!
ü Go for protein like tofu, shrimp and chicken dishes.
ü Pack on the veggies, making them a good portion of your meal.
X Limit dishes made with peanut sauces or coconut milk, which can pack on fat and calories quickly!
X Avoid fried foods, like fried spring rolls or crispy noodles.
ü Ask politely if the chef would be able to cook your food in a wine or broth, rather than oil
ü Fill up on Miso soup, a healthy, clear-broth Japanese staple. It’s low in fat and has tofu for an extra protein boost!
ü Choose edamame or a green salad as an appetizer, rather than fried choices like dumplings (or pot stickers).
ü Choose a meal that comes with plenty of vegetables, rather than heaping amounts of rice or other less healthy sides!
ü Go for sushi rolls like tuna, salmon or sashimi, but don’t go eating more than two rolls for a meal. (Stick to one roll with a healthy appetizer.)
X Avoid sushi that comes with a sauce, like spicy tuna roll, which is usually mayonnaise based.
X Also, steer clear of tempura, which means deep-fried.
ü Feel free to season your sushi or other dishes with wasabi, ginger and low-sodium soy sauce.
ü If you know how, use chopsticks. You’ll eat much slower and truly enjoy your meal!
ü Keep your meals simple because it’s easy to get carried away with fat and calories!
ü Go for broth based soups, avoiding creamy, fattening counterparts.
X Be wary of creamy, cheesy sauces, such as au gratin or béarnaise sauce.
ü Chose lean meats and seafood for the basis of your meal.
X Avoid fatty meats, duck and sausage.
Now that you’ve read the dos and don’ts for 6 different cuisines, here are some final things to remember no matter where you’re eating out.
ü Don’t clear your plate. Take some home for leftovers or split your meal with a friend!
ü Plan ahead. When you know where you’re going out to eat ahead of time, you can check out the menu online to find healthy choices that are right for you. Also, many restaurants these days offer nutritional information for their menu selections.
ü Ask the waitress (politely) for what you really want, including making substitutions or eliminating an unhealthy sauce altogether.
ü Keep it simple. Don’t order five different things. Stick to one or two and you’ll feel more satisfied.
ü Eat slowly to truly enjoy you’re food. After all, dining out shouldn’t be a marathon race.