Ethnic Foods – Eat Widely, Choose Wisely

Ethnic Foods – Eat Widely, Choose Wisely 2

Most Americans love the opportunity to eat out at restaurants and try new and different foods. Asian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, as well as Greek, Mexican and Italian are very popular.

But not all ethnic foods are good for us. Many restaurants and take-away outlets serve up high-fat, high-calorie foods that aren’t so great if you’re health conscious or if you’re watching your weight.

Dietitians suggest keeping an eye on portion size as restaurant serves can be much larger than the portions we would serve at home. They also makes the point that the fat quantity of a particular meal will vary from restaurant to restaurant, or even from chef to chef. To avoid excess fat, you can make it clear that you would like a low-fat meal when you place your order

If you’re dining out on ethnic foods, here are some ideas for keeping the calories and fat down.


The best rule of thumb to apply when eating Chinese food is to avoid foods that have been deep-fried. This includes dumplings, spring rolls, fried rice and chicken or pork that has been deep fried. Steamed foods are a great choice, including steamed vegetables and steamed rice.

A high-fat combination Chinese meal including fried rice, lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and a spring roll will add up to 900 calories with 40 grams of fat. If you choose steamed rice, steamed vegetables, chicken and almond and beef in black bean sauce instead, you’ll save over 350 calories and 27 grams of fat.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Dumplings, pork, steamed, 1 40 3
Dumplings, pork, fried, 1 75 7
Spring roll, small, 1.5 oz 100 7
Wanton soup 240 13
Steamed rice, 1 cup 185 0
Fried rice, 1 cup 360 4
Noodles, plain, boiled, 1 cup 135 1
Noodles, plain, egg, 1 cup 200 3
Beef in black bean sauce, 17 oz 530 33
Chicken and almonds, 18 oz 685 50
Chow Mein, Beef/chicken, 24 oz 940 60
Sweet and sour fish, 20 oz 1160 58
Omelet, chicken/shrimp, 16 oz 990 82
Fortune cookie, each 25 0.5


The ever-increasing popularity of Japanese food makes life easier for those watching their weight. With sushi bars popping up all over the place, a low-fat, low-calorie lunch, dinner or snack is never too far away. On average, a sushi lunch pack has 330 calories and 3 grams of fat.

Other than sushi, Japanese foods can be quite high in fat and calories, especially fried noodles or tempura. Your best choices include miso soup, udon noodle soup or Teriyaki chicken.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Sushi lunch menu (assorted), regular serving 330 3
Nigiri-Zushi (fish-wrapped sushi), 1 piece, salmon 35 1
Nori-Maki-Zushi (seaweed-wrapped sushi), 1 piece, egg omelet 70 1
Sashimi, average all types 130 3.5
Miso soup, 1 cup, with tofu 85 3
Teppan Yaki, (steak, seafood and vegetables), 10 oz 470 30
Teryaki chicken, 4 oz 260 9
Noodles, Udon, plain, 1.5 cup 335 2
Tempura, 3 large prawns and vegies 320 18
Sake wine, 100 ml 115 0


Rich curries with creamy sauces can make Indian and Pakistani food quite expensive when you’re on a calorie budget.

Good food choices from Indian and Pakistani restaurants are steamed rice, dal (lentil puree) with no oil, Murgh Tikka and Tandoori chicken.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Aloo samosa, each 150 12
Chicken Pilaf (Murgh Biriyani) 700 53
Mulligatawney soup, average 300 15
Murgh Tikka, 1 cup 300 4
Dal (lentil puree), 1 cup, no oil 230 1
Lamb Pilaf 520 35
Naan bread, 8″ x 2″, 1 oz 75 2
Pappadom, 1 large or 2 small 50 3
Rogan Josh 500 30
Tandoori chicken, breast 260 13
Tandoori chicken, leg/thigh 300 17


Even though the Mediterranean diet has been touted as a great way to eat healthily, many of the foods served in Italian restaurants are high in both fat and calories. Creamy sauces, plenty of cheese and large portion sizes are the biggest problems with this style of cuisine. If you’re dining out on Italian food, try to skip the cream sauce wherever you can. One way to monitor portion size is to order an entrée size dish for your main meal.

Even foods such as antipasto, bruschetta, ciabatta and foccacia can be high in calories, so choose carefully from what’s on offer. Try to avoid cheese, salami, pesto and mayonnaise as these will add heaps of fat to your meal. If possible, order your food without these types of ingredients.

When ordering pizza, go for a vegetarian option and ask for half the cheese. Better still, make your own healthy pizzas at home on a pitta bread base with low-fat ingredients.

When it comes to dessert, skip the Tartufo or Tira Misu and go for a gelati or sorbet instead. Choose a skim cappuccino or latte instead of a full-fat one.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Antipasto (2 slices salami, 3 olives, ½ cup vegies) 185 10
Bruschetta, 2 slices 380 17
Cannelloni, 1 tube, 6 oz 280 15
Gnocchi, spinach, 1 cup 300 18
Lasagne with meat, 10 oz 400 17
Linguine with Red Clam Sauce 570 10
Pasta (2 cups) with Bolognese (meat) sauce 650 16
Pasta (2 cups) with meatballs 960 42
Pasta (2 cups) with Marinara sauce 540 13
Pizza, average, ½ medium 600 26
Ravioli, 8 oz 300 12
Risotto, chicken 275 7
Tortellini, 20 pieces 530 20
Veal Parmigiana 350 20

Lebanese and Greek

There are lots of healthy, low-fat foods to choose from Lebanese and Greek cooking styles. Dips, in particular, are a good choice, especially if low-fat varieties are available. Hummus, tzatziki and baba ghannouj make great choices.

Other good choices include Greek salad and tabouli (cracked wheat salad). Try to avoid pastries, such as spinach triangles, as well as moussaka and deep fried calamari. Go easy on felafel, kebabs and souvlaki. When it comes to desserts, baklava and other pastries are laden with fat and calories, so try to avoid these if you’re watching your weight or your fat intake. Opt for a gelati or sorbet instead.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Baba Gannoujh, 1 tbsp 70 6
Cabbage roll, 3 oz 100 3
Hummus, 2.2 oz 105 3
Moussaka, 1 serve, 8 oz 350 22
Kafta, 1 skewer, 1.5 oz 85 5
Spinach pie, 3.5 oz 290 21
Cous cous, 1 serve 250 21
Tabouli, 4 oz 170 14
Shawourma, 4 oz 280 15
Felafel, fried, 1 oz 60 4
Baklava pastry, average, 3.75 ounces 400 21

Mexican and Spanish

Mexican food can offer some healthy choices if you’re prepared to forgo the cheese, sour cream and corn chips. Try chicken or beef fajitas – at 200 calories each, they won’t break the calorie bank. Bean burritos have up to 380 calories each, while tacos with meat, cheese and salad have 250 calories each. Steer clear of the nachos – a large serve of nachos can have as much as a whopping 65 grams of fat.

If you’re dining out Spanish-style, you could try a bowl of Gazpacho at a low 60 calories with no fat, a serve of Clams Marinera at 330 calories with 16 grams of fat, or how about Arroz Abanda (fish with rice) at 340 calories and 8 grams of fat? Keep your eye on the calories and the portion size of a paella – a large serving can have as many as 900 calories and 42 grams of fat. A homemade paella may be a better option than choosing paella when you’re dining out.

And don’t forget the calories from alcohol! A margarita has about 160 calories.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Burrito, bean (Taco Bell) 380 12
Burrito, Big Beef Supreme (Taco Bell) 520 23
Chilli con carne, lean meat, no beans 370 19
Chilli con carne, with beans and meat 310 17
Corn chips, ½ cup 147 7.5
Enchilada, beef, average 330 10
Fajitas, chicken, each 200 7
Gaucamole, 2 tbsp 70 8
Margarita, with 1.5 oz Tequila 160 0
Nachos supreme 430 24
Taco shell, regular 54 3
Arroz Abanda (fish with rice) 340 8
Clams Marinera, 8 clams 330 16
Coccid Madrileno (Madrid-style boiled dinner) 450 27
Paella a la Valenciana 900 42
Pollo a la Espanola (chicken) 475 30


Thai cooking offers plenty of exciting flavors but the thing to avoid is full-fat coconut milk. If you’re cooking Thai at home, use low-fat coconut milk instead.

When dining out, choose hot and sour soups, spicy salads and vegetable stir-fry with steamed rice or steamed rice noodles. Avoid fried noodles, creamy coconut curries and coconut based soups.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Satay pork, 1 stick 100 4
Spring roll, 1.25 oz 110 6
Tom Yam soup, seafood, 1 cup 100 3
Tom Yam soup, vegetarian 50 0
Thai beef salad, 1 serve 260 9
Steamed fresh fish with spicy Thai sauce 450 8
Thai chicken curry, 1 cup 340 23
Thai beef curry, 1 cup 500 32
Massaman curry, 1 cup 680 57
Pad Thai, 18 oz 990 38



Ethnic Foods – Eat Widely, Choose Wisely 3

Fresh vegetables, herbs and spices are a predominant feature of Vietnamese cooking. Fresh rice-paper spring rolls offer a healthy choice and stir-fry vegetables, meats, poultry and tofu with steamed rice also make good choices.

Things to avoid are prawn fritters, deep-fried spring rolls and creamy coconut curries.

Food Calories Fat (g)
Beef satay, 2 sticks 265 9
Canh Chay (vegetable and tofu soup) 80 3
Ga Chien (Crispy chicken with plum sauce) 900 40
Cuu Xao Lan (Curried lamb and vegetables in coconut milk) 900 40
Thit Heo Goi Baup Cai, (spicy cabbage rolls with pork) each 200 7
Rau Cai Xao Chan (Stir-fried vegetables with soy sauce) 400 15

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