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5 Rules for Choosing Healthy Ethnic Food

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If our great-great-grandparents had been told that Americans today would regularly eat dim sum, pad thai, souvlaki, tikka masala and arroz con pollo, they might have looked at the messenger with a look of complete disbelief - if they even knew what those foods were! As the melting pot of the U.S. has continued to bubble, Americans have been exposed to exotic cuisines from all around the world.

While exploring new flavors and sometimes even fusing very different flavors together, it can be tempting to overindulge. If the old adage is true and we are what we eat, limits probably need to be drawn. How can we continue to enjoy culinary adventures while maintaining a healthy diet?

One judgment made about ethnic cuisine in the U.S. is that it’s been overly “Americanized.” Critics note the large portions of many Americanized dishes, as well as the high fat content and tendency to overuse oils.

However, Mediterranean food—Greek, for example—is famous for its use of olive oil, yet is often considered some of the healthiest food in the world.

How can a variety of ethnic foods be incorporated into a diet in the most healthful way? Here are 5 guidelines to help keep calories and fat content in check while still allowing the taste buds to enjoy an adventure.

  1. Limit the oils. Olive oil does indeed provide beneficial omega-3s. However, at 120 calories per tablespoon, it should be used in moderation. Other oils, as well as butter, should also be used sparingly.
  2. Skip the “fries”. Fried food tend to be much higher in calories than food cooked in any other way. While they may taste good, they’re probably not the healthiest choice.
  3. Go for low-fat dairy. Cream, butter and lots of cheese add loads of flavor . . . and loads of calories and fat.
  4. Incorporate color. Brown rice, which contains fat-burning resistant starch, is a healthier choice than white rice, which can spike blood sugar. Expanding the rainbow further, including a variety of foods in any diet adds to health benefits; choosing a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables adds a mix of nutrients to the plate. Keeping the focus on grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits can help keep the menu healthful, even if oils, cream, coconut milk and other criticized foods are included. Everything is okay in moderation!
  5. Control alcohol intake. Many flavorful foods are complemented by alcohol. (Think about wine pairings, or fajitas and ‘ritas!) Responsible alcohol intake is important for many reasons. Many drinks are high in calories and sugar. Not to be forgotten, alcohol's tendency to induce the munchies. Drinking can lead people to eat more even when they’re not genuinely hungry.

  6. Bon appetit!


    Food Network: 6 Healthiest Ethnic Cuisines

    American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide

    10 Healthiest Ethnic Cuisines

    Reviewed August 1, 2011
    by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
    Edited by Shannon Koehle

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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