Derrick W. Spell, MD FACP
More Tips for Eating Out!
Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Today, most communities have a variety of local ethnic eateries. Since most of them are not large chain restaurants, nutritional information is often absent from the menu. Fortunately, there are usually wholesome choices at each restaurant. The tricky part is knowing how to navigate the various menus. In the last blog, we reviewed skills for proper eating at any establishment. Now I would like to recommend and review some of my favorite go-to menu selections at a variety of restaurant types.
Mexican-style restaurants feature various healthy choices in addition to several unhealthy ones. They typically serve quite a few seafood and vegetarian options, as well as various salads. Ceviche is a great low-calorie appetizer. Fresh guacamole is also reasonable as long as you are careful with the chips. (Stay away from the queso!) Black bean soup is one of my favorites, either as an appetizer or as a side item with an entrée. Grilled fish and shrimp are generally available with both tacos and fajitas. I also regularly enjoy vegetable fajitas. (Choose corn tortillas as they have less calories and fat than flour tortillas.) Always remember to be sensible with the added sour cream and cheese no matter what you pick. Avoid fried items like chimichangas! Be careful with Mexican rice, as it is usually prepared in oil. Substitute refried beans with either black beans or pinto beans.
Even though classic Italian restaurants offer a lot of high calorie dishes, there are usually a few healthy options available. If an appetizer is desired, bruschetta is a good choice. Many Italian eateries offer a sensible house salad with light Italian dressing. One of my favorite soups is minestrone. It is loaded with vegetables and beans, yet it is low-calorie and very flavorful! Pasta primavera is also a great choice that is both nutritious and tasty. If you prefer pasta dishes, ask for whole-wheat pasta when available. Choose red sauces (like marinara or pomodoro) or white wine sauces like clam sauce. Avoid the creamy sauces (like alfredo and carbonara) and dishes stuffed with cheese like lasagna! Don’t forget that many Italian restaurants offer grilled and steamed seafood options. If you prefer pizza, go for the thin crust and ask for light or easy cheese. (Add veggies in place of meat on your pizza!)
Typical Greek and Middle Eastern bistros offer numerous nutritious selections. Most offer salad options like feta salad and tabbouleh. Both lentil soup and hummus work as an appetizer or a side item. (Watch out for the added olive oil on your hummus!) Ask for whole-wheat pita and enjoy it sensibly. Some of my traditional favorites include falafel (baked, not fried), mujadara (lentils and rice), grape leaves (with rice and no meat) and eggplant moussaka. Grilled or broiled seafood entrées are generally available as well.
Conventional Chinese restaurants offer several decent selections. Most feature a number of vegetarian options as well as entrées with mixed vegetables and shrimp or tofu. Everyday low-calorie soups include hot and sour, egg drop and wonton soup. Steamed vegetable or shrimp dumplings are sensible as an appetizer. Lettuce wraps are reasonable for an appetizer or a meal. Two of my traditional favorites are shrimp with lobster sauce and buddha’s delight. Other common nutritious choices include moo goo gai pan, chop suey, schezuan eggplant and moo shu sauce with shrimp or vegetables. Always ask for brown rice (instead of white rice) and always avoid items that are fried!
Japanese restaurants are quite popular today. Eating fit is straightforward when the menu features mainly fish and vegetables, but there are a few tips to know! Steamed edamame is an excellent appetizer that is easy to share. Ginger salad and miso soup are great low-calorie appetizers. Remember to avoid all fried items including rolls! Sashimi is always a great pick. Remember to be sensible with soy sauce and request the low-sodium variety! If you prefer sushi, choose rolls with cucumber or soy wraps instead of rolls with rice. Pay attention to the roll description on the menu and avoid added high-calorie sauces made from mayonnaise. (It is acceptable to ask for no sauce or light sauce.) If you don’t like raw fish, order a grilled item instead. Teriyaki sauce is an acceptable extra but get it on the side. Don’t forget to include vegetables as sides with your entrée!
Eating well at Thai restaurants can also be fairly simple. Most offer several low-calorie soups such as tom yum and lemongrass. Summer rolls are also a great starter. (Avoid the spring rolls as they are fried!) My favorite Thai dish is curry with either tofu or shrimp. I prefer yellow curry, but red and green curry dishes are tasty also. Remember to request brown rice. Another excellent selection is pad Thai with either tofu or shrimp. No matter what you choose, ask for extra vegetables with your meal!
Indian cuisine is one of my favorites. Most Indian restaurants feature a number of flavorful vegetarian options. I prefer chana masala (Indian chickpeas) and lentil dishes like dal makhani and dal tadaka. Aloo gobi peas (potatoes, cauliflower and green peas) and bhindi masala (Indian okra) are also flavorful and nutritious. Avoid the dishes with paneer, since they are full of cheese! Be cautious with korma and jalfrezi dishes as they may have butter or a lot of calories. Many Indian restaurants offer curry dishes as well. If you’d prefer something different, tandoori meats and grilled seafood are often available.
Consider your options in advance and expand your palate by trying these various ethnic cuisines. As you enrich your health and well-being, your taste buds are more open to change than you realize. I encourage you to be open-minded and try new foods and preparations. If your tastes are simple, most ethnic restaurants serve a variety soups and salads as well as traditional grilled seafood entrées. No matter what you choose, I believe that having autonomy is fundamental for your continuing dietary education.
You will develop your willpower as you exercise your internal locus of control!
If you want to learn more about willpower as well as other helpful eating suggestions, please check out my book The Bite-Sized Guide to Getting Right-Sized!