One of the hardest parts of maintaining a healthy diet is dining out. While dining out is fun and sociable, it almost guarantees that you'll eat more calories than you would at home. One strategy is to avoid certain cuisines that have few healthy dishes available. The following are ethnic cuisines that have the least nutritious options.
Chinese food is traditionally based on vegetables, rice and noodles, which sounds healthy, but unfortunately it is often loaded with salt, MSG (monosodium glutamate, which can cause side effects in some people), and unhealthy sauces to add flavor. Further, many options are cooked by deep frying, such as egg rolls, spring rolls, sweet and sour meats, and dim sims. This means that the seemingly healthy dish turns into a high-salt, high-fat and high-calorie meal.
The staple foods in America, although they can vary greatly throughout the country, are typically barbeque items like sauce-covered chicken wings, ribs, hot dogs and hamburgers. These options are generally high in saturated fat. Staple ingredients include wheat and corn products, like breads, which are often served as an appetizer or side dish. Processed meats are also common, like deli-style ham or bacon in sandwiches, which are very high in sodium. The abundance of deep-fried dishes like fried potatoes, fried dough (doughnuts), and fried chicken mean that the average diet can be quite high in fat. Desserts are very common, and include ice cream or sweet pies, both of which are high in sugar and fat. While vegetables and greens are sometimes included in meals, they are typically only eaten in small amounts, with the meals based around a meat or other source of protein.
Indian food is traditionally based on curries and rice. But many curries are made with heavy cream and sugar, and by adding a heaping portion of rice, a serving of naan bread, and fried items like samosas, the calories can add up very quickly. The good news is that it's fairly easy to choose a healthier meal by choosing a curry with a tomato-based sauce and skipping the naan bread and fried sides like samosas. Curry spices like turmeric have even been shown to have cancer-fighting properties.
With Italian food, you may immediately think of pasta. Pasta in itself can be healthy, but it is extremely easy to overeat. A recommended serving of pasta is one-third to one-quarter of a cup, which looks like half of a tennis ball. Most restaurant servings would be two to four times that size, and would probably be made from refined white flour as opposed to the healthier, high-fiber whole grain pasta. Heavy cream sauces, like alfredo sauce, are high in saturated fat. Chicken or veal Parmesan is prepared by breading and deep-frying the meat. Even worse, pasta dishes are often served with buttery bread. Pizza, another common Italian menu item, is often topped with processed meats like salami, pepperoni or ham.
Many cuisines can still be enjoyed as a healthy option by knowing which dishes to choose. But by avoiding these types of cuisines while dining out, you give yourself a better chance of maintaining a healthy diet before even getting to the restaurant.
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Carolyn McAnlis, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a special interest in preventing chronic disease through nutrition. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science & Dietetics and a minor in Psychology. After completing a full-time dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, she has developed a passion for convincing others that healthy food can be delicious through her blog A Dietitian in the Kitchen.