Eating out the healthy way: Thai, Greek, Chinese, Mexican and more

By: Canadian Living

Author: Canadian Living


Eating out the healthy way: Thai, Greek, Chinese, Mexican and more

By: Canadian Living

Thai cuisine is similar to Chinese cuisine in preparation (usually in a wok) and in ingredients. Unfortunately, with both methods of cooking, frying (especially with hors d'oeuvres and appetizers) is difficult to avoid.

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: TOFU SATAY WITH PEANUT SAUCE (250 calories, 10 grams of fat, four grams of saturated fat, 540 milligrams of sodium).
This dish gives a good dose of nutrition-packed soy and fares reasonably well in the fat and sodium categories, too. The peanut sauce adds a small amount of fat, but it can always be replaced with a curry, chili or basil sauce. Even a simple squeeze of lime or lemon would suffice. Other good choices are chicken or beef satays and seafood kabobs.

•Â The trap/pitfall: SPICY CHICKEN SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK (435 calories, 41 grams of fat, 27 grams of saturated fat, 790 milligrams of sodium).
Its high caloric and fat content mainly comes from the coconut milk. You would be well advised to opt for a soup with a clear broth (such as tom yum koong or poh taek).

•Â The worst: SPARERIBS (640 calories, 39 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 720 milligrams of sodium).
Spareribs, served with a sweet and sour sauce, provide 75 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat.

Main dishes
•Â The best: PAD THAI (sautéed noodles with vegetables and tofu) (470 calories, eight grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 890 milligrams of sodium).
There is no doubt that this is the most popular and well-known Thai dish. It is a complete meal with little saturated fat. Equally tasty are the scallop and shrimp version.

•Â The trap/pitfall: BEEF CURRY (625 calories, 49 grams of fat, 33 grams of saturated fat, 144 milligrams of sodium).
Curry dishes contain a coconut milk sauce that increases the fat (especially saturated) and calories.

•Â The worst: FRIED SQUID (1,040 calories, 70 grams of fat, nine grams of saturated fat, 665 milligrams of sodium).
This meal contains half the calories and more total fat than is recommended for an entire day! This is best saved for special occasions or for when it can be shared with many others.

For centuries, vegetables, grains, herbs and olives (and their oil) were the fundamentals of Greek cuisine. If feta, fish and ground meat were used at all, it was as seasoning; that is to say, in small quantities. Unfortunately, today most Greek specialties have more “grease&" than “Greece.&"

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: TZATZIKI WITH PITA (220 calories, five grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, 430 milligrams of sodium).
Tzatziki, a dip made with yogurt, garlic and mint, is served with pita triangles. Beware of the versions made with sour cream, which can easily double the calories and fat.

•Â The trap/pitfall: GREEK SALAD (215 calories, 15 grams of fat, four grams of saturated fat, 557 milligrams of sodium).
What a shame to criticize a salad! But this one, with its feta and heavy oil-based dressing, has as much fat as a cheeseburger.

•Â The worst: DOLMADES (stuffed grape leaves) (540 calories, 32 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 1,470 milligrams of sodium).
The rice and ground beef or lamb stuffing has plenty of saturated fat, and the brine used to preserve the leaves has a high sodium content. For a lower-fat version, opt for the meatless version with rice only.

Main dishes
•Â The best: CHICKEN SOUVLAKI (260 calories, eight grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 370 milligrams of sodium).
Pieces of chicken are marinated and usually served with grilled vegetables and rice. Other good variations to try are pork, beef and lamb.

•Â The trap/pitfall: SPANAKOPITA (410 calories, 24 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 730 milligrams of sodium).
Sheets of phyllo dough are slathered with butter and filled with a mixture of spinach, feta, oil and eggs. A good rule to follow is that if the pastry is light and flaky, chances are it's fattening.

•Â The worst: GYRO (760 calories, 44 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 2,390 milligrams of sodium).
This pita filled with a mixture of minced meat (seasoned and roasted beef and lamb), bread crumbs, tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and occasionally a bit of feta contains enough saturated fat and sodium for an entire day, mainly due to the generous amount of meat.

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In China the accent is on rice, noodles, vegetables and small portions. Canadian Chinese meals bring out more of the fat (with the meat and grease) and the salt (with soy sauce). Watch for dishes that are deep-fried, crispy, batter-dipped, breaded or fried.

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: STIR-FRIED VEGETABLES (375 calories, nine grams of fat, one gram of saturated fat, 1,075 milligrams of sodium).
This mix of Chinese and seasonal vegetables provides fibre and other nutrients with limited cholesterol and saturated fat. However, it contains lots of sodium. Another good choice is sweet-and-sour soup.

•Â The trap/pitfall: HOUSE FRIED RICE (740 calories, 25 grams of fat, five grams of saturated fat, 1,340 milligrams of sodium).
The best way to avoid this specialty of meat, eggs and frying oil is to choose steamed rice, seasoned with a pinch of soy sauce (which has 1,000 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon) instead.

•Â The worst: EGG ROLLS (for two egg rolls: 380 calories, 22 grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 920 milligrams of sodium).
Here, the fried dough wonton wrapper, which envelops the ingredients (minced vegetables, pork and shrimp), absorbs oil. You can always opt for steamed dumplings or limit yourself to one egg roll.

Main dishes
•Â The best: SZECHUAN SHRIMP (465 calories, nine grams of fat, one gram of saturated fat, 1,230 milligrams of sodium).
Stir-fried shrimp in hot sauce with a good amount of vegetables is low in saturated fat and calories. Other options are Szechuan scallops, Hunan tofu or chicken chow mein.

•Â The trap/pitfall: ORANGE (CRISPY) BEEF (885 calories, 33 grams of fat, six grams of saturated fat, 1,570 milligrams of sodium).
The beef is coated in flour, then fried in an orange spice sauce, making it crunchy -- and full of fat and sodium. For fewer calories, go for the beef with broccoli.

•Â The worst: SWEET-AND-SOUR PORK (805 calories, 36 grams of fat, seven grams of saturated fat, 410 milligrams of sodium).
As is generally the case with sweet-and-sour dishes, the meat is generously covered with bread crumbs and oil, the sauce is heavily sweetened, and the vegetables are hard to find. At least the sodium is not excessive.

Certain Japanese restaurants only serve sashimi and sushi, while the most traditional also offer tempura, sukiyaki and teriyaki. A shadow on the menu: sauces and marinades rich in sodium and some dishes (such as tempura) that are cooked in lots of oil.

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: VEGETARIAN SUSHI ROLL (for a half roll: 135 calories, one gram of fat, no saturated fat, 830 milligrams of sodium).
Sushi is made with rice and raw fish along with other ingredients such as seafood, eggs and vegetables. It's hard to go wrong if you stay away from choices that include cream cheese or ingredients that are fried. Equally low in calories: clear soups such as miso and suimono. Another good bet is seaweed salad or edamame (boiled or steamed soybeans).

•Â The trap/pitfall: TEMPURA-UDON SOUP (350 calories, 11 grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, 850 milligrams of sodium).
This soup is made of noodles with good ingredients (shrimp and vegetables), but they're in a deep-fried tempura batter.

•Â The worst: FRIED TOFU (AGEDASHI DOFU) (440 calories, 33 grams of fat, four grams of saturated fat, 280 milligrams of sodium).
It's not so much the beautiful cubes of tofu that make this dish guilt-ridden but the batter, the deep-fried garnish and the sauce that envelops them.

Main dishes
•Â The best: CHICKEN SUKIYAKI (450 calories, eight grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 850 milligrams of sodium).
This chicken dish is made with tofu, vegetables and bamboo shoots, and simmered in a sukiyaki sauce. Other good choices: chicken or salmon teriyaki.

•Â The trap/pitfall: DONBURI (835 calories, 25 grams of fat, eight grams of saturated fat, 1,230 milligrams of sodium).
This specialty consists of eggs, meat, chicken or fish, and vegetables simmered together and served over rice. The problem: it contains whole eggs, and the meat is sometimes breaded and fried. The versions made with grilled meat are preferable.

•Â The worst: SHRIMP TEMPURA (920 calories, 81 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 228 milligrams of sodium).
Seafood or vegetables, or a combination of the two, are coated with batter, deep-fried and served with a sauce. The result: enough fat for an entire day.

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Lebanese and Greek foods are close relatives, so it's not surprising that their restaurants offer many similar specialities, even if their names are sometimes different.

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: HUMMUS AND PITA (210 calories, four grams of fat, one gram of saturated fat, 430 milligrams of sodium).
This is a creamy spread made of chickpeas and tahini (a paste made of sesame seeds, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice) and served with pieces of pita bread.

•Â The trap/pitfall: TABBOULEH AND PITA (385 calories, 14 grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 1,200 milligrams of sodium).
This marinated salad is traditionally made with bulgar (and not with couscous), tomatoes, parsley and mint, and is served with lettuce or pita. The only problem: it often comes with lots of oil.

•Â The worst: KAFTA GRILLED LAMB (225 calories, 14 grams of fat, six grams of saturated fat, 460 milligrams of sodium).
This is a large sausage of minced beef, mutton or lamb. Unfortunately, when we talk about minced meat, we talk about saturated fat. Moreover, the fat content is rather high for the number of calories, and the dish contains few nutrients.

Main dishes
•Â The best: CHICKEN SHISH KABOB (260 calories, eight grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 370 milligrams of sodium).
In this equivalent of Greek souvlaki, the meat (chicken, lamb, beef or sometimes shrimp) is marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, wine and spices before being grilled with vegetables.

•Â The trap/pitfall: FALAFEL WITH PITA AND SOUR CREAM (435 calories, 11 grams of fat, four grams of saturated fat, 750 milligrams of sodium).
These deep-fried croquettes made with seasoned chickpeas are served in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, tahini or sour cream. The only rub: low in saturated fat does not mean low in fat or calories.

•Â The worst: MERGUEZ SAUSAGES (400 calories, 36 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 805 milligrams of sodium).
This spicy sausage dish from North Africa, traditionally made with lamb or beef and flavoured with a hot chili paste, has lots of fat and sodium. And the sides are not included!

The basis of Mexican cuisine (rice, beans, peppers, tomatoes and tortillas) is reasonably healthy, but it is often transformed into a nutritional disaster with the abundant use of cheese and meats and added fat and salt. Crunchy tacos, enormous burritos and overflowing enchiladas share a plate with nachos, refried beans and sour cream.

Starters and accompaniments
•Â The best: MEXICAN RICE (230 calories, four grams of fat, one gram of saturated fat, 820 milligrams of sodium).
Even if this rice is sautéed in a little bit of oil or shortening and cooked in a salty stock, it is still the least offensive of the bunch. Season with salsa to add zest without calories or fat. Other good starter choices are gazpacho or black bean and vegetable soups.

•Â The trap/pitfall: REFRIED BEANS (380 calories, 16 grams of fat, seven grams of saturated fat, 790 milligrams of sodium).
After the chef has worked his magic, these once-healthy beans contain enough lard or cheese to provide a third of the daily recommended intake of saturated fat and sodium.

•Â The worst: CHEESE NACHOS (810 calories, 55 grams of fat, 25 grams of saturated fat, 880 milligrams of sodium).
This appetizer contains chips and almost a quarter pound of cheese. Even when shared between four people, it packs a punch at 200 calories and a third of the daily suggested serving of saturated fat. All that and we haven't even touched the main course.

Main Dishes
•Â The best: CHICKEN FAJITAS (420 calories, 12 grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, 765 milligrams of sodium).
This wrap cleverly conceals a decent amount of vegetables, and the tortilla (similar to a burrito, enchilada and soft taco) is not of the crispy fried variety. But beware: the classic way of preparing this dish is with refried beans, rice, sour cream and guacamole, which doubles the calories to enough for a whole day. Ask for black beans and salsa instead of refried beans and sour cream.

•Â The trap/pitfall: CHICKEN QUESADILLA (580 calories, 31 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 1,270 milligrams of sodium).
The problem here doesn't lie with the chicken or the tortilla but with the cheese and the frying, which together greatly increase the sodium, fat and caloric content.

•Â The worst: BEEF BURRITO (830 calories, 40 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1,970 milligrams of sodium).
A beef burrito contains a quarter pound of beef and refried beans wrapped in a tortilla and covered in cheese. It has 50 per cent
more calories and fat than a Big Mac!

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Wise rules for eating out
Canadians spend about 32 per cent of their food dollars in restaurants. Ethnic restaurants make up a large proportion of those outings. And if current trends prevail, we'll be eating even more restaurant meals and spending more of our food dollars on restaurant foods in the future.

Many restaurants continue to serve huge portions, so portion control is one of the best defences against overeating. Here are some tips to help you do that and to help keep these outings fun and healthy.

Helpful hints
• Limit processed foods (such as cookies and baked goods), which contain unhealthy trans fats.

• Select whole grain breads and whole wheat pastas when available.

• Choose grilled, baked or poached fish and other foods, instead of trans-fat-heavy fried or breaded foods.

• When ordering chicken or other poultry, don't eat the skin.

• Choose turkey, ham or roast beef for your takeout sandwich instead of high-fat bologna or salami.

• Fill up on healthy appetizers, soups and salads and forgo a main dish.

• Ask for the salad dressing on the side.

• Order one less item than the number of people at your table.

• Limit oils that are high in saturated fat and trans fat, such as coconut and palm oils.

• Limit partially hydrogenated fats, which contain trans fats.

• Push your plate away when you're satisfied; don't feel you have to finish it all.

• Split your dessert with your meal pal. Or eat half and take the rest home.

• Order just one alcoholic drink, or better still, sip mineral water instead.

• Look for the low-fat or light options now available in some fast-food restaurants (for example, falafels with baked –- not fried -– croquettes).

Note: daily requirements for an adult are about 2,000 calories, 65 grams of fat (of which 20 grams should be saturated) and 2,400 milligrams of sodium.

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Eating out the healthy way: Thai, Greek, Chinese, Mexican and more