Healthy Ethnic Cuisines

I love ethnic food. There is such a variety of fun flavors, spices and different types of grains, fruits and vegetables that exist in various places around the world. So I was very happy to see this article on healthy ethnic cuisines (click the link) appear the other day.

The article discusses 10 different ethnic cuisines that are generally healthy. It’s important to understand, though, that the article is talking about the authentic ethnic cuisine itself and not the ‘Americanized’ version, which tends to be higher in fat and calories. I was interested to see that the list included several of my favorites.
Some of the cuisines mentioned are not particularly surprising. The benefits of Mediterranean foods are touted regularly, so the fact that Greek and Italian cuisines were on the list was not unexpected. Similarly, Japanese cuisine, which uses a lot of fresh vegetables and seafood, is generally known for being fairly healthy.
But some of the cuisines making the list are perhaps less well known. Indian food, for example, happens to be one of my favorites. The article talks specifically about some spices used in Indian cooking like ginger, turmeric and garam masala that have great health benefits. Although some Indian dishes can be high in calories and fat due to butter, cream or coconut milk, there are many healthy options, including:
  • Aloo Gobi–a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes with onions and lots of great spices that contain antioxidants
  • Tandoori--different types of meat cooked in a clay oven. These can be some of the leanest items on the menu
  • Dal--basically like a lentil soup with lots of spices. A great dish for providing vitamins, minerals and fiber
  • Raita–yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki
Two of my other favorite cuisines made the list as well–Vietnamese and Thai. I have long been a fan of Vietnamese food, particularly a noodle soup dish called pho. It’s made using a light broth and various herbs and spices, with noodles and lean beef. Fresh bean sprouts, cilantro and mint are wonderful accompaniments. Another healthy favorite are summer rolls, which consist of thin sheets of rice paper filled with lean meats, vegetables and rice noodles. Unlike spring rolls or egg rolls, summer rolls are not fried, which make them a healthier option. In general, Vietnamese food tends toward the healthy due to the use of vegetables and fish as well as light broths and herbs to cook and season rather than oils or coconut milk.
Thai food has been gaining popularity in recent years. This cuisine uses herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric and lemongrass, which all have great health benefits. Although some Thai dishes can be higher in calories due to the use of coconut milk, many healthy options exist. Tom Yum soup, for example, is a flavorful soup that has lean meats, mushrooms and many healthful herbs and spices. Chicken satay and grilled meats can be healthy choices. Country-style curries tend to be healthier curry options, as water is used in place of coconut milk. Many Thai restaurants will serve summer rolls as well.
I love eating a variety of food. Partaking of different authentic ethnic cuisines is a great way to increase variety and try different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs and spices. Check out the article to see the other healthy ethnic cuisines described.
Rachel Cope MPH, RC, CD