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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Ethnic flavors help spice up a healthful menu

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Ask the Nutritionist: Ethnic flavors help spice up a healthful menu

The National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition and Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides regular commentary on the NRA News blog. In this post, she discusses healthful menu options from various ethnic cuisines.

“Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” is this year’s theme during National Nutrition Month®, brought to you by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org). I particularly like this theme given the diversity of America; healthy eating is not a “one size fits all approach.” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends balanced meals that include an array of options from the 5 food groups - fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains and dairy which can accommodate all cultural, ethnic and personal preferences.

Restaurants provide a countless array of options for those who want to broaden their culinary horizons and explore ethnic cuisines – many of which include dishes that are both healthful and flavorful. More traditional ethnic cuisines,such as Italian, Mexican and Chinese, have grown in popularity over the last couple of decades, becoming so common in Americans’ diets that they are hardly considered ethnic anymore. And over the last several years, lesser known ethnic cuisines like Indian, Korean and Peruvian have become more prevalent as consumers are becoming more adventurous in their dining habits. Fusing ingredients from various cuisines has also becomea trend, such as including ethnic spices, herbs and flavor combinations in more traditional dishes. Whatever your preference of cuisine, healthier options abound.

Below are a few ideas for healthful menu options from various ethnic cuisines:

Mexican – For tacos, use whole grain tortillas with grilled fish, and load them up with fresh fruit or vegetable salsa. Shredded jicama is a great addition to salads and salsas to provide a crispy texture.

Italian – Serve up a vegetable rich minestrone soup with protein-rich beans, and whole grain pasta with tomato sauce, which contains lycopene and vitamins C and A.  For bruschetta, use whole-grain bread topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and parmesan cheese (and be mindful of how much olive oil you use).

Asian – Brown rice and buckwheat noodles are nutritious options, especially when served with stir-fried or steamed vegetables and lean protein like grilled shrimp or chicken breast. Lychee fruit is delicious for dessert.

Indian – Dal, a type of seasoned lentil soup, provides a great source of fiber. Many kebabs and tandoori-style dishes use yogurt, which provides essential nutrients including calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

Mediterranean – Food from this cuisine, like moussaka and melitzanasalata, often include eggplant, which is rich in essential nutrients and antioxidants. Many dishes also incorporate olives and olive oil, which also contain antioxidants and vitamin E. Hummus makes a healthful dip and sandwich topping.

Peruvian - Pollo a la Brasa is a classic Peruvian rotisserie-style chicken served with peppers, including the yellow aji or red rocoto variety and purple corn. Remove the skin to lessen fat content. Try Chupe de Camarones (Shrimp Cioppino), a traditional stock soup made with crayfish, spices and potatoes, to benefit from the range of nutrients that these ingredients provide.

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