Come on, how many times can you eat steamed vegetables with grilled chicken breast? Sure, it’s a good way to get a shot of protein in a nutritious, low-fat meal, but it can also get old quickly. When you’re ready to spice up your eating options, try thinking outside the borders and choosing something a bit more ethnic. Along with adding some variety to your mainstay meals, ethnic foods can offer other significant benefits—like keeping you from dropping dead prematurely. It’s no mystery why people in Japan have the longest life expectancy—they eat tons of low-fat, low-cholesterol foods like fish, tofu, Soba noodles and seaweed. Similarly, those living in the Mediterranean region also have better odds of going the distance thanks to their diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and heart healthy olive oil. Traditional Indian and Thai foods use a combination of spices with powerful anti-cancer properties, while Italian dishes serve up healthy amounts of lycopene-loaded tomato sauces that decrease the risk of prostate cancer and increase sperm count. Who knew a little marinara could be so beneficial down there? Here are some other ethnic foods that can help add years to your life, and diversity to your dining experiences.
Sushi or Sashimi
If you’re a fan of sushi, you’re in luck. Made of lean fish and steamed rice, sushi offers a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. Throw some avocado into the mix and you’ll get a good source of healthy fat as well. Sashimi is another top choice with the same benefits as sushi, only without the high-carb rice. Since mercury remains a concern, it’s probably wise to limit the amount of sushi you eat to twice a week. Fish that contain high levels of mercury include bigeye tuna, king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish. Avoid rolls altogether (many of them don’t even contain fish).
Cooked on long skewers inside a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor and marinated in a blend of spices, yogurt and lemon juice, this low-fat, protein-rich dish is a great way to give new legs to those tired, old chicken breast meals. Just don’t screw up a good thing by getting a side of high-carb, high-calorie rice called Biryani or loading up on too much Naan.
With a bounty of nutritious vegetables, this popular pasta dish serves up a healthy dose of antioxidants. Plus, the fresh garlic helps to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Be sure to go without the fat-packed, cream sauces sometimes used with this dish and opt for those that are tomato-based and loaded with cancer-fighting lycopene.
Not the crappy, refried Taco Bell kind. We’re talking straight up black or pinto beans. Along with being rich in dietary fiber, beans offer a healthy dose of carbs and protein to keep you feeling full and energized. Throw in some fresh salsa, wrap it in a corn or wheat tortilla, and you’ve got the ultimate healthy, hand-held feast. Avoid the urge to top it off with piles of cheese and sour cream. With all the extra fat and calories you may as well eat a chili dog. Opt for a little crumble of queso fresco, which only has 41 calories and 2 grams of fat per ounce, and hot sauce instead.
Moo Shu Shrimp
Don’t let the “Moo” fool you. This delicious, non-beef dish is low in fat and high in nutrition. The shrimp and eggs offer plenty of protein, while the cabbage, mushrooms and bamboo shoots are loaded with essential vitamins like beta-carotene and vitamin C. When adding rice, make sure it’s steamed and not fried.
Sounds like something you might inadvertently step in during a jungle excursion, but it’s actually a potato and cauliflower curry dish with a wholesome blend of high antioxidant, Indian spices. One of those spices is turmeric, which research has shown helps fight disease by boosting the liver’s ability to detoxify the blood.
Tired of the same old rice and pasta dishes? A staple of North African cooking, couscous offers a tasty alternative. Made from durum wheat, couscous is commonly used as a nutritious base for salads and a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. It can also be sweetened, spiced and mixed with dried fruits and served as a dessert. To maximize the nutritional value be sure to choose whole wheat couscous over the regular version.
Horiatiki Salata (Greek salad)
With a combination of Kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and feta cheese, you can’t go wrong with this Mediterranean favorite. For extra flavor, go with a side of tzatziki (Greek yogurt flavored with cucumber and garlic) sauce. To cut the calories and fat, ditch the feta as it can add close to half of your daily recommendation of saturated fats.
Tom Yung Gung
Nope, it’s not a Taiwanese action hero, but a kick-ass soup that has been proven to fight cancer. Made with shrimp, coriander, lemongrass, ginger and other herbs and spices used in Thai cooking, this appetizing soup is believed to contain powerfully potent tumor-inhibiting antioxidants.
Switch those traditional high-fat onion and ranch dips with this chickpea-based concoction made with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and other spices. The chickpeas are full of protein and have a glycemic index of 12, meaning it will leave you feeling full without loading you down with extra calories. When used as a dip, go with raw veggies like carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes instead of more calorie dense chips and bread.