Americans love to eat out. In fact, research shows that most guys, especially those under 40, order restaurant food at least six times a week. If you exclude burger joints and cafeteria menus from that list, a lot of those meals end up coming from ethnic restaurants, places where you like the food but likely have no idea what’s used to make it (bad news if you’re trying to keep your diet in check).
You could combat the issue on your own — and learn everything there is to know about the fine art of making falafel, for example — or you could take the easy way and follow our easy-to-use guide to foreign food (just think of the time — and calories — you’ll save in the takeout line).
What to avoid: Sweet-and-sour pork or chicken. Those dough boys are little more than tiny bits of meat encased in greasy gobs of fat and sugar. Moo shu pork and egg rolls are also alarmingly high in calories.
What to order: Anything sautèed, or in garlic or Szechwan sauce. Beef and broccoli and chicken chow mein are also clear winners. To make ’em better, order steamed veggies and mix them together.
What to avoid: Stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, and moussaka. Even a small serving of these dishes has more calories than your standard fast-food fare. Gyros aren’t much better — most are drowned in mayonnaise-like sauce.
What to order: Meat and veggies on a skewer (souvlaki or kebabs, depending on the menu). Lamb or pork are decent choices, but in most cases chicken and steak are better (since the meat is grilled, most of the excess fat and calories drain away).
What to avoid: Foods with massala, pasanda, or korma in their name. All are types of fat-laden, super-spicy entrees. One serving of lamb pasanda, for example, contains nearly 1,000 calories, 56 grams of fat, and 4,800 mg of sodium.
What to order: Grilled or roasted dishes, such as tandoori chicken — marinated chicken cooked at a very high temperature. Or pick vegetable dishes, such as aloo gobi or vegetable curry, which are both high in fiber and vitamins.
What to avoid: Fettuccine Alfredo, obviously. Say ciao, as well, to other calorie-dense chow like cheese ravioli, manicotti, and eggplant parmigiana. Sure, the last item is vegetable-based, but that eggplant soaks up oil and grease like a sponge, making it one of the very worst things on any Mom and Pop menu.
What to order: Spaghetti or ziti, with either marinara or clam sauce. To get your protein fix, order a meatball or two on the side, rather than “meat sauce,” which has significantly less meat. If the portion is huge — covering more than half your plate — wrap it up and take it home for later.
What to avoid: Turn up your chops to all batter-dipped and fried foods, especially tempura and spider rolls. High-fat foods, such as duck and eel, are also high-calorie no-nos.
What to order: Tuna, cucumber, and California sushi rolls all deliver the right nutritional punch. Plus, they come in set portions, so you don’t have to worry about overeating.
What to avoid: Chimichangas, enchiladas, or anything fried or drenched in sauce or cheese — which can more than triple your meal’s calorie wallop. Also steer clear of jean-bursting sides, like refried beans, rice, or nacho with cheese.
What to order: Simple a la carte items made with whole ingredients, such as beans, chicken, steak, and salsa. Burritos, fajitas, and small taco salads are ideal picks. Choose guacamole over cheese or sour cream — it has more vitamins and heart-healthy fats.