Ethnic Food Without the Fat

Ethnic food_teaser

We love international cuisine, and we hope you do, too. The good news is you can “eat the world” without compromising your diet. Rule numero uno: Know the ingredients. “Always ask what’s in the food you’re ordering,” says Jim White, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “If you hear a lot of cream sauces, butters, or oils, these can add major calories to your meal.” Here are his tips on navigating the globe, one healthy meal at a time.


One of the world’s great cuisines, but avoid tempuras, cream sauces, eel sauce (too much added sugar) and sushi rolls with “crunchies.”

Diet Killers: katsu (deep-fried pork cutlet), crunchy volcano roll with spicy mayo sauce
Belly Friendly: sashimi (plain raw fish), futomaki roll (with no tamago), and edamame (without salt)
Good to Know: Rolls made with brown rice have the same calorie content as their white rice counterparts, but contain more fiber and nutrients.


It’ll fire up your taste buds. Just be wary of dishes prepared with generous portions of oil or coconut milk, which is high in calories and saturated fat.

Diet Killers: samosas, cream- based curry dishes, ghee (melted butter), and masala
Belly Friendly: fishkabobs; tandoori made with chicken, lamb, beef, or fish (it’s prepped without oil); roasted veggies; lentil dishes without cream. Look for “gram” or “pulse” on the menu—these are low-cal lentil and bean dishes that are packed with nutrients.

Shrimp Salad


Fattening carryout gives it a bad rap, but Chinese food is generally low-cal and packed with nutrients. Look for food prepared with little added fat and no MSG. And scan the menu for these key words: jum (poached), chu (broiled), kow (roasted), or shu (barbecued).

Diet Killers: General Tso’s chicken, egg rolls, fried wontons, lo mein dishes (tons of oil!), spareribs (fatty)
Belly Friendly: chicken or tofu and steamed veggies with brown rice, steamed chicken, shrimp dumplings, egg drop soup. Always ask for sauces on the side—hot mustard and oyster are good options.


Avoid cream-based curries, which pack on calories and grams of fat.

Diet Killers: fried dumplings, pad thai
Belly Friendly: roasted chicken, khao man kai (steamed rice with garlic, boiled chicken, chicken stock, and dipping sauce), sautéed shrimp, steamed mussels in garlic


This cuisine varies from country to country, but ingredients are essentially the same across the region and are generally wholesome and healthy.

Diet Killers: Falafel, Al-Motubug (pastry squares filled with whole eggs, ground meat, and oil), kibbeh (deep-fried dough stuffed with ground lamb and pine nuts)
Belly Friendly: hummus (dip fresh veggies instead of pita), tabbouleh, shish kebab (char-grilled marinated lamb or beef cubes and veggies on skewers—trim fat off meat), shish taouk (marinated chicken kebab)

Greek Salad


Rice is a staple, so remember to control your portions. Also watch out for items containing calorie-laden coconut milk.

Diet Killers: conchfritters, Jamaican patties (egg yolk–yellow fried pies filled with meat or cheese), fried plantains
Belly Friendly: noncream-based chicken, jerk chicken, pilau (similar to paella)


The Mediterranean diet is timeless and virtually fat-free, and all but the desserts are healthy. For the greatest benefits, go for plant- and seafood-based dishes—there are plenty!

Diet Killers: gyro, pastitsio (pasta and ground beef with béchamel), moussaka (layers of ground meat, tomato sauce, fried eggplant slices and béchamel), baklava
Belly Friendly: Greek salad with feta, chicken souvlaki, white bean stew, lentil soup, grilled whole fish or shellfish, appetizers (yogurt and garlic, smashed eggplant, fish roe, tomato salad, grilled sardines)


Although many dishes can be laden with fat (cheese, sour cream, and guacamole), there are some lean options.

Diet Killers: taco salad (so healthy the term ‘‘salad” doesn’t even apply), chips and nachos, quesadillas, chimichangas
Belly Friendly: salsa, pico de gallo, enchiladas without cheese, soft fish tacos (no cheese or sour cream), fajitas (again, avoid added fatty side dishes), grilled chicken entrées with salsa, whole wheat tortillas

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