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How to Eat Healthy at Asian Restaurants

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Updated February 15, 2014


Many types of Asian foods are healthy when served authentically -- cooked with very little or no oil, heavy on veggies and light on fried meats.

Unfortunately, most traditional Asian recipes available at restaurants are "Americanized" for our palates, upping the fat and calories considerably. But that doesn't make these tasty cuisines off-limits for those of us watching our weight.

By keeping a close eye on what you order, it is entirely possible to remain on your diet and dine out at Chinese and Japanese restaurants every now and then.

Chinese

Broth-based soup is a great low-calorie appetizer and will help you keep your appetite in control. Egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soups are ideal alternatives to egg rolls or spare ribs.

Shrimp chow mein, moo goo gai pan, and chop suey are all excellent entree choices. When in doubt, your best bet at any Chinese restaurant is to order a dish that comes with vegetables and is not deep-fried.

Look for entrees that are steamed, roasted or broiled. Stir-fried and steamed dishes are ideal as well. Stir-fries are cooked in only a small amount of oil and are usually chock-full of vegetables. Steamed dishes are prepared with water, not fat, so they are naturally lower in fat and calories than dishes that use oil and are deep-fried.

A downside to Chinese dining is the prevalence of large portions of noodles, white rice and fried rice. Noodles and rice are not favorable because they are refined carbs. They can be enjoyed in moderation, so just watch your portions or share with someone else.

Fried rice is to be avoided. Not only is it also made of refined carbs, but due to its preparation method, it is high in calories, fat, and cholesterol (if made with eggs). Some Chinese restaurants offer brown rice in lieu of fried rice, so be sure to ask.

Dishes to avoid are those prepared with heavy sauces, battered or floured and deep-fried (Think General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork, etc.). Sweet and sour sauce is comparable to adding a sugar cube to each bite.

Be careful of dishes described with words like "crispy" or "battered," as well as the presence of chow mein noodles and marinades, which up your sugar and calorie intake considerably.

Japanese

Japanese food offers seafood, vegetables, and noodle-based dishes. It is more healthy -- and acceptable -- that you ask for your food to be cooked in wine or broth instead of oil.

Miso soup is an excellent choice as an appetizer. Miso is made from soybeans, making it a good protein source. It is naturally low in fat and highly flavorful. Su-udon (noodle soup) is also a good choice.

Other good starter choices include edamame, cucumber salad and mixed veggies. You can also order a tossed salad with miso dressing at many Japanese restaurants.

As with Chinese food, looking out for dishes with vegetables is a smart move, and there are usually plenty to choose among. Seafood sunomono and mizutaki (chicken) both come with plenty of veggies.

One vegetable dish to avoid, however, is fried veggie dumplings (sometimes referred to as pot stickers).

If in doubt, looked for an entree that is described as steamed, grilled or roasted. It is also possible to request brown rice at Japanese restaurants.

If you like sushi, you're in luck because maki sushi, salmon, and tuna sashimi are all excellent choices.

An interesting and smart choice at a Japanese restaurant is to share shabu-shabu. This is a dish that multiple diners share by dipping meats and vegetables into a simmering broth. It's similar to eating fondue, but a lot less fattening since the broth takes the place of cheese.

Japanese food can be flavorful without adding extra fat with the use of diet-friendly sauces such as ponzu, soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger, and mirin.

The dish to avoid at any Japanese restaurant would be tempura. Tempura is a battered, deep-fried dish consisting of vegetables or a seafood and a variety of dipping sauces. (Unfortunately, the veggies are no longer a healthy choice once they're deep-fried.)

If you're interested in the true Asian dining experience, why not try chopsticks? Each time you take a bite, you'll be eating less because you can't grasp as much food with them. You will automatically eat more slowly (which will help you eat less and enjoy your food more). You will also be more likely to realize when you are full and stop eating due to the slower pace.


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