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Ethnic Cuisine: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

American Food

American-style restaurants borrow an assortment of ethnic dishes from around the world. Of course, we are responsible for salad bars, steak and potatoes, chicken and ribs, a bunch of sandwiches, and good ol' American apple pie, but the typical American menu usually resembles the United Nations.

For example, you can usually expect to find chicken teriyaki from Japan, a stir-fried dish from China, chicken fajitas from Mexico, and a pasta dish from Italy on the spread. The nice part about such a comprehensive menu is that it offers something for everyone (even finicky kids). Placing heavy emphasis on appetizers, salads, and sandwiches, American food can certainly swing both ways.

When you're in the mood for a sandwich, stick with the unadulterated versions such as turkey, roast beef, and chicken breast—whole-wheat bread will be a bonus. Beware of white, refined breads and buns that are prebuttered before they reach your table (such as the buttery grilled cheese sandwich). Ask your waiter to substitute a side salad for those greasy French fries, and stay clear of large salad entrees that pack in more fat than you want to know about. (Read the descriptions and go easy on bacon, avocado, shredded cheese, olives, and dressings.) For standard entrees, look for the usual green-light words (grilled, broiled, and blackened); you know the routine by now.

Include Avoid

*Shrimp/seafood cocktailsCreamy soups
*Tossed salads with light vinaigretteCaesar salads
*Broth and vegetable-based soupSalads with avocado, bacon, and creamy dressings
*Turkey, roast beef, and grilled chicken sandwiches on wheat bread Buffalo/chicken wings
*Broiled, blackened, and grilled fish and chickenFried zucchini and mushrooms
*Plain hamburgers, turkey burgers, and veggie burgersCheeseburgers
*Grilled chicken on saladGrilled cheese sandwiches
*Grilled vegetable over rice platesPhiladelphia cheese steaks
*Chicken kabobs and riceReuben sandwiches and tuna melts
*Sirloin steakTuna salad, egg salad, and chicken salad
*Buffalo burgersFried chicken and fish
*Baked potatoes with Dijon mustard, catsup, marinara, salsa, or small amount of butterHot dogs
*Half order pasta with tomato-based sauceFrench fries and potato salad
*Steamed or lightly sautéed vegetablesFruit pies, cookies, cakes, and ice cream sundaes
*Frozen yogurt, fruit ice, or sherbet 
*Fresh fruit 
*Angel food cake 

Fast Food

The restaurants might lack ambiance, but fast food is certainly one hopping business! It's quick, convenient, and cheap. The nice thing about fast food today is that most places offer an assortment of healthy alternatives due to the growing number of nutrition-conscious customers. Try your best to keep things simple. Generally, the items with complicated names are laden with high-fat meats and “special sauces.” For example, the Bacon Double Cheeseburger Deluxe at Burger King has a whopping 39 grams of fat with 16 grams from saturated fat. Be sure to also skip the fried chicken and all sandwiches smothered with cheese. Also, don't ever assume that fish automatically gets a nutrition gold medal. Did you know that McDonald's Filet-O-Fish (breaded and fried) contains 18 grams of fat, compared to the plain hamburger, which only has 9 grams? Stick with the healthier choices to make the best of your fast-food outings.

Include Avoid

Bagel with jellyBuscuits and Dansih
Hot cakes (no butter)Egg sandwiches with sausage or bacon
*Grilled chicken sandwichesCheeseburgers
*Plain hamburgersJumbo burger combinations
*Turkey burgersFried chicken sandwiches and fried chicken nuggets
*Veggie burgersFried fish filets
Vegetable pizzaPepperoni or sausage pizza
*Vegetable salads with “lite” dressingsBaked potatoes with butter, sour cream, or cheese
*Chunky grilled chicken saladsNachos with cheese
*Turkey sandwiches (no mayo)Onion rings and fried vegetables
*Lean roast beef sandwiches (no mayo)Apple pie and milkshakes
*Chicken fajitasMashed potatoes
*Baked potatoes with vegetables, salsa, catsup, or vegetarian chili 
*Grilled or steamed veggies 
*Fruit salads and fresh fruit 
*Frozen yogurt cones 
Juice or low-fat milk 
*Catsup, mustard, barbecue, and honey mustard sauce 

your best bets in fast food:

  • At McDonald's, try the Chicken McGrill or the Caesar salad with grilled chicken (with Newman's Own Low-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette). For dessert, you can choose either the Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait or a cone of vanilla reduced-fat ice cream. For breakfast, an English muffin with 2 scrambled eggs and 1% low-fat milk is your best bet.
  • At Burger King, try the BK Veggie Burger (w/o mayo), the Chicken Whopper (w/o mayo), or the fire-grilled chicken or shrimp garden salads (with fat-free honey mustard dressing). You can wash your meal down with a bottle of Aquafina water and end with some Mott's Strawberry Flavored Apple Sauce.
  • At Subway, try the “7 under 6” wraps or 6" subs on a whole-wheat bun (no cheese) and a bag of Baked Lay's Potato Chips.
  • At Domino's, try a plain pizza with vegetable toppings, a side salad with “lite” dressing, and a tall glass of water.
  • At Wendy's, try the grilled chicken sandwich on a multi-grain bun, or a baked potato with plain broccoli (or chili), and a salad tossed with “lite” dressing. Wash it down with some water or juice.

Don't let the words “salad bar” fool you. There are just as many high-fat pickings displayed on the buffet as there are low-fat ones. Survey the situation and load your plate with fresh vegetables, beans, whole grains, and low-fat dressings. On the flip side, watch out for the high-fat mayonnaise traps (such as tuna, egg, seafood, and chicken salads), and take it easy on the creamy dressings, bacon bits, high-fat cheeses, olives, nuts, and seeds.

Going Out for Breakfast or Brunch?

Master the following do's and don'ts.

Do order unsweetened oatmeal topped with berries or choose egg-white omelets stuffed with various veggies and whole-wheat toast. You can also enjoy unsweetened cereals with skim milk, Canadian bacon, and fresh fruit. Other healthy alternatives are English muffins with tomato and melted cheese, or a scooped-out bagel with light cream cheese, tomato, and lox. To wash it all down, opt for skim milk or a cup of green tea. Or, enjoy a skim latte.

Don't make it a habit to start your day with an unhealthy catastrophe, such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, cheese omelets, biscuits, croissants, bagels with butter, large cake-like muffins, donuts, pancakes and waffles smothered in butter and syrup, deep-fried French toast, or steak and eggs.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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