If you’re considering starting a healthy diet, you might think that mealtime will be boring. You’re wrong. Not only is healthful food nutritious, it can be downright delicious. Case in point: the following five ethnic foods.
1. Indian Food
Long a Manhattan favorite, Indian food employs tangy spices in its curries, lots of tasty vegetarian options and a healthy steamed rice base. What you may not know, however, is that turmeric — the primary ingredient in curry and a staple in many other Indian dishes — can protect you against esophageal tumors and intestinal and stomach cancers. The spice also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Dal, a common Indian side dish, is made of lentils, which provide fiber and protein. Yogurt not only relieves the heat from spicy food, but it’s a good source of calcium and potassium. Both are healthful foods, unlike the fried samosas and curries that are loaded with cream, which you should avoid.
2. Asian Food
It’s technically cheating to lump Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai food into one category, but they all have health benefits. Chinese food uses spices like ginseng, which may lower your risk of some cancers, and ginger, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Japanese food is rich in omega oils (fish), calcium (bok choy) and iodine (seaweed). It’s even prepared in a healthful way, by steaming or stir-frying.
Like Chinese food, Vietnamese spices have a basis in medicine. For example, cilantro, mint and anise aid digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties. Pho is a popular noodle soup full of antioxidant ingredients. Thai food uses ginger and turmeric (see above), and a spicy soup called Tom Yum Goong has been shown to fight cancer.
3. Greek Food
This ethnic food features lean meat, fish, leafy vegetables, lentils and beans, whole grains, olive oil and fresh fruit. The oil, spinach and fish combination in particular can help prevent stomach cancer. It also boosts your immune system.
Greek food balances small amounts of meat with whole grain breads, dark green vegetables, nuts and olives. It can prevent digestive diseases and help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Just stay away from the spanakopita, which often contains lots of fat.
4. Mexican Food
This one may surprise you, but authentic Mexican food is actually very healthful. It’s not just rice and beans, although with a vegetable, that constitutes a nutritious meal. Spicy chicken, soft corn tortillas and fresh salsa all have health benefits. This food tends to digest slowly, which can prevent type 2 diabetes.
In addition, the tomato-based sauces and hearty soups can prevent breast cancer. Steer clear of the calorie-laden, high-fat Mexican food with heavy cream sauces like queso. If you keep your portion size moderate, you’ll get the benefits without gaining the weight.
5. Italian Food
Traditional Italian food is not loaded with grease and cheese. Hard parmesan cheese is grated lightly over fresh pasta and healthy tomato sauce. The tomato sauce itself may protect women from breast cancer.
Italian food uses beneficial spices like basil, garlic, oregano, parsley and olive oil. While the oil and garlic help lower cholesterol and fight heart disease, oregano can ease gastrointestinal disorders, parsley has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties and basil can treat nausea and indigestion.
For more nutrition information, including the ways food affects your body, contact NYC Gastroenterologist, Dr. Shawn Khodadadian.