Choosing healthy options among Baltimore's ethnic restaurants

September 05, 2012|By Shanti Lewis, For The Baltimore Sun

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (, which is printed here. This week, Shanti Lewis, RD, CNSD, weighs in on ethnic food.

Are you craving food with an international flair? Charles Street in downtown Baltimore offers a huge variety of ethnic restaurants. Dining out on exotic flavors from all over the world does not have to increase your waistline. You can still enjoy Chinese, French, Italian, Greek, Indian, Mexican and Japanese restaurants throughout the city. Here are some tips for selecting foods at ethic restaurants.


While traditional French cuisine is full of heavy cream sauces and pastries, there are still many healthy options at French restaurants. Also, if you are splurging on one of your favorite French foods, remember to share or take half home.

What to choose: French onion soup (hold the cheese), watercress and endive salads, poached fruit, steamed/poached fish or shellfish, Nicoise salad, lightly sauteed vegetables, chicken in wine sauce, consomme or bouillabaisse.

What to limit: Bearnaise, Hollandaise and bechamel sauces; pate; croissants, pastries, brioche and eclairs; anything with the word "cream" or "au gratin"; crepes; fondue; duck or goose with skin; French onion soup with cheese; quiche.


Indian cuisine is often full of healthy complex carbohydrates, such as basmati rice, chickpeas, lentils, breads and vegetables. However, there is often fat and salt added to vegetables, entrees and breads. Be careful of the word ghee, which is really clarified butter that is frequently found in Indian cooking. In addition, be aware that coconut oil is often used in frying and sauteing and is full of unhealthy, saturated fat.

What to choose: Tandoori chicken, beef or fish; beef or chicken tikka; gobhi matar tamatar (cauliflower with peas and tomatoes); chicken vindaloo; matar pulao (rice pilaf with peas); chapati (thin, whole wheat bread); chicken, beef or fish saag (with spinach); mint, mango or onion chutney; tamatar piyaz aur kheera salad (tomato, cucumber, onion salad).

What to limit: Samosas (fried turnovers containing meat or vegetables); doconut-based curries; saag paneer (spinach with Indian cheese); korma (meat with heavy yogurt sauce); murgh makhani (butter chicken); naan, roti or kulcha (leaved, baked bread that can be large portions); pakora (fried dough with vegetables); creamy rice dishes; and anything with ghee.


Chinese cuisine offers numerous healthy selections with lots of vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Most of the oil used is peanut oil, which is high in unsaturated fats. However, excess amounts of oil can lead to excess calories and weight gain. Also, many Chinese sauces are high in sodium and you may want to stick with plain, steamed dishes if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. Look for the following words when ordering food at a Chinese restaurant: zheng (steamed), jum (poached), kao (roasted) or shao (barbecued).

What to choose: Wonton soup; steamed chicken, tofu or fish with vegetables; Szechwan shrimp; stir-fried tofu, fish, beef or chicken with vegetables; steamed brown rice; steamed dumplings; egg drop soup; moo-shu vegetables; hot and sour soup.

What to limit: Egg rolls; fried rice or dumplings; white rice (opt for brown rice); moo-shu pork or sweet and sour pork; General Tsao chicken; spareribs; lo mein; egg fu yung; sesame chicken.


Typically, Greek cuisine provides an abundance of grains, fruits and vegetables, and olive oil, which are associated with the Mediterranean diet. While the basis of cuisine is healthy, you may want to consider limiting certain dishes if you are watching your calorie and fat intake.

What to choose: Dolmades (opt for rice versus meat); baba ghannoush; tzatziki sauce; stifado stew; Greek salad without feta cheese and with dressing on the side; souvlaki; kakavia soup (fish and vegetable soup); grilled, pan-seared, broiled fish; low fat Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.

What to limit: falafel; gyros; spanakopita; cheese pie; baklava; moussaka; saganaki (fried cheese); tiganita (deep fried vegetables); phyllo dough.


Italian is a popular cuisine among Americans. However, making the wrong food choices can lead you to make more than a day's worth of calories in one meal. When choosing pasta, picking the right sauce is important.

What to choose: Minestrone soup; half orders of pasta (marinara, marsala, non-creamy primavera, wine sauce); chicken cacciatore; chicken or veal piccatta/scaloppini; grilled calamari; thin-crust pizza with fresh vegetables; shrimp, fish, chicken or veal and wine sauce; skim milk cappuccino.

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