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USDA Travel Calorie Counting Tips

Restaurant Advice: Mexican, Chinese and More

Different restaurants mean different choices. You wouldn't eat the same way in an Italian restaurant than a Mexican restaurant. Would you?  This section will give you some good advice when you find yourself eating away from home.

Mexican Food

Flavorful foods from south of the border can fit into your healthy lifestyle. Mexican restaurants typically have a variety of options that won't expand your waistline if you know what to choose.



Best bets:

  • Ask the server to bring steamed corn tortillas to nibble on before dinner.
  • Order soft tacos, burritos, or fajitas, all of which are made with steamed tortillas -- or go one step further and order corn tortillas instead.
  • Order corn tortillas or corn tostadas, which are lower in calories than those made from flour
  • "Ranchero" or "cholesterol-free" beans. Add salsa for extra flavor.
  • Ask to have sour cream and guacamole to be served on the side.
  • Chicken enchilada with no cheese on top.
  • Fish and chicken Mexican style.
  • Dishes full of vegetables, such as a taco salad or tostada.

Waistline expanders:

  • Tortilla chips
  • Fried tortillas or tostadas, whether they're flour or corn. Tostadas are usually made with a fried corn tortilla; chimichangas are made with a fried flour tortilla.
  • Flour tortillas
  • Refried beans, which are made with lard (high in saturated fat and cholesterol).
  • Dishes where sour cream and guacamole are a major component and can't be served on the side.
  • Beef or cheese enchiladas with cheese melted on top.
  • Sauce-and-cheese-smothered enchiladas or deep fried chili rellenos.
  • The fried flour tortilla "bowl" of the taco salad and the fried corn tortilla of the tostada.

ChineseChinese food is often loaded with vegetables and can be low in calories. But many popular dishes are full of fat and calories. Use your newfound menu-sleuthing skills to avoid fried and crispy items. If sodium is a concern, avoid soups, "lo mein," and soy sauce -- which has about 1,000 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.Best bets:

  • Steamed vegetable dumplings
  • Egg drop or won ton soups
  • Chop suey
  • "Sizzling" items
  • Vegetarian delight
  • Lo mein
  • Use chopsticks; you'll eat more slowly and may consume less

Waistline expanders

  • Fried egg rolls or won tons
  • IFoods served in a bird's nest
  • Dishes containing nuts
  • Crispy Chinese noodles
  • Duck

JapaneseMany Japanese dishes are low fat because they are braised, steamed, or simmered. As with Chinese, avoid fried items. Best bets:

  • Miso
  • Shumai (steamed dumpling)
  • Chicken teriyaki
  • Yakitori (grilled chicken skewer)
  • Sushi
  • "Sizzling" items
  • Soba, udo, and ramen noodles in broth

Waistline expanders:

  • Pan fried or agemono (deep fried)
  • Tempura or katsu
  • Fried bean curd
  • Fried noodles
  • Fried rice
  • Sukiyaki

ThaiThai food can be low- or high-calorie, depending on what you choose. If the names of the foods are foreign to you, ask your server or hostess for low-calorie or low-fat recommendations.Best bets:

  • Broth-based soups
  • Spicy sauce, oyster sauce
  • Foods stir-fried in broth
  • Fresh spring rolls
  • Pad thai

Waistline expanders:

  • Coconut milk-based soup or curries
  • Peanut sauce
  • Items cooked in coconut oil
  • Fried spring rolls
  • Satay
  • Tod (fried dishes)

Italian diningWhether it's pizza or pasta, there are a few more tips to add to your menu-sleuthing. You can eat fewer calories while eating Italian, but you need to know some pitfalls to avoid.Best bets:

  • Salad, with dressing on the side
  • Marinara or tomato sauce
  • Pasta lightly tossed with olive oil -- ask your server to be sure only a small amount of oil is used in preparing your pasta
  • Pizza without cheese. Get extra tomato sauce and plenty of veggies instead, and maybe some grilled chicken, too.
  • Pizza with thin crust or whole-wheat crust
  • Plain Italian bread
  • Dishes in which vegetables or beans play a staring role
  • Pasta stuffed with vegetables, such as spinach or squash
  • Dishes made with grilled chicken, meats, or seafood and fresh or steamed vegetables
  • Italian ice or fresh fruit

Waistline expanders:

  • Antipasto, which usually includes high-fat meats, olives, and cheeses along with marinated vegetables
  • High-fat white sauces, such as Alfredo
  • Pasta swimming in olive oil
  • Pizza with extra cheese or only cheese
  • Pizza with thick crust or cheese-stuffed crust
  • Pre-buttered garlic bread
  • Meat-based dishes, especially veal
  • Pasta stuffed with cheeses
  • Dishes made with breaded and fried meats or eggplant, as are often used in lasagna or "parmesan" dishes
  • Tiramisu, cannolis, and gelato, which are made with high-fat ingredients

Middle Eastern fareMiddle Eastern restaurants are a good place to find a variety of grain-, vegetable-, and bean-based dishes with a healthy dose of garlic. Pita breads, which are common and a healthy choice, are used for dipping savory delights.Best bets:

  • Hummus (spicy garbanzo bean dip)
  • Baba Ghanoush (spicy eggplant dip)
  • Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip)
  • Lentil soup
  • Plaki (baked fish with tomato)
  • Souvlaki (marinated, grilled meat with veggies in pita bread)
  • Gyro (lean, seared beef with veggies in pita bread) with sauces served on the side
  • Dolmades (seasoned rice-stuffed grape leaves)
  • Tabouli (seasoned wheat-grain dish with cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs)
  • Couscous (steamed wheat grain)
  • Olive oil and feta cheese used lightly -- ask your server to have your food prepared with only a small amount of these
  • Rice pudding

Waistline expander:

  • Falafal (deep-fried garbanzo bean balls)
  • Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
  • Black olives
  • Loukanika (sausage)
  • Ground beef and lamb
  • Dishes with phyllo dough, such as spanakopita
  • Bechamel (rich white sauce) used in dishes such as moussaka
  • Heavy use of olive oil (lathera) and feta cheese. Don't order items in which these are a main ingredient. For instance, a feta cheese spread will be higher in fat than a spread made of feta, vegetables, and herbs.
  • Baklava (phyllo dough dessert)

In the next section, we will offer tips for eating at two of the biggest restaurant offenders: the all-you-can-eat buffet and fast-food joints.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.