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How to Choose Low-Glycemic Foods at Ethnic Restaurants

To make finding low- (or lower-) glycemic dishes at your favorite ethnic restaurant a little easier, use the following list to help choose options that are also low in fat and calories. Keep in mind that each restaurant cooks foods differently, so you still need to use your best judgment.

These recommendations are based on using low-glycemic foods; these menu items haven't been officially tested for their glycemic loads. They do offer lower-glycemic choices for various types of restaurant:

  • American: Most American-style menus offer many choices. You can select an entree salad, certain soups, or meat entrees with a side of your choice. Some good low-glycemic picks include entree salads with grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp; turkey or grilled chicken sandwiches on whole-wheat bread or buns; Broiled, baked, or grilled chicken or fish entrees with a side salad or vegetable; Minestrone or vegetable soups; and chicken, shrimp, or beef stir-fry, especially with brown rice.

  • Chinese: As you can probably guess, finding low-glycemic Chinese food is tough given that rice and noodles are a main part of almost every dish. Ask your server whether you can have brown rice. If the answer's no, then eat a small amount of the rice or just skip it altogether. Your best bets for lower-glycemic Chinese meals are egg drop soup, tofu with vegetables, curry tofu or chicken, dim sum (chicken or fish with vegetables), barbequed pork with mustard and seeds, chicken or scallops with vegetables, stir-fried chicken, shrimp, or tofu with vegetables, Moo Goo Gai Pan, and shrimp and snow peas.

  • Fast-food: Fast food falls into that category of not-so-low-glycemic-friendly foods. However, there are a few choices that you can get by with when you're out and about and need to pick up a quick meal: salads, apple slices, sub sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, half a sub sandwich and soup, and soft tacos.

  • Italian: Selecting low-glycemic dishes from an Italian menu can be tricky because most Italian menus feature a lot of pasta dishes, which fall within the medium to high glycemic load range. Italian restaurants are obviously known for pasta dishes, but they're also well-known for tasty seafood and poultry. Your best low-glycemic picks at an Italian restaurant are cheese- or meat-stuffed ravioli, cheese-stuffed tortellini, chicken cacciatore, frittata with vegetables, minestrone soup, Cioppino (fish soup), Pollo a la Romana (chicken in wine sauce), Muscolidella Riviera (steamed mussels in red sauce), Zuppa di Vongole (clams with white wine and shallots), grilled or baked poultry dishes in white wine or red sauce, grilled or baked fish dishes, and thin-crust pizza (but limit your slices and fill up on salad instead).

    If you go for a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant, know that even if it's a lower glycemic load choice, most tested measurements are using around a 3/4-cup portion size — a size that's much, much smaller than what you'll be served. Recognize this fact and order a side salad so you don't eat too much pasta.

  • Japanese: Are you a sushi fan? Well, depending on what kind of sushi you prefer, you may be happy or disappointed. For the most part, rolls that include rice tend to have a higher glycemic load than other kinds of rolls.

    Some sushi restaurants offer brown rice on their rolls, so be sure to ask for it. If you can get this option, it'll lower your meal's glycemic load compared to the traditional sticky rice.

    Other than nonrice sushi rolls, some other good lower-glycemic options for Japanese cuisine include sashimi (raw fish without rice), chicken teriyaki, kaibashira (steamed scallops), maguro (broiled tuna), steamed/grilled fish or skinless poultry with vegetables, yakitori (skewered chicken or scallops), and yosenabe (seafood and vegetables in broth).

  • Mexican: Although you need to be very careful of your portion sizes and calories, many of the staples of Mexican restaurants (think whole-wheat or corn tortillas, peppers, and pinto beans) are low-glycemic foods. Unfortunately, most foods in Mexican restaurants are high in fat and calories, but finding a happy medium is possible. Look for any of these dishes for a healthy choice when you're having Mexican: chicken enchiladas, chicken or beef fajitas, soft chicken or vegetarian taco, ceviche, pollo picado (chicken and vegetables), grilled fish and chicken breast, frijoles (beans), and tamales.

    When it comes to tortillas, your lowest-glycemic option is a whole-wheat tortilla. If the restaurant you're at doesn't serve those, ask next for a corn tortilla, followed by a white-flour tortilla.

  • Middle Eastern/Greek: Middle Eastern and Greek dishes use such a wide variety of foods that you can find some great low-glycemic options if you're willing to be a little adventurous. Check out the following: chicken souvlaki, chilled yogurt and cucumber soup, Imam Bayildi (baked eggplant stuffed with vegetables), stuffed grapevine leaves, spinach with lemon dressing, vegetable and lentil soup, and, of course, hummus (ask for whole-wheat pita bread).

  • Thai: Some of the most popular Thai dishes feature noodles and rice (making them higher-glycemic choices). For healthy, low-glycemic Thai choices, turn to any of the following: Thai vegetables with chicken and chili sauce (if it comes with rice, either omit the rice or just eat less of it), seafood kebab (a kebab of any sort is usually a good choice), Tom Yum Goong (hot sour shrimp soup), and stir-fried shrimp or chicken with vegetables.

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