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Healthier choices for Multicultural Cuisines

Canada is a melting pot of cuisines originating from many different regions of the world. Some of the more popular foods we enjoy are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, East Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Caribbean. These foods are becoming more available in our grocery stores, specialty food shops, restaurants and take out locations.

We enjoy the tasty foods from these various cuisines but are they nutritious? While some traditional foods may be healthy, the choices we make when making ingredient substitution make some recipes higher in fat, sugar or sodium than they were meant to be. Also, we may also be eating larger portions of these tasty foods, especially when we eat out. This can mean more calories than we really need. Therefore, it’s wise to be aware of how much you are eating. You may want to save part of an extra large portion for another meal later.

Find out how to make healthier choices when choosing and preparing these foods.

Cuisine Typical Foods Foods to watch out for Healthier Choices Substitutions/Cooking Methods
Chinese/ Japanese

Vegetables, fish, seafood, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, rice, noodles, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds.

Meat or vegetable stir fries, noodle dishes, soups, spring rolls, egg rolls.

Salt, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

Regular soy sauce, teriyaki sauce.

Sweet sauces (plum, sweet and sour, cherry etc.)

Stir fried rice and noodles.

Deep fried chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetables, wontons, dumplings, egg rolls and spring rolls.

Dishes with lots of meat and noodles and no veggies.

Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or flavourings that contain MSG.

Use lower sodium options of soy sauces, teriyaki sauce, and other condiments.

Limit high calorie, high fat and high sugar sauces.

Substitute brown rice for white rice. Cook it without adding salt. Have it steamed instead of fried.

Substitute whole wheat pasta or buckwheat pasta for white pasta or rice noodles. Cook it without adding salt. 

Choose plenty of vegetables steamed or stir fried such as Bok choy, kale, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, red and green peppers, onions, etc.

Stir fry chicken, shrimp, meat and vegetables with a small amount of canola oil.

Use unsalted nuts and seeds in small amounts.

Thai/ Vietnamese

Fresh fish and vegetables steamed, stir-fried, or grilled. Rice (jasmine or glutinous “sticky rice). Curries, salad, soups. Noodle dishes with seafood, chicken or meat. peanuts (e.g. Pad Thai), shallots, chillies, lime juice, fish sauces and shrimp paste, soy sauce and hoisin sauce, lemon grass and galangal.

Coconut oil and coconut milk.

Soups, salad dressings and condiments made with salty sauces e.g. fish and oyster sauce, shrimp paste, soy and hoisin sauce.

Fried rice.

Deep fried fish cakes.

Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or flavourings that contain MSG.

Use sodium-reduced sauces.

Substitute brown rice for white rice. Cook it without adding salt. Have it steamed instead of fried.

Substitute whole wheat pasta for white pasta or rice noodles. Cook it without adding salt.  

Choose plenty of vegetables raw, steamed or stir fried such as Bok choy, chayote, cucumber, eggplant, daikon, spinach, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, and bitter melon.

Choose a variety of fruit such as lychee, mango, guava, papaya, star fruit, watermelon, and persimmon.

Stir-fry chicken, shrimp, meat and vegetables with a small amount of canola oil.

Use unsalted nuts and seeds in small amounts.

Indian/ East Indian

Chicken, meat, fish (southern Indian), ghee (clarified butter), cream, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices (ginger, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, turmeric), cucumbers, beans, lentils, noodles, couscous, rice, breads such as naan, roti, chapati or kulcha, yogurt, sweet and sour chutneys.

Foods cooked or prepared with ghee (clarified butter).

Deep fried breads, cakes or desserts.

Deep fried savories including samosas.

High sugar or salty chutneys.

Use canola, olive, corn, or soybean oil instead of ghee for cooking.

Choose plenty of vegetables (onions, garlic, tomatoes, sweet red and green peppers, carrots, and broccoli) and fruit (mangos, papayas, pomegranates, bananas). Try plain rice, roti or chapatti instead of pilau, naan or parantha.

Opt for stews, soups and dishes made with vegetables, lentils and beans.

Have meat, poultry, or fish roasted or grilled instead of fried or deep fried. Try Tandoori dishes instead of curry dishes or biryani.

Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean

Grape leaf dolmades (stuffed with tomatoes, peppers, rice or meat), hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant), falafels (fried patty made from spiced fava beans and/or chickpeas), Greek salad (tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion, oregano, olive oil, feta cheese, kalamata olives), bulgur wheat salads (Tabouleh), pita bread, meats such as pork, lamb and beef made into kabobs or shwarma, stews or dishes seasoned with herbs and spices, nuts, sesame seeds, chick peas, tahini, tzatziki. (cucumber, garlic and yogurt sauce), feta and goat cheese.

Deep fried falafels.

High fat dressings, sauces and dips.

Deep fried vegetables and vegetable dishes (e.g. cauliflower, eggplant).

Vegetable dishes made with phyllo pastry (e.g. spanakopita).

Desserts such as baklava (made with phyllo pastry, walnuts or pistachio nuts, honey), sweet pastries.

Have vegetables and salads with lower fat salad dressing and dips. Ask for dressings "on the side" and use only small amounts.  

Choose stews, soups and dishes made with vegetables, lentils, beans or chickpeas.

Try whole wheat pita bread instead of whlte bread.

Use brown rice instead of white rice. Cook it without adding salt. 

Use olive oil in salad dressings and canola, olive, corn, soybean or sunflower oil for cooking.

Have meat, poultry, fish and seafood roasted or grilled instead of fried or deep fried. Tr

Italian

Vegetables, tomatoes and sauces, pasta (lasagna, tortellini, fettuccine, manicotti, linguine, rotini, etc.), pizza, veal, beef, prosciutto, mortadella, fish, seafood, cheese (Parmesan, provolone, mozzarella) arborio rice (risotto), bread (foccacia and other white bread), polenta, pesto, white cannellini beans, pistachio nuts.

Pizza with a lot of high fat meat (pepperoni, salami, sausage) and extra cheese.

High sodium or high fat antipasto foods such as cheeses, marinated vegetables, cured meats such as prosciutto.

Salads with high fat dressings (e.g. Caesar).

Creamy pasta sauces (e.g. fettuccine Alfredo).

Rich cheesy risotto.

Breaded, deep-fried, meat , such as veal cutlets

Fried fish or deep fried calamari.

Desserts such as cannoli, zeppole, marzipan, and tiramisu.

Choose vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, spinach, olives, onions, and artichoke hearts. Use on pizza or bake or roast for pasta dishes, salads, or antipasto.

Use marinara and other tomato based sauces instead of creamy cheese or alfredo sauces.

Choose lower fat salad dressings for vegetable marinades and salads.

Choose whole wheat bread instead of white. Substitute whole wheat flour for some of the white flour in pizza dough.

Use lower fat cheese in recipes (e.g. part skim milk mozzarella, lower fat ricotta cheese (<5% M.F.) or cottage cheese (<2% M.F.)

Try bean based dishes such as fagioli, minestrone and vegetable soups.

Have meat, poultry, fish and seafood roasted or grilled instead of fried or deep fried.

Mexican

Vegetables (tomatoes, corn, green peppers, onions, squash, sweet potatoes), beans (pinto, lima, black, kidney), lentils, meat (beef, chicken, pork), chili peppers, avocados, jicama, corn and flour tortillas.

Fajitas, tostados, tacos, tamales, enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas loaded with cheese.

Deep fried corn tortillas and corn chips.

Nachos with cheese.

Refried beans made with lard.

Guacamole

Regular sour cream.

Salty salsas.

Substitute brown rice for white rice. Cook it without adding salt.

Choose whole wheat flour tortillas instead of white flour or deep fried corn tortillas.

Use canola, olive, corn, soybean or sunflower oil instead of lard for cooking.

Opt for half the cheese.

Go easy on the high fat guacamole. A tablespoon or two will do.

Use small amount of lower fat sour cream (< 5% M.F.).

Read and compare labels and choose salsa with the lowest amount of sodium.

Have meats that are grilled or stir fried.

Caribbean

Curry goat, fried dumplings, salt cod, fried plantain, jerk chicken, pork or beef, steamed cabbage and rice and kidney beans.

Jamaican patties –filled with ground beef (or chicken, vegetables, shrimp, lobster, soy and cheese).

Deep fried patties and dumplings.

Salty meats – e.g. “jerk”

Coconut milk

Include plenty of vegetables in dishes, stews, and soups.

Enjoy fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, pomegranates, papaya, jackfruit, bananas and kumquats.

Substitute brown rice for white rice. Cook it without adding salt.

Have more meals made with beans.

Have meat, poultry, fish and seafood roasted or grilled instead of fried or deep fried.

Use canola, olive, corn, or soybean oil instead of solid fats for cooking.

Resources for Consumers

Count Food Guide Servings in a Meal, Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, by Health Canada
Eating Out, Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, by Health Canada
Fast and Easy Meal Ideas, Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, by Health Canada
Top Ten Tips for Tasty and Healthy Meals, by the Canadian Diabetes Association

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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