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Ethnic and Regional Foods

You can give your taste buds a treat by eating a variety of foods from different regional and cultural backgrounds. Following are a few common regional and culturally specific food tips to help you make more healthy choices.

Soul Food

Substitute your dairy

Cheese, cream and other dairy products are two common ingredients in good, old-fashioned soul food. However, both of these things are very high in fat. Many dairy products come in low-fat, fat-free or reduced-fat versions. This minor substitution may make a major difference in your meal's fat content but a very minor change in its taste.

Watch the salt

Although the recipe may call for it, taste your food before dousing it with salt. You may find that you don't even need that extra sodium, which can increase your blood pressure as well as the risk for heart and kidney problems. If you want to add extra flavor, try substituting herbs, lemon juice or spices instead of salt to keep the amount of sodium in your food lower.

Avoid canned products that contain salt and sugar

Using fresh ingredients ensures that you are getting the most nutrients possible from your food. Canned fruits and vegetables may be just as nutritious as fresh produce but may be high in sodium and sugar. When buying canned products choose varieties with "no added salt" and fruit that is "in its own juice."

Bake or broil

A big part of traditional soul food is fried anything. By soaking your food in fatty oils, you may turn an otherwise healthy meal into a dish with incredibly high fat and cholesterol. If you can bake, broil, roast or grill your meats and vegetables, your body will thank you. If you feel like you can't give up that fried preparation, try to use canola oil. It's low in saturated fats, high in the healthy fats and still tastes just as good.

Less meat, more veggies

This one is self-explanatory, but when you do cook with meats, try using leaner cuts and varieties. Be sure to remove the skin on chicken or turkey before eating. This will eliminate lots of fat and cholesterol that your body doesn't need.

Find healthier recipes

There's nothing wrong with eating what you love, especially in moderation and with minor substitutions. Check out the ABC News Web site for a few healthier alternatives in cooking soul food favorites.

Italian food

Make good choices

Italian food has many healthy options, and when cooking this cuisine or ordering in an Italian restaurant, healthy choices can make a huge difference. Look for items on the menu with red sauces or piccata, which have no cream in the ingredients. Lightly sautéed and grilled are two other good options for a healthy, yet fulfilling, meal.

Control your carbs

Italian cooking is infamous for delicious pastas and breads. Of course, everyone is allowed to indulge every once in awhile, but controlling your intake of these carbohydrates can also help control your waist size and improve your health. Try to limit your portion size of bread and pasta. If you order a pasta dish, eat slowly and make sure you stop eating when you're full. Even better, share an order of pasta or ask for a doggie bag early in the meal.

Go light on the cheese

Cheese can be one of the best parts of a good Italian meal, but over-indulging can make an otherwise healthy choice extremely high in calories. Try to avoid eating too much. Just a sprinkle of parmesan can add great flavor!

Asian food

Steam it

Rather than ordering or making a deep-fried meal, go for the steamed options. Many restaurants specializing in Asian food have a healthier section on their menus, which may be worth ordering from. You may surprise yourself and find a new favorite dish.

Avoid MSG

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a flavor enhancer that is often used in Asian cooking. Although its safety is controversial, FDA studies have shown that it may cause short-term negative health reactions. MSG contains excitotoxins, which can aggravate or precipitate many neurological disorders in some people. As a precaution, it may be a good idea to ask for "no MSG" when eating at restaurants with Asian food, especially Chinese. For more information on MSG, check out the Mayo Clinic's Web site.

Don't be afraid to ask

Ask for more nutritious brown rice instead of white rice, or ask for your sauce on the side. This may not make a big difference in your food's flavor, but will make a big difference in how healthy it is for you. When dining out, most restaurants are happy to accommodate minor changes. When shopping for food to cook at home, choose brown rice over white.

Hispanic food

Light on the cheese

Hispanic food, especially Mexican, is similar to Italian food because it tastes great with cheese loaded on top. Avoiding the extra cheesy dishes will help control your fat consumption.

Indulge on salsa

That's right, there's finally a suggestion on this list that uses the word indulge! By indulging on salsa, you're avoiding the extra-fattening sour cream and guacamole toppings. When eating out, if you're prone to eating basket upon basket of those fried tortilla chips with salsa before your meal even arrives, the smart choice would be to ask not to have them even placed on your table. At home, eat salsa with carrot sticks as a pre-meal appetizer or use salsa as a sauce on meats, fish and pasta.

For more on this topic, visit the Family Education Web site or the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's Web site.