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A Heart-Healthy Eating Adventure

Eating well for your heart health doesn’t need to be bland. Enjoy all sorts of ethnic cuisine styles with these tips from a Johns Hopkins nutritionist.

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Ethnic Cooking at Home

It’s fun to experiment with international cooking right in your own kitchen. Try looking at different types of ethnic cookbooks, suggests Johns Hopkins nutritionist Joshua Nachman, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N. One favorite of his: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which explores the Jewish, Muslim and Christian foods of these famous chefs’ home cities.

You hear the phrase “Mediterranean diet” a lot when doctors talk about heart-healthy eating. And with good reason: Its hallmarks—healthy fats and plant foods—have been shown to be very beneficial to heart health. But there’s a wide world of other international choices out there that share these nutrition principles.

Mixing up the types of foods you eat can make your diet more interesting and help you stick longer and more easily to these life-changing principles, says Johns Hopkins nutritionist Joshua Nachman, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N.

Try some of these tasty, good-for-you choices that favorite ethnic cuisines have to offer.

Mexican

A staple of Mexican cooking is the tortilla. Start by choosing organic corn tortillas over wheat for more minerals and fewer carbs. It’s also a smart choice for many people who may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, Nachman says. “It’s an easy switch.”

Choose fish, chicken or vegetable-based dishes. Black beans are a great source of protein; pick them over refried beans.

For a topper, try a little guacamole. Avocado is a heart-healthy fat, and cilantro (a common spice in guacamole and other Mexican dishes) is surprisingly full of antioxidants, Nachman says.

Indian

The abundance of vegetarian options makes it easy for heart-conscious diners to go out for Indian food. The warming spices they feature, such as turmeric and garam masala, are also anti-inflammatory, which is great for the heart.

Among the Indian dishes Nachman suggests:

  • Lentil dal. Lentils are a good source of protein.
  • Chickpea vindaloo. Beef vindaloo is more common, but chickpea is just as tasty and is better for you, he says.
  • Chana masala (made of chickpeas) and bhindi (okra)
  • Rajma. It features kidney beans in a thick sauce.
  • Curries, of course. In addition to their classic spices, such as turmeric, you can find plenty of vegetarian curries made with coconut milk.

Japanese

Fish dishes—a hallmark of the Japanese diet—are an excellent source of important omega-3 fatty acids for your heart. But be aware that Japanese foods can have a lot of sauce. “It’s best to ask for sauce on the side if you can,” Nachman suggests. Also choose brown rice over white for more heart-healthy fiber.

“If the debate is whether to have sushi or sashimi, choose sushi, which tends to be wrapped in seaweed, which is high in iodine, a substance the Western diet often lacks,” Nachman says. Iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function—which controls your metabolism and affects your energy levels—and it offers nutrients that benefit your whole body. Miso soup also features seaweed.

Ethiopian/Moroccan/North African

What these cuisines have in common is a lot of vegetable tagines, a type of stew named after the earthenware pot in which its cooked. “Ethiopian restaurants are a great place to take kids because they get to eat with their hands,” Nachman notes. The food is eaten with a flatbread made of teff flour, which is thought to help with blood-sugar management, rather than with utensils.

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