Digestive-Friendly Ethnic Eats

The next time you're heading out for date night, or dinner with friends and family, choose one of these good-for-you cuisines.

Here, we've highlighted the healthy qualities of four popular ethnic cuisines. One catch: "Even the healthy foods characteristic of these cuisines can become problems when eaten in excess," says Lisa Schnepp, RD, Major Health Partners in Shelbyville, Indiana, affiliated with Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology. "Even if weight is not an issue, large amounts of food at one time are usually not "gut-friendly."


The best foods: Beans, nuts, vegetables, yogurt, fish, and healthy fats. "Fiber is found in all types of beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables," says Schnepp. "Yogurt with live, active cultures is a good source of probiotics that can help to preserve healthy bacteria in the gut."

The best cooking technique: Foods are cooked with little added fat, using heart-healthy olive oil when necessary.

The best herbs: Oregano and rosemary are high in antioxidants. In addition, oregano has historically been used to aid in digestion.

Avoid this dish: Falafels and gyros (the Greek version of fast food) or anything deep fried or with heavy sauces tend to be high in calories.

Adopt this lifestyle tip: The Greek eat what's called meze, or small plates. In addition, they serve up smaller portions of meats and larger portions of fruits and vegetables.


The best foods: Vegetables, fruits, rice.

The best cooking technique: Steamed and grilled to retain flavor and nutrients in food.

The best spice: Ginger is known to aid digestion and lemongrass is said to quiet an upset stomach.

Avoid this dish: Entrées filled with noodles instead of fiber-rich fruits and veggies. Also, dishes with coconut milk are high in saturated fat.

Adopt this lifestyle tip: Enjoy a cup of Tom Yum Soup. Researchers are studying the health benefits of the broth-based starter, from its immune-boosting powers to inhibiting cancerous tumor growth.


The best foods: Vegetables, fatty fish, and seaweed, soy. Antioxidant-rich vegetables are a staple in this cuisine; as is seaweed, which is high in iodine (for thyroid health) and may have anti-cancer properties.

The best cooking technique: Lightly steamed or stir-fried vegetables help retain their nutrients.

The best herbs: Wasabi, or Japanese horseradish, contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects.

Avoid this dish: Anything fried. Also know that too much white rice may lead to constipation due to lack of fiber. Pickled foods and soy sauce in Japanese meals have high sodium content.

Adopt this lifestyle tip: Like other ethnic cuisines, this diet relies on fresh foods that are appealing to the eye and nose. The Japanese tend to "eat with their eyes," says Schnepp. The result? People tend to eat slower, which can aid digestion.


The best foods: Yogurt, lentils, vegetables, nuts. The probiotics in yogurt help maintain healthy gut bacteria. The fiber in veggies and legumes helps reduce heart disease and stabilize blood sugar.

The best cooking technique: While using a tandoor clay oven may not be an option for you, a hot grill can help you serve Indian-inspired meats with a tandoori spice rub. The dishes are low in fat and full of flavor.

The best spice: Turmeric, a key ingredient in curry, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Avoid this dish: Fried foods and cream-based curry sauces.

Adopt this lifestyle tip: Make meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients.




Lisa Schnepp, RD, Major Health Partners in Shelbyville, Indiana, affiliated with Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fairwinds Press). ©2007 Jonny Bowden.