7 types of world foods to avoid
Travel broadens the mind, but it can also broaden the waistline. Whether it's on holiday or at your local restaurant or takeaway, we explain how to avoid the pitfalls and enjoy the best bits of other cuisines without taking on the worst.
1. Not so perfect pastries
Savoury or sweet, every country has some type of pastry offering. The Danes as well as the Cornish have even given their names to their specialities. Pastry is high in fat and therefore calories and if it’s made with fats like butter, lard, suet, or pork fat which is traditionally used to make South American empanadas, then it will also be high in saturated fat. Even the healthier types of pastries can come with a hefty calorie content when prepared traditionally.
While filo pastry can be a lighter choice, it’s often layered with oil or butter, while traditional foods like samosas that are often filled with vegetables are deep fried. So enjoy the originals, but if you’re replicating them at home, try using healthier cooking methods to reduce the saturated fat and keep the portion size small.
2. Deep fried delights
Nothing is as tempting as the smell of freshly fried foods – and they are a part of every culture whether it’s tempura in Japan, pakora in India, arancini (deep fried risotto balls) in Italy or good old fish and chips in the UK.
But while a little bit can be included as part of a balanced diet and frying in vegetable oils is healthier than animal fats like lard or ghee, it’s also important to know whether the oil is changed regularly. Repeated heating and cooling of vegetable oils can lead to a build-up of trans fats which have a similar effect on our cholesterol levels to saturated fats.
3. Salty surprises
Every cuisine has a source of salt – it’s not only added directly. Sometimes it comes from ingredients that are used in traditional foods. Watch out for additions like cured meats, salted and dried fish, fish sauce, soy sauce, and cheeses like parmesan (pictured) and don’t add more at the table.
4. Fatty sauces and toppings
A dash of sauce on the side or a slice of cheese on top of your dish can seem quite innocent but these additions can all add up increasing the fat, salt, sugar and calories on your plate.
And we're not just talking about Stateside favourites like hot dogs and burgers with all the toppings, sour cream with your chilli (pictured), or "loaded" nachos. Even more elegant French sauces can be based on butter, such as hollandaise – which is served in restaurants across the world.
Ask for sauces on the side so that you can just have a little bit to get the flavour.
5. National treats
While the tasty treats are often the things that tickle our taste-buds when we first find out about new cuisines, they are often the things that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. They might be traditional foods and part of the diet, but they aren’t necessarily foods that are eaten every day. Try to get a feel for the true breadth of different dishes and flavours – the foods people eat regularly rather than just special foods eaten on high days and holidays.
6. Super sweet sweets
Sweet foods like baklava from Turkey or South Asian sweets (pictured) like gulab jamun come with lots of sugar and fat. They are delicious, but remember that the pattern and balance of meals will be different in the countries they come from than here. Have just a small taste, and balance the intense sweetness and bulk out your portion by having some fresh fruit alongside.
7. Portion distortion
While it may be polite to clear your plate of food in the UK, when it comes to eating meals in Egypt or the Philippines, for example, it isn’t always the case. A portion may be served with the intention that some will be left at the end of the meal.
There are also differences in standard portion sizes from country to country. One of the reasons why the French may fare better in the obesity stakes, despite having plenty of dishes that pack a calorific punch, is the size of their portions. In the USA, however, the increasing size of portions has long been linked to the growing issue of obesity amongst its population.