Choosing healthy options among Baltimore's ethnic restaurants
Italian is a popular cuisine among Americans. However, making the wrong food choices can lead you to make more than a day's worth of calories in one meal. When choosing pasta, picking the right sauce is important.

What to choose: Minestrone soup; half orders of pasta (marinara, marsala, non-creamy primavera, wine sauce); chicken cacciatore; chicken or veal piccatta/scaloppini; grilled calamari; thin-crust pizza with fresh vegetables; shrimp, fish, chicken or veal and wine sauce; skim milk cappuccino.

What to limit: Fried calamari/mozzarella; sausage/meatball subs; calzones/pizza with sausage and pepperoni; ravioli with meat or cheese; cannelloni and baked ziti; fettuccine alfredo and pasta carbonara; shrimp scampi; chicken, veal or eggplant parmigiana; cannoli, spumoni and tartufo.

Mexican

While people enjoy hot and spicy food offered at Mexican restaurants, many of the ingredients common to typical Mexican dishes, such as cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips and guacamole add additional calories with less substantial nutritional value. Choose grilled chicken and fish entrees, rice, beans and add salsa as your main condiment rather than sour cream or cheese sauce. If you are tempted by the tortilla basket, ask your server to take it off the table so you don't consume your entire meals' worth of calories from chips.

What to choose: Gazpacho; chicken, beef, shrimp fajitas; soft chicken taco (hold sour cream and cheese); camarones de hacha (shrimp sautéed in tomato coriander sauce); ceviche (fish cooked in lemon/lime juice); zrroz con pollo (rice with chicken breast); cheeseless burritos; frijoles a la charra (pinto beans); grilled chicken breast or fish entrees.

What to limit: Tortilla chips with guacamole; carnitas (fried beef); chorizo (sausage); refried beans; beef and cheese enchiladas; frozen margaritas and pina coladas; sopapillas (fried dough with sugar); chimichangas; nachos with cheese.

Japanese

Staples in Japanese cuisine include rice, soy-based foods, vegetables and small amounts of chicken in fish. While many of the sauces and marinades, such soy and teriyaki, may contain high levels of sodium, Japanese cooking is generally prepared with minimal amount of oil.

What to choose: Edamame; hijiki (cooked seaweed); sashimi (raw fish served with wasabi and dipping sauces); miso soup (soybean-paste soup with tofu and scallions); fish and vegetable sushi (not fried or with creamy dipping sauces); chicken, beef or fish teriyaki; yakitori (skewers of chicken); oshitashi (boiled spinach with soy sauce); yosenabe (seafood and veggies in broth); steamed brown rice and vegetables.

What to limit: Shrimp tempura; vegetable tempura; eel and avocado rolls; fried bean curd; tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet); fried dumplings; yo kan (sweet bean cake); chawan mushi (chicken and shrimp in egg custard); oyako domburi (chicken omelet over rice).

You do not have to avoid all your favorite ethnic dishes forever. If you are splurging on a French eclair, split it with a friend or take half of it home to eat later. Also, you can opt for appetizer portions of your favorite pasta or ravioli. When enjoying one of the higher fat and calorie ethic treats, make sure that you eat a healthy and balanced diet full of whole grains, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables for your other meals. Experiment with traditional ethnic foods at restaurant, and create healthier versions in your own home by replacing unhealthy for healthier oils or choosing leaner cuts of meats. Baltimore offers a wide range of different ethnic restaurants where you can still make healthy food choices that won't hurt your waistline.