By: Karen Yontz Center Staff
Summer brings out some of the best things in life—warm weather, long sun-filled days, and summer festivals. Arguably one of the best parts about living in the Milwaukee area is that our summer festival season is jam-packed with music, art, and diverse ethnic culture. And one of the best things to do at our multitude of festivals is to enjoy all of the amazing food—especially at the various ethnic fests. It can be easy to go overboard when you see fresh croissants stuffed with ham and cheese or a flaky slab of apple strudel, but it doesn't have to be that way! Here is your guide to some of the heart-healthiest foods you can find at some of the most popular ethnic festivals around.
Let's start with one of the easiest: Italian cuisine. While Italian food can be indulgent (did someone say Fettucini Alfredo?), it is also one of the cuisines made even more popular by the Mediterranean Diet. So, what do you do when the siren song of cheese and pasta is calling? Start by looking out for those heart-healthy Mediterranean ingredients: olive oil, vegetables, tomatoes, and beans. Get yourself a bowl of minestrone soup and you have a meal that's packed with not only flavor, but with filling vegetables and beans. If you simply MUST have pasta, go for pasta primavera which is chock-full of vegetables and typically a protein like chicken or shrimp. And you don't have to forgo dessert. Italians have perfected sorbet—the frozen, fruity dish contains just a little over half of the calories of gelato, but almost none of the fat.
The German community is strong here in Wisconsin and it's reflected in our state's culture; we aren't known for our beer and cheese for no reason, folks! What you might not know is that the German diet is typically structured in such a way that breakfast is the largest meal of the day, followed by a lighter lunch, and a very light dinner. This type of meal structure is thought to improve metabolic function. That doesn't mean, however, that you can go crazy on the sausage, cheese, and bread. Fill up instead on sauerkraut or red cabbage which improve your gut health. Choose a slice of whole grain rye pumpernickel bread to go alongside your rote linsensuppe for a high-fiber lunch that can help decrease heart disease and regulate blood pressure (thank you, carrots and red lentils!). Take a pass on the strudel for dessert and instead opt for unsweetened applesauce (apples are a staple of German cuisine) with a sprinkle of cinnamon, which may help control your blood sugar.
How many times have you heard that France is one of the healthiest countries in the world? How is that possible with the pastries and rich sauces and the rivers of butter? Well, we sometimes overlook the healthier choices in French cuisine. Grab a plate of ratatouille and you will get pretty much your entire daily recommended dose of vegetables in one meal, including eggplant, zucchini, squash and tomatoes. This can help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you're wanting something a little cooler and with some crunch, opt for a salade niçoise which has tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, and olives. This salad is jam-packed with omega-3 fats for a heart-healthy lunch. And don't forget a favorite French dessert—the fruit and cheese plate. Just make sure there is more fruit than cheese.
If you find yourself curious about more heart-healthy ethnic cuisine, visit The Karen Yontz Center's lending library. It's full of cookbooks and recipes to have you whipping up a healthy feast in any language.