Over 40 percent of the money the average American uses to purchase food is spent at restaurants, reported "Forbes" in 2006. While convenient, restaurant meals are typically high-calorie and packed with sodium, fat and saturated fat. A diet that includes too many of these types of meals can increase your risk of heart disease. It's possible to find heart-healthy meals at restaurants featuring your favorite cuisines, according to the American Heart Association, as long as you know what to choose and what to avoid.
Make It Mediterranean
A Mediterranean diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Greek, Italian and French restaurants all serve meals based on these elements, but you'll need to avoid cream sauces, excess cheese, fat-filled meat dishes, salt-rich olives or cured fish and mounds of bread or pasta. Instead, try grilled fish and vegetables at a Greek restaurant, whole-grain vegetable pasta when you're going Italian and steamed shellfish at French restaurants.
Opt for Asian
Traditional Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Chinese food uses antioxidant-rich herbs, spices and vegetables, and seafood containing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids while using more plant-based protein sources in place of high-fat, high-cholesterol red meat. Look for steamed, grilled, roasted or stir-fried dishes with plenty of vegetables and broth-based soups. Steer clear of fried entrees or appetizers, white rice and creamy curries. The meals in Asian restaurants often include sauces high in sodium. Ask that your dish be prepared without the sauce or added salt.
Head for Hispanic
You may associate Hispanic food with limitless fried tortilla chips, lard-laced beans and high-fat cheese, but Spanish, Mexican and South American restaurants offer good choices for people trying to eat healthy. At a Spanish restaurant, go for paella -- a dish prepared from vegetables, rice and seafood -- or gazpacho, says Health.com's Annie Corapi. In a Mexican restaurant, go for grilled fish, chicken or lean beef and top your meal with fresh salsa or guacamole, not sour cream or cheese sauce. Corapi advises choosing ceviche at a South American restaurant, which is prepared with seafood, tomatoes, peppers and spices.
Don't Forget American
American cuisine is often over-looked as being heart-healthy, but it can be if you skip fried dishes, fatty cuts of meat, super-size portions and high-fat sauces, dressings or toppings for entrees or salads. Steakhouses can offer small, lean, grilled steaks paired with steamed vegetables, while family-style restaurants often feature grilled chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and low-fat soup and salad combos. At a Cajun-themed restaurant, try boiled or grilled shellfish and meat-free beans with rice instead of blackened dishes which are typically pan-fried in butter or oil.
- Forbes: How Americans Make and Spend Their Money
- National Consumers League: Eating Out Traps
- American Heart Association: Dining Out Tips by Cuisine
- Harvard Health Publications: Adopt a Mediterranean Diet Now for Better Health Later
- CNN Health: The 10 Healthiest Ethnic Cuisines
- American Cancer Society: Restaurant Eating Tips