A Rocket Scientist’s Guide to Eating Healthy at a Restaurant with Ivette Rivera Aponte, NASA Engineer

Ivette is back on the podcast this week! If you missed our conversation on being a woman in STEM, you can listen to it here. This time, she and I are talking about nutrition, embracing cultural cuisine, and eating healthy at a restaurant. Ivette is Puerto Rican, and, as you know, I’m Persian-American. We bonded over our cultures, and we both love speaking about them.

So today, let’s chat about embracing different cultures through food and how to choose healthy options at new restaurants.

Why It’s Important to Embrace Cultural Cuisine

Ivette and I strongly believe that it’s important to experience new cultures with food. There are actually a lot of benefits to doing so!

  • Cultural Understanding: Food is an integral part of any culture. Trying different foods allows you to gain insights into the traditions, values, and history of a particular culture. 
  • Broadens Your Palate: Trying new foods can expand your palate and enhance your appreciation for different flavors, textures, and ingredients.
  • Social Connection: Sharing a meal with people from different cultures can be a powerful way to build connections and forge relationships. 
  • Appreciation for Diversity: Embracing diverse foods can foster an appreciation for cultural diversity.

Experiencing a different culture through food can tell you a lot about the people. It makes everyone more connected and understanding of one another.

Picking Healthy Menu Items

Now, not every traditional cultural food is good for you. There are tons of bad things in a traditional American diet, and the same is true for other cultures. So, how do you pick health options at traditional Chinese, Indian, or Mexican restaurants? Or maybe you have a dietary restriction, and you aren’t sure how to ask for menu items without certain ingredients. 

You don’t want to offend them, but you also want to experience their culture’s food without ignoring your health goals. It’s a fine line, but here are some ways you can choose healthy options anywhere you eat.

  • Look Ahead: Look at the menu ahead of time to make sure there are options you can eat. You can also tell if you can make substitutions or a custom order. Go in with a plan!
  • Portion Sizes: Know that the portions in the United States are completely exaggerated and unrealistic compared to other cultures. When you have a plan, you can go into the restaurant knowing you don’t need to order sides or an appetizer. Or maybe you’ll take half home. There will be plenty of food.
  • Avoid Fried Food: Try to avoid fried foods. See if you can get a grilled option instead.
  • Eat Before You Go: It sounds counterintuitive, but it really helps me not over-order. I tend to eat with my eyes, so everything on the menu sounds amazing. Then, I end up ordering too much. When I eat a small snack before we go, I’m more realistic about what I’m hungry for.

It’s fantastic to go to new restaurants and try the foods of different cultures. I highly encourage it! When you go out, you can still stick to your health goals. You aren’t being high maintenance. You’re asking for what you want, and it’s the restaurant’s job to accommodate (within reason!). See how you can be creating with eating healthy at a restaurant. So, what culture are you going to try next?!

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About Ivette

Ivette Rivera Aponte is an integration engineer for NASA Engineering at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She is responsible for the contractor’s technical performance and surveillance processes, systems, and efforts within the engineering organization, facilitating management strategic planning efforts, and streamlining technical communications and actions. Read her full bio here.

Watch her NASA Talk.

Follow her on Instagram.

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Laila is a Holistic Nutrition Coach and Math Tutor. She is goal driven and mission oriented and is here to support, encourage, and push you towards the results you want, ready to help people of all ages become mission-fit to explore their full potential. As someone with ADHD and dyslexia, she deeply understands the intricate challenges related to creating a new habit and sticking with it. Her online nutrition programs and online math tutoring cater to those with similar difficulties.

To learn more about Laila, or to inquire about working with her, visit www.LailaAlieh.com.

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