Gumbo, fried shrimp and catfish are staples here in southwest Louisiana...and we sure are proud of our delicious food. While Louisiana is known for spice and flavor, Cajun food is not the healthiest. In the third part of the "Eat this, not that" series, find out where you can cut calories even when chowing down on your Cajun favorites.
"It's really hard because we're accustomed to the food tasting really good and not really looking at the fat content," said Samantha Rider, Registered Dietician and Assistant DIrector of Patient Services at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital. As a Louisiana native, Rider knows all too well the lure of a steaming pot of chicken and sausage gumbo, but "sausage is really high in fat," said Rider.
Roux, the base of any gumbo made with oil or butter and flour, is charred for that dark brown color. If its between a seafood gumbo or chicken and sausage, seafood will save a few grams of fat because it is leaner.
Fried shrimp will certainly making your stomach growl, but dipping shrimp in batter and oil adds extra fat and calories to the seafood. If you want to lighten up that shrimp po-boy, Rider suggests ordering boiled or grilled shrimp instead and watch the toppings.
"What you can't see when you're just looking at this here [a shrimp po-boy] is that it has mayo on it which is an additional 10 grams of fat," explained Rider.
Serving size also matters, especially for people watching their cholesterol.
"It's lean and it's low in fat...but what they usually recommend is about a 3 oz serving usually about once to twice a month because of the cholesterol in it," said Rider.
"We reach the point where we're full, but we don't want to leave it...or we feel bad to leave it ...or we feel like we're being wasteful. If you just bag it at the very beginning it's in a to go container and you're done with it," suggested Rider.
You cannot leave Cajun country without fried catfish and the fish part is not the problem.
"We tell people to try to eat fish about twice a week," said Rider. The fish provides beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, added Rider.
The batter and fried part will get you, but, she said, the healthier the oil, the better.
"You can ask what type of oil are you using," recommended Rider.
Tarter sauce on the side is great for dipping, but not for your waistline.
"Over ten grams of fat just for this little dipping sauce," added Rider.
She suggests ketchup-based cocktail sauce instead.
Even for those trying to do the right thing, ordering a salad, the dressing or toppings can pack on pounds. Full fat dressings like ranch can put you at or over the recommended 40 or 60 grams of fat a day.
"That's about 40 grams of fat for your salad," explained Rider.
The calorie count goes way up too compared to a fat free dressing.
"You're talking about 300 calories vs. if you do two of these [fat free ranch dressing] 70," said Rider.
She adds getting shrimp on the salad will keep you full because of the protein, but frying will blow the diet.