Turkey enjoys a Mediterranean diet, which has been promoted as one the healthiest diets on Earth. Turkish cuisine shares many of the attributes of the Mediterranean diet with emphasis on: vegetables, legumes, grains, oily fish, seafood, nuts, fresh fruits and olive oil.
Turkish food is a fusion of Balkan, Greek, Jewish, Armenian, Ottoman and Central Asian cuisines. Many Turkish restaurants in the west include Greek, Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes on their menus.
Home cooked and Turkish restaurant cuisine includes a variety of chicken, lamb or beef dishes, fish and seafood that are mostly grilled or barbecued. This is a healthy way to cook meat, and there are many delightful vegetarian foods and dishes available as well. Foods are served with dips, bread and a huge variety of salads and side dishes.
The main issue when choosing healthy Turkish foods, especially when trying to restrict the amount of fat and calories, is that the food is so rich, tasty and wholesome; it is so easy to overindulge.
This article summarizes the nutritional information for about 100 Turkish dishes in a convenient table that can be sorted by calories, fat and protein content.
This makes it easy to check on various food and dishes to ensure you are meeting your health objectives.
This article also provides a detailed guide on how to make healthy, low calorie and low fat choices, when eating out at restaurants, or choosing what Turkish dishes to cook at home.
A main Turkish meal usually begins with soup and the meze, which is a delightful array of small servings of various dishes that are served hot or cold for sharing. Often included are dolma (peppers, egg plants or vine leaves stuffed with rice), cacik (taziki), Tarama salad, various types of borek (pastries) and arnavut cigeri (cubes of fried liver). A meze may be a good choice for a main meal served with dips and bread if you are on a diet, especially if its shared.
The main course is usually fish, seafood or meat – mostly lamb, usually served with rice and bread. Fish and seafood are generally are generally excellent choices
Often a salad is included as a side dish. A typical salad is çoban salatası, made from cucumber, parsley, tomato and onion with and olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Ask for the dressing to be served on the side, because you can then control the amount of oil in the salad to control the calories.
Most meat is lamb. The choice of how it is cooked and the other ingredients governs high its oil content and calories:
Most Turkish food is healthy because of five main ingredients and the use of healthy cooking methods.
Yoghurt – is a staple ingredient in Turkish cuisine and is included in many forms. Yoghurt is used in many marinades for chicken and lamb. It is also widely used to make many dips such as hummus. It is used as a dressing for salads and as a sauce for grilled vegetables or even eaten on its own as a snack. Yoghurt is also the basic ingredient for the popular beverage called Ayra, which is diluted yoghurt
Olive Oil – Olive oil is a very healthy component of Mediterranean diet due to the high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and high level of antioxidants. In Turkish cuisine olive oil is used for salad dressings, and for preparing a wide range of dips and vegetable dishes, such as dolmades.
Grilling and Barbecueing – Grilling and barbecuing meat and vegetables is a long established tradition in Turkey. Red meat, chicken and fish along with an array of fresh vegetables such as eggplant, mushrooms, corn on the cob, zucchini, asparagus spears, tomatoes and various peppers are all grilled. This is a very healthy way to eat vegetables. Grilled vegetables are generally served sprinkled with dried chilli powder and with some garlic. Grilling is a healthier cooking method than frying and choosing a mixed Turkish grill is a very healthy option.
Oily Fish and Omega 3 fats – Oily fish is high in Omega 3 fats, high in protein, and generally lower in fat and calories than meat. The predominance of fish and seafood in diets have been promoted as reasons why the Mediterranean Diet is so successful. Most fish and seafood is grilled, barbecued or baked in foil and is a very healthy choice. Fish dishes are generally served with a healthy salads.
Turkish Desserts – Some of the famous Turkish desserts such as Turkish delight, Baklava and various buttery pastries are ladened with oil and calories, but there are many healthy alternatives. There are usually a delightful array of fresh fruit desserts made with slices of rockmelon (cantaloupe), watermelon or honeydew slices, often served withTurkish apple tea. This tea is a very healthy option as its all-natural and caffeine free.
Other low fat and low calorie Turkish dessert options include:
The Turkish people love to eat! My husband and I just spent 8 days visiting this interesting country and noticed that very few individuals were obese (or even overweight). There is fast food in the cities but it tends to be buffets with lots of veggies, cheese, lamb and chicken. Some form of yogurt is often a side dish. Instead of soft drinks (which were rare to see), a favorite beverage is made of yogurt, water and salt and is sometimes served in a bowl with a ladle used as a spoon (definitely an acquired taste) and fruit juices which are plentiful. Street vendors offer fresh squeezed pomegranate or orange juice. McDonald’s and Burger King’s are rare and according to our hosts, quite expensive. They do love their sweets with lots of pastry shops offering nut and fruit based desserts and the famous Turkish delight, a gummy bear-textured candy filled with things like pistachios, coconut and cherries. I cannot figure out why those sweets don’t pile on the pounds!
When you visit someone’s home or office, you are offered Turkish coffee or tea often with fruit, nuts, or pastry. And speaking of tea, everywhere we went, we were given small glasses of tea. We met some members of Parliament and tea was offered. We went to a silk scarf shop and we were given tea while we shopped. At the famous Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, there were men walking around with trays filled with glasses of tea, luring you into their shops to look at rugs! It’s a traditional way of life for the Turkish people that has only been modernized by the additional choice of herbal options. Because it is primarily a muslim country, many people do not drink alcohol, so that may be a factor in their low obesity rates. Turkey does have a growing wine industry and it will be interesting to follow its progress and impact on the country’s cuisine.
Now that I’m back in the USA, I am going to try to eat more like the Turks (which is quite Mediterranean) and see if it makes a difference!