Good Food Away From Home

As a “mompreneur” and a homeschooling mother of 5, I keep pretty busy. This, however, doesn’t temper my zeal for finding delicious and exciting meals to cook for my family. I’ve always loved cooking and baking almost as much as I love eating the finished products. I enjoy making sure my family has home cooked meals nearly every day. However, even the most enthusiastic cooks, myself included, enjoy dining out from time to time. In order for my family and me to have the best experience, it is vital that both halal and healthy options are available on the menu. Since I know there are many Muslims who strive to eat only the best foods as well, following are a few pointers on what you can do to insure that you have the best possible meal at a Muslim establishment.

Is this meat zabihah?

I am very strict when it comes to eating halal. Nothing can ruin my dining experience more than finding out that the restaurant owner misunderstands what it means to serve halal meat. I am a big consumer rights advocate, and believe that there should be truth in advertising. What you pay your hard earned money for is what you should get. To make sure the restaurant and you are on the same page vis a vis the definition of halal, look for a Halal Certification posted inside. The form should be easily visible in the window, or somewhere else in the restaurant. This certification says that the meat served has been Islamically slaughtered. To further insure you’re getting truly halal meat, ask if ALL the meat sold is zabihah. More than a couple of times I have experienced a restaurant that claims to be halal, yet also serves non-zabihah meat. Adding insult to injury, they do not inform the customers which meat is zabihah and which is not! In order to save time and gas, I recommend calling and finding out beforehand. Remember, halal simply means that the meat comes from an animal that is permissible to eat (unlike pork). Zabihah means that a halal animal was killed by Islamic standards. I recognize that there are many Muslims who believe that it is good enough if the meat is not pork and/or is not cooked with alcohol. They consider it halal and legal to eat. If this is not your belief, make sure the meat is zabihah.

Hold the MSG, Please!

Monosodium Glutamate, more commonly known as MSG, is used in many restaurants as a flavor enhancer. Chinese restaurants use it most often but it can be found in other types of food establishments as well. Some people experience “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” when eating foods with MSG. The symptoms include: numbness, a burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, weakness, and for asthmatics, difficulty breathing. People who are allergic to MSG may have more serious reactions, such as a drop in heart rate or an extreme rise or fall in blood pressure, swelling, nausea/vomiting, stomach cramps, joint pain, depression, tightness of the chest, and more. Ask if a restaurant seasons their food with MSG. You can request your food not be.

Pass the Veggies!

Without a doubt, the best part of going to a halal restaurant is getting to “the murder,” as brothers Sameer and Aman Ali stated in one episode of “Sameer’s Eats.” However, don’t forget your earth food! There are many tasty vegetable dishes that can accompany the meat portion. In fact, combining protein and veggies is one of the healthiest ways to eat. Our Pakistani, Afghani, Lebanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, African and African American, etc. brothers and sisters know how to work those spices to make normally bland plants zing with flavor. But that’s not all: Vegetables are full of antioxidants that help fight harmful free radicals that can damage cells and cause cancer. Vegetables also add fiber to the diet, which is beneficial to the heart. They help us with the elimination process, and aid in weight loss and maintenance. Adding raw vegetables, fresh yogurt dressing and dip, chutney, mint, parsley and fruits with or after dinner helps digest the food, and prevents gas, heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach.

Easy on the Carbs

By now, most Americans have heard of the bevy of low carbohydrate diets that have swept the nation. Is there any truth to the healthful benefits these strict carb reduction diets claim? I believe there definitely are. Unless you are a very active, athletic person, you need to eat carbohydrates in moderation, especially the highly processed ‘white‘ breads and rice. Carbohydrates are mainly responsible for fueling us with the energy that we need to move. If we eat too little we feel too tired to make it through the day. Too much, and the excess of that energy turns into fat. Also, eating too many carbohydrates can put a strain on the pancreas causing it to secrete more insulin in an effort to rid the body of the excess sugar (carbs are broken down to sugar). If the pancreas is stressed for too long one can develop insulin resistance and diabetes. Unfortunately, diabetes is at epidemic levels and is a serious, life shortening illness. You can prevent diabetes solely by what and how much you choose to eat. You don’t have to subscribe to any of the low-carb diets in order to cut back. Just do it. Eat half the rice, only one slice of bread. If you know you’re going to eat dessert, pass up the bread. If you’re going to have potatoes, take the baklava home for a snack the next day. Even better, eat a variety of vegetables instead of rice, bread and potatoes. Allah says: “O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He whom ye worship” (2:172). Eating the good things--halal and healthy food--is easy to do both at home and outside of the home. It’s all about making conscientious choices. This article originally appeared at Sameer's Eats

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