Middle Eastern fare has become a favorite when dining out, as many menu items are vegetarian. Two top choices are hummus, a chickpea dip, and baba ghanouj, an eggplant dish cooked with olive oil and garlic. Both can be healthful, as long as you pay attention to portion size, says registered dietitian Karen Collins, a consultant for the American Institute for Cancer Research. 

“Although they are meatless, they are excellent reminders that meatless dishes are not always low in fat or calories,” she says. “Both of these dishes are made with tahini [sesame seed paste], which is as high in fat as peanut butter. Although the good news is that little of the fat is saturated, it means hummus and baba ghanouj are concentrated in calories. 

“Olive oil and sesame seeds may also be included in these dishes, adding more fat,” Collins continues. “The calories aren’t significant if you use just a tablespoon for dipping, but hummus may contain about 12 grams of fat and 200 calories in a half-cup. Calorie and fat content of baba ghanouj vary widely, but a half-cup can contain 100 to more than 400 calories and 8 to 50 grams of fat.” 

You can, however, make lower-fat versions of both dishes by reducing the amounts of tahini and olive oil, Collins says. This will allow you to eat a larger portion without packing on the calories. 

I’ll feature several low-fat, perfect-for-summer Middle Eastern recipes this week. Tune in tomorrow for a tasty Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. 

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