Think of Indian food, complex and delicious notes of coriander, turmeric and ginger come to mind.
Unfortunately, many Indian restaurants also use butter and coconut milk in their cooking, which are loaded with saturated fat. And, just like most restaurants, you will also find countless tasty, albeit diet wrecking, fried foods on the menu.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with some tips to make it easy to eat healthy at an Indian restaurant. Here are some good choices to order at an Indian restaurant.
How To Eat Healthy At Indian Restaurants
1. Avoid the MMMs
( Masala, Makhani, Malai ) None of them is a healthy option for your Indian meal. To save your appetite — and the calories — for the meal ahead, skip these unhealthy picks.
–Masala is a blend of Indian spices that adds great flavour to a dish. It’s wonderful on its own but, do pay attention as some restaurants will a lot of oil to keep flavours intense OR add cream to their sauce. My advice: Ask for it done light or without.
–Makhani is a traditional meat and/or vegetable dish cooked in a tomato sauce with ghee (clarified butter) or cream. Although rich in flavour, this may not be the most waist-friendly dish. My advice: Find another tomato based-dish that uses one or none of the ghee or cream.
–Malai is a cream that is used in many Indian dishes (often sweet dishes). So, yes, this also is most likely a heavier dish. My advice: For a modification, ask for a light version or non-dairy.
2. Choose Tandoori Items
Tandoori items are made in a traditional clay or metal oven called a tandoor. Because of the method of cooking, the dishes tend to be lean. Tandoori typically comes as a chicken-, fish- or vegetable-based dish, which includes a marinade made from yoghurt and spices like garlic and ginger.
Yoghurt is also full of good-for-you probiotics to boost your gut health, while ginger and garlic add a ton of flavour without many calories.
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Don’t be shy about asking the chef to go light on the salt, spices and oil. Opt for low-fat. You can also request that your meal is prepared with coconut oil as opposed to butter or regular oil.
3. Order Roti Instead of Naan
Roti bread is the healthiest option of the assorted breads you can choose from at an Indian restaurant. Although the Indian meal might seem incomplete without naan, it’s also a source of empty calories. Instead, order a side of roti, this unleavened flatbread (meaning it is made without yeast) is made from whole-wheat flour and commonly accompanies other dishes.
One piece has more than 3 grams (g) of protein and more than 4 g of fibre. For that reason, roti is a better choice than white rice because it will help keep you full longer.
4. Stick With Dishes With Dal
“Daal” is the generic Hindi term for both raw and cooked split lentils. Lentils are rich in plant protein, fibre, and prebiotic carbohydrates. Those tiny beans are packed with protein, fibre, vitamin B6, and folate.
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Typically daal is made from cooked split lentils simmered with spices such as cumin seeds or mustard seeds, turmeric, and garam masala, and garnished with cilantro. Choose dal in tomato-based sauces over creamy ones to keep down the fat.
5. Order Chana Masala
Indians eat chana masala at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a quick snack from food stalls in the local bazaar. This dish features chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans (“chana” in Hindi). The legume is loaded with folate, iron, fibre, and vitamin B. The tomato-and-onion sauce is blended with lots of garlic, ginger, chiles, and good-for-you spices. This dish tastes great with a whole-wheat roti or steamed rice.
6. Avoid Cream Soup, Look for Lentil soup
If you are watching your sodium intake, it is best to avoid most soups. Many soups at Indian restaurants can be high in sodium.
If you’re looking to start your meal with a delicious and nutritious starter, one of your best bets is to start with lentil soup. You’ll get uniquely tasty Indian herbs and spices, plus lots of filling fibre from the lentils—without a ton of calories. Most lentil soups come in at around 150 calories. If you would like something similar, you can go for a hearty stew to fill you up faster and keep you from eating more later in the meal.
7. Skip The Dessert
Most Indian desserts are cream or milk-based. This keeps calories and fat high, unfortunately. And many Indian dishes are quite spicy! If your mouth is burning, Priyanshi suggests ordering a side of fresh seasonal fruits, or plain curd used to cool your palate. This way, you still have something a little sweetened without the calories.
Also instead of going with the fatty dessert options, try ordering jaggery based dessert, share the dish with a few people, or you can order a tea or coffee.
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8. Say Yes to Raita
Raita is a flavoured yoghurt that is very good for health. Indian food usually does not have green salads. But vegetable raita is a good enough replacement for salads. A cooling, spiced yoghurt is a must for our meals. It not only balances each bite in terms of heat but adds one more layer of amazing flavour. We typically add grated cucumber, a few pinches of roasted cumin, ground, and some salt. If not raita, ask for simple yoghurt. Use unsweetened soy yoghurt and a dash of lemon juice if you are Vegan.
9. Order your curry without butter or cream
Don’t order butter chicken the next time you eat Indian food.
Butter chicken is usually a mild dish, with boneless chicken simmered in an almost-sweet curry sauce and finished with, well, butter. The only issue is that if you order this yumminess for yourself, and even if you somehow only consume one measly cup, you are still looking at around 485 calories and 35 grams of fat — and that’s if you don’t have it over rice. Similarly, Dal makhani is high in calories and high in fat.
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10. Don’t Be Afraid to Custom Order
Servers at Indian restaurants are likely used to some diners being unfamiliar with the cuisine, so they’re available to answer questions for you. If you don’t know what a word means, ask before ordering.
You always have the option to custom order. If there is something that you’d like, but you don’t want some of the ingredients, you can request that your meal not include them.
• Opt for wholemeal flour instead of plain flour when ordering chappati
• Try to swap steamed white rice for fried rice/basmati rice
• Replace cream with low-fat yoghurt in ‘creamy’ curries
• Snack on grilled foods instead of fried foods
• Use tofu instead of full-fat paneer cheese
• Have skimmed milk/almond milk in a cup of chai instead of full-fat milk
• Have at least one item that’s green at mealtimes
Also read: 5 Healthy Indian Summer Drinks
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