One of the greatest things about living in a multicultural environment is that we are so blessed for choice when it comes to eating the cuisines of the world. It is not uncommon to eat a traditional American breakfast in the morning, Japanese for lunch and Italian for dinner. While this variety and choice is delightful, there can be dietary pitfalls when dining out or ordering at restaurants. Yes, the pasta dish may be amazing at your local Italian place, or the tempura battered sushi roll may be your favourite, but dining out is about making smart choices, along with enjoying your food.
This week, I am focusing on Indian restaurants and providing some tips on how to choose healthy options when ordering there. Indian food is delicious, however it can quickly escalate into a carb frenzy if informed decisions are not made. Here are the best things to order:
You will never find yourself at an Indian restaurant that doesn’t serve lentils. Lentils, while high in complex carbohydrates, are also high in soluble fibre and very low in calories. As long as you avoid the type of Dahl made with heavy cream, you are generally safe with the knowledge that you are making a healthy choice.
Chaana Masala (chickpea stew)
This is another healthy (vegetarian) option that is a staple on Indian menus. Also carb heavy though so watch what else you eat with this dish.
Tandoori oven specialties
In Indian cooking, meats and seafood are often cooked in the tandoor. A tandoor is a very hot oven, traditionally lit with a charcoal or wood fire. Meats are marinated with delicious Indian spices and yoghurt. This is a good option, as the cream-heavy dressings aren’t present here and the meat/seafood is wonderfully tender and fragrant. Pair with a vegetarian side for a very healthy meal.
Don’t get confused with chicken tikka masala (the creamier version) here. Chicken tikka is pieces of chicken marinated in spices then cooked on skewers. This is a great option for a main course when paired with a vegetable dish as a side.
What to avoid
If you can, try to avoid the Naan bread. Naan is actually a Western invention – traditional Indian meals feature Roti, which is a flatbread made from whole wheat flour and is therefore much healthier than Naan bread. Doubly avoid cheesy Naan (not even Indian!), as this will add a calorie bomb to your dinner. All Indian restaurants offer Roti, so choose this option instead and watch your portions, as this bread is easy to overeat. Many Indian meals are made using heavy cream too - think Butter Chicken - so be careful with this.
Other things to avoid are anything you know to be deep-fried – think samosas and pakoras. Go easy on the rice too – many Indian dishes are naturally high in carbohydrates (chickpeas and lentils) so when partnering rice with the Roti and these vegetables already make an Indian meal very carb-rich.
On the upside, as the Indian culture is primarily vegetarian, there are often a vast array of healthy vegetarian options on the menu – think spiced cauliflower, spinach dishes or okra. As always, when in doubt about a dish or how it is prepared and cooked, be sure to ask your server and then you will know for sure what you are ordering.