While reaching for the takeaway menu can be a healthy-eating no-no, there are options to make your treat a more nutritionally balanced one – if you choose wisely
It’s the weekend, you’ve had a long, hard week at work and the thought of putting your feet up and ordering food in, rather than slaving over the stove again, is just too tempting.
But after a season of festive indulgence, you’ve promised yourself you’ll be good. Which means your favourite takeaway is out, right?
Well, happily, that’s not necessarily the case.
We all know that many takeaways can be laden with artery-clogging saturated fats, far too much salt and enough calories to send our daily recommended allowances skyrocketing into orbit. But, if you choose carefully, you can still enjoy a tasty treat – without the guilt.
A common misconception is that all fat in foods is bad for us, some fat is essential for survival and 25%-35% of calories in our diet should come from fat. However, we should limit the amount of saturated fat in our diet as this is what clogs up our arteries and is found in more processed foods, meats and dairy products. Try choosing low-fat dairy products and leaner cuts of meats such as chicken as these contain less saturated fats. We should also focus on healthier fats which are found in things like olive, peanut and sunflower oil, soybeans, salmon, avocados, and olives.
Fish and chips:
When it comes to takeaway options, a top nutritionally-balanced treat is that Friday night favourite – fish and chips.
White fish, such as the cod and haddock chip-shop staples, is packed with protein and low in fat and calories – it’s the batter coating which tips it over into nutritionally dodgy territory. Look out for breadcrumbed fish instead of batter as the breadcrumbs will absorb less oil during cooking, or simply leave some of the batter behind – especially any soggy bits which will be oil-laden.
A portion of mushy peas will count towards your five-a-day, while thicker-cut chips are healthier than thin ones as these will also absorb less oil.
Chip shops tend to go heavy on the salt, so make sure you ask for your meal without salt and then add your own if needed, or leave it out totally if you can.
Go for: fish in breadcrumbs or less batter, thick cut chips, mushy peas
Cut down on: sausages, pies, excess added salt
Clarified butter and creamy sauces are the major health pitfalls of Indian cuisine, piling on the saturated fats and calories. But never fear; there are usually plenty of diet-friendly options on the menu.
Tandoori dishes are one of the healthiest ways to enjoy a takeaway treat as the meat or seafood is grilled rather than fried, which means it packs a flavour punch without the excess calories or fats.
When it comes to curries, the ones to avoid are the cream-laden masalas and kormas – try a tomato-based or dry curry instead, and go for a bit more spice to satisfy the taste buds.
Indian cuisine offers a fantastic array of vegetable-based side dishes, so opt for these instead of deep fried onion bhajis, pakoras and samosas, and choose plain steamed rice over buttery pilau. If you must have bread, a wholemeal chapati or roti is a much healthier option than a heavy naan bread.
Go for: tandoori grills, plain rice, vegetable-based curries and side dishes, tomato-based sauces
Cut down on: creamy sauces, naan breads, deep-fried bhajis and samosas
As much as Western palates love the deep-fried treats and gloopy, salt-heavy sauces, these are least healthy options when it comes to Chinese food. Sticking to the more traditional steamed or stir-fried dishes can help to curb calorie intake, and again, there are plenty of options which are heavy on the vegetables to help towards your five-a-day intake.
Battered dishes are another health no-go, so avoid things like sweet and sour pork or chicken balls, and anything marked as ‘crispy’ which means it will be coated in batter.
Go for: boiled or steamed rice, plain noodles, vegetable stir-fry, steamed dumplings
Cut down on: deep-fried starters such as spring rolls, wantons and prawn toast, sticky sauces like sweet and sour, egg-fried rice, anything in batter
Kebabs, pizzas and burgers:
While doner kebabs are certainly high in fat, kebabs made using grilled chunks of lean meat or vegetables are a much healthier option. Pile on the salad, too, for an extra nutritional boost.
Thin-crust pizzas will help to cut calories, as will avoiding processed meat toppings such as pepperoni and bacon in favour of vegetables, lean chicken and seafood. Extra cheese, sadly, is a no-go.
When it comes to burgers, grilled chicken breast is the best choice; and again, add on some extra salad.
Go for: grilled meat or vegetable kebabs with pitta bread and salad, thin-crust pizzas, chicken breast burgers
Cut down on: doner meat, deep-pan pizzas, extra cheese
And one last thing to remember is that moderation is key – so it’s still fine to enjoy the occasional takeaway as part of a healthy, balanced diet.