Vhi Nutrition Support, David Gillick, helps you to choose wisely in order to make the most of your takeaway/treat night. Further tips and advice from David can be accessed by downloading the Vhi WMM 2015 App
A key element of eating healthily for me is to allow myself an occasional treat and if you’ve been following the 2015 Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon meal planner you’ll see that I suggest including a treat night / takeaway. I enjoy eating out and treating myself once a week, but like most people, can overdo it and then feel guilty and unhappy.
I get asked a lot about which takeaway is best and to be honest there isn't one in particular that stands out a clear winner. The key areas to look at are the dish you are ordering, what are the ingredients and following some of my top tips for making the right decisions when you do decide to order in.
Remember the Balanced Dish
The first rule of ordering takeaway is that you should always try to stick to the same principle as you would with a home cooked dish, which is to aim for balance.
Always include protein in a dish and, if it’s a meat dish, aim for those that are grilled, barbequed, tandoori, baked or roasted as these are lower in butter and oils which are typically used in pan fried or deep fried dishes. For a simple guide to analysing the menu, any dish with the words crunchy, crispy and sticky in the descriptions tend to be deep fried and are best avoided if you are looking for a healthier option. If you are ordering a pizza, choose better quality meats such as chicken breast over processed toppings such as ham and pepperoni.
When we think about eating out or ordering in, it’s very important to also look at the carbohydrate side of the dish. Generally speaking, low-quality, white, starchy carbs come in seriously large quantities. Where possible, cut back on the carbohydrates such as rice, bread, noodles and chips and perhaps order one portion to share between two people rather than one per person.
Asking for a half portion of rice or potato or even better substituting for a side salad will not only increase the nutritional value, but the fact that the chips are not on the plate will force you not to eat them. Also, don’t be tricked by the latest craze – sweet potato fries. Of course sweet potatoes are healthy, but not when they’re deep fried.
A good way to make the most of your side dish and increase the nutritional value of your meal is to substitute the starchy carbohydrates for extra vegetables. Vegetables contain good carbohydrates and fibre, which along with organic sources of protein source will satisfy your hunger.
What lies beneath?
But what about the hidden aspect of your meal i.e. the ingredients that aren’t listed specifically? Well one tip is to always ask if spelt, wholegrain or gluten free pasta is an option when ordering Italian and likewise see if there is an alternative to the generic noodle or rice side offered. Better quality carbohydrates fill you up but have the advantage of being easier to digest and not triggering that bloated feeling so many of us get after eating a takeaway.
Butter, oil and fats in general are now proven to be essential in a healthy diet and that’s why I make sure that my diet includes a moderate amount of good fats including things like cheese, butter, olives, nuts and coconut. However, it is very likely that a number of these items are combined to make curries, sauces and dressings in many takeaway dishes.
A good option is to aim for tomato or yogurt based sauces. If you can, ask to have the sauce served on the side so that you can control the amount you consume and therefore help control the calories you take in. Sauces in certain white pasta dishes in particular tend to include a lot of oil, butter and cream and as a result are very high in calories.
Salt is also an issue in takeaway food, so it’s one to be aware of and certainly try not to add salt to the dish. I’m all for seasoning but I try to stick to pepper and where possible and aim for dishes that have a lot of spices and herbs. Ginger, garlic and turmeric are some example of fantastic herbs that not only provide great taste but have a host of health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties which help fight infections such as cold, flu and also reduce stress.
The customised takeaway!
The key thing is not to be afraid to ask if you can alter a dish. Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate you - you’re the customer and doesn’t that mean you’re always right?
Finally, below are some examples of the better options available for each of my favourite type of takeaways:
Cashew Chicken (Gai Pad Mamuang Him Ma Pahn): Cashew nuts are proven to be good for your heart, blood and bones and provide an excellent addition of protein and healthy fats to your meal. This tasty dish is a favourite of mine as it fills me up with protein due to the nuts and chicken and I therefore haven’t as much of a reliance on the bowl of rice.
Moo Goo Gai Pan (lightly-sautéed vegetables, button mushrooms, spices and chicken): This vegetable stir fry puts vegetables as a centre piece to your dish, allowing you to fill up on tasty greens and chicken and again reducing the reliance on your carbohydrate-heavy side dish. As I said, this is where most mistakes are made when enjoying a takeaway treat.
Madras curry, plain rice and popadums: The spiciness of this dish is the real kicker – in every sense! Dishes like Madras curry contain ginger and chili, two ingredients that are potent anti-inflammatories and can help reduce joint pain and swelling. Just remember that with this dish, the hidden nutrients are the high salt of the popadums and these should be avoided by anyone with high cholesterol.
Thin, gluten free or wholemeal base and crust topped with seafood, plenty of vegetables and of course cheese: If you can avoid the high-carbohydrate pizza crusts and focus on organic toppings, pizza suddenly becomes a meal you can enjoy on a regular basis. Use a thin, wholemeal base and think of your toppings as your Balanced Dish!