Many Britons eat at least one main meal a week from a fast food outlet, and the choices you make can have an important bearing on your health. An investigation by consumer magazine Which? found that a 300g portion of takeaway pepperoni pizza can contain more than two-thirds of the recommended daily allowance of salt for an adult and more than a whole day’s worth of saturated fat, while a Chinese meal contained more than 19 teaspoons of sugar.
The Food Standards Agency says it is confident that a voluntary partnership with the catering industry will eventually result in widespread calorie labelling on menus in the majority of British food outlets, helping people to make healthier choices when eating out (or ordering in). In the meantime, the following tips may help:
Try to choose pizzas with a thin crust, a variety of colourful, nutrient-rich vegetable toppings and steer clear of high fat meat toppings such as bacon and salami. Many pizza chains now offer ‘lighter’ pizza options (with less pizza and added salad) which is a good way or keeping track of your calorie intake. Steer clear of side dishes like garlic bread, chicken wings or dippers, wedges and stuffed potato skins as these push up the calorie and fat content considerably.
If you fancy a heavier starter or a dessert, opt for a salad as a main to reduce the overall calorie count. Make sure it contains a form of lean protein such as chicken. Protein is a blood sugar stabiliser, meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer (on less calories than a pizza). Always ask for the dressing on the side so you can control the portion size.
Try to avoid anything battered or marked as “crispy” on the menu, as this means it’s been deep fried. If you’re likely to have a high calorie main, skip the crispy seaweed, spring rolls and prawn crackers and opt for vegetable dishes, dumplings or steamed soups.
Main dishes such as szechuan prawns and stir fried mixed vegetables with tofu are flavoursome and nutritious but relatively low in calories. Try to choose dishes with spices that also contain healthy properties, such as turmeric and ginger (both great digestive aids) or chilli (which may help boost metabolism in high does). Fried rice has around 50% more calories than plain so always order plain boiled rice and try to share it with someone else. Rice is very easy to overeat but a serving size should ideally be no larger than the size of your fist.
Indian food offers a great selection of richly flavoured vegetable dishes so try skipping the poppadoms and filling up on a colourful side dish instead, such as brinjal bhaji (aubergine with spiced tomato) or Tarka dhal (lentils with garlic). As a general rule the more colours in a meal, the more nutrients it contains. Avoid deep-fried entrées such as samosas, bhaji and pakoras. Even though they may contain vegetables, they are high in fat.
Opt for a tomato-based sauce such as tandoori or madras (rather than fattening cream or ghee based dishes) and choose chicken or prawn (which are lower in fat than beef or lamb). Veggie curries are also a good option as they have all the kick and spice of a curry, plus they’re packed full of healthy vegetables. Choose one accompanying carbohydrate – either boiled rice or naan – rather than both (to save on calories and allow for a Cobra beer instead!).
© Sarah West Nutrition