How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world

Remember that team lunch that saw seven people ordering 25 items off a menu and taking “just a bite” of every dish? Or that champagne brunch, where you ate your way through the buffet over three hours?

A 2016 study published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, US, says an average non-chain restaurant meal contains 1,205±465 kcal/meal. Now factor this in: The daily calorie requirement of an adult in urban India is about 2,200 and a single eating occasion can exceed your energy requirement for the day. “Look, it is the hospitality industry, not a hospital. It IS about creating food that will tantalise your taste buds,” says Mumbai-based celebrity nutritionist and author, Pooja Makhija.

But you can get around it if you make smart food choices, says our team of nutritionists. “Treat every outing as an event and experience, not just an opportunity to eat,” says Shalini Manglani Alwani, a nutritionist based out of Bengaluru. The basic rules for eating out remain fairly consistent, irrespective of the cuisine. “Drink a glass of water before you start eating, choose protein as it scores high on satiety. And control portions,” says Bengaluru-based Shona Prabhu, a dietician and founder of NutrifyMyDiet. Also, go a la carte rather than doing the buffet and look at the menu carefully.


The sauces are the biggest culprits, says Makhija, “They contain too much oil,” she says, offering a list of less-greasy options. “Dim-sums, steamed fish, maybe a plate of soft noodles with a lot of vegetables,” she says.

Don’t forget your protein (stir-fried), says Prabhu, pointing out that “Tofu or chicken (prepared dry) is ideal,” which when paired with maybe a few steamed rice rolls and vegetables, makes a complete meal.

Filling up on liquids helps too, believes Alwani. “Have some green tea and follow that up with a clear vegetable or Miso soup,” she says. Vegetables, stir-fried or tossed, noodle soups and phos are okay too, but avoid the chopsuey, fried noodles and manchurian, she adds.

How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world

South Indian

The sensible thing to do would be to order stuff that is made with less or no oil. “Idlis, a neer dosa or a sada dosa is good,” says Alwani. Also, while home-made sambar is okay, the sort available in a restaurant probably has oodles of oil, so watch your portion sizes. “I would choose a small quantity of tomato or onion chutney instead,” says Makhija. Feeling especially virtuous? Order a ragi ball or wheat dosa, staples that will give you a bigger dose of fibre, says Prabhu. And yes, if filter coffee is your poison, ask for the sugar to be served on the side.

How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world

North Indian

Decadence is usually the theme: butter, heavy cream or nuts are the base of most gravies, and the breads are usually maida. Food cooked in a tandoor is the best option, “There probably is some fat in the marinade, but it won’t be too much. And tell them to avoid adding more fat while basting,” says Makhija.

Tava or grilled vegetables aren’t a bad idea either, says Alwani. Other healthy options: palak or tomato soup without cream, plain yellow dal, phulkas or tandoori rotis. Kebabs or tikkas are alright too, says Prabhu.

How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world


The bad thing: large portions of carbs and cheese. The good thing: meals are made from scratch, and so can be customised. “Start your meal with a virgin mary or a minestrone soup that will fill you up, without adding too many calories,” says Alwani. There are usually simple salads on the menu, so you could order one of those, with the dressing on the side but, “avoid the Caesar, please,” she says. A protein-based meal, like grilled fish, piccata or cacciatore with veggies on the side, is good too, says Prabhu.

Still craving pasta? “Ask for less sauce, lots of vegetables and some boiled chicken or shrimp thrown in,” says Makhija. Even having a few slices of thin-crust pizza is alright, with “more veggies, less cheese, of course,” she adds. But avoid the tiramisu, “A cappuccino, even with a spoon of sugar, is a far better way to end the meal,” laughs Alwani.

How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world


Coffee on its own has negligible calories – less than 5 and no fat. But the other things you throw in, like the milk, cream, ice cream, caramel syrup and sugar add up, especially if you order something cold. A grande mocha frappuccino at Starbucks is around 410 calories. “Have it black or maybe do a small latte or cappuccino,” says Alwani. Feeling peckish? A sandwich is probably the best option, says Makhija. “Ask for multi-grain bread, choose mustard instead of butter or cheese, ask for lots of vegetables.” And if you really must have something cold, ask for unsweetened, watermelon juice. “You need less fruit to make this juice compared to other juices, so that means less fruit sugars,” she adds.

How to eat healthy in an unhealthy world

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 5:48:51 AM |

Next Story