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Whether dining out, ordering in, or preparing in your kitchen, Indian Food is one of the most diverse types of cuisines - not to mention uniquely spicy and delicious! Your goal when enjoying Indian food is the same as all meals - keep it balanced (25% lean proteins (lean meat, beans, low-fat dairy, soy, nuts & seeds), 25% carbs (whole grains/starchy vegetables/fruit/dairy), and 50% non-starchy vegetables. 

Here are some tips on how to enjoy the depths of flavor in Indian Food, while staying on track with your healthy eating: 

FOR STARTERS 

As for appetizers, the majority of appetizers are traditionally fried. Look for ones that are boiled, steamed, pressure-cooked, sautéed or broiled. And you can certainly try any of these methods when cooking at home! 

-If you have a favorite, less healthy app, be sure to share with the table or save it for a special occasion.

Most Indian restaurants will offer a tossed green salad on the menu.

-Choosing a tossed salad can help you fill up on nutrients, for less calories and fat than the fried offerings.

-Remember to choose a vinaigrette-type dressing versus a creamy dressing.  

-Ask for the dressing to be served on the side - this can help you control the portion size.

Be choosy with the soup.

Coconut milk is frequently used to make soups creamy.  Coconut milk is tasty, yet high in calories and fat. Choose a broth-based soup, or share your favorite creamy offering. 

When cooking at home, a reduced-fat coconut milk is a healthy substitute.

Also keep in mind when dining out, most soups are high in sodium. 

FOR THE MAIN DISH

Go for leaner protein options, like chicken or seafood.

Chicken and shrimp are common entrées served in Indian restaurants and are healthier choices than the popular beef and lamb dishes.

Again, sharing is always an option for having bites of favorites, without going overboard!

Same as the apps - go for choices that are boiled, grilled, steamed, pressure-cooked, sautéed or broiled, avoiding or sharing the fried dishes.

-Tandoori style means that the meat has been oven-grilled or oven-cooked instead of fried.  Having grilled meat versus fried is always the healthier choice!  You can also order a tikka dish if you want to enjoy some extra flavor and spices.

-Always feel free to ask for healthy substitutions or cooking methods.

-Always ask your server how a food is prepared if you are not familiar.  

-You can request that your food be prepared in a vegetable-based curry instead of coconut milk.

-Popular fried items often include samosas and pakora.

Go easy on the rice.

Many Indian dishes are served with rice - lots of rice.  Rice is completely fine in moderation; however, the portion size served in restaurants is typically multiple servings. Use your fist as a guide to measure your appropriate portion size. 

FOR AFTER THE MEAL

Keep the 3-bite rule in mind!

Indian desserts are sweet and appealing, and often high in calories and fat. 

-Go with the 3-bite rule: This rule allows you to get maximum enjoyment from the high calorie foods you love without feeling overly full or regretful about overindulging.  Enjoy 3 bites! Savor the taste of your favorite dessert, within reason – three bites. 

-You could also try a chai tea made with skim milk to enjoy a little sweetness.

Keys to Success: Remember that every restaurant meal cannot be an excuse to eat and drink to excess, just because excess is available. Approach the meal with your health goals top of mind and choose accordingly. Plan ahead for special occasion or holiday meals. Use the 80-20 Rule: 80 percent of the time, make the best choices you can. Twenty percent of the time, enjoy something extra, in moderation.

 

Common Indian Foods

Samosa – This is a fried or baked dish with a savory filling.  Opt for baked over fried for a healthier appetizer.

Chutney – This is a spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables with spices and sugar.  Use sparingly as chutneys can be high in added sugar.

Raita – This is a common condiment made with yogurt together with raw or cooked vegetables.  Use sparingly as the yogurt is likely high in fat.

Naan – This is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread.  If you are choosing to have rice with your entrée, skip the naan.  If you are skipping the rice, enjoy a small piece of naan.

Saag Paneer – Saag is a greens-based dish that is typically consumed with naan or rice.  Paneer is an unaged, non-melting cheese.  Put together, saag paneer is a combination of leafy greens and paneer.  This is sometimes called Palak Paneer, too.  Saag alone is full of green leafy vegetables and spices.  Choose saag as a side dish for your fill of vegetables and avoid eating with naan or rice.

Tandoori Chicken – This is a dish of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and roasted in a tandoor, which is a clay oven.  This is a healthy entrée option at an Indian restaurant.

Chana Masala – This literally means “mix-spiced small-chickpeas.”  Chana Masala typically includes onion, tomatoes, coriander seed, garlic, chilies, ginger, dried mango powder, crushed pomegranate seed and garam masala.  This would be a great choice as a vegetarian entrée, just be sure to skip the naan and rice!

Chicken Korma – Korma is a way of preparing meat or vegetables by braising with yogurt or cream, water or stock and spices to create a thick sauce.  Chicken is a lean meat; however, korma can be high in fat given the yogurt and cream-based sauce.

Dahi Puri – This is a common snack within Indian cuisine.  However, this is not a snack to choose frequently, as it's more of a treat.  Dahi means curd or yogurt while puri is a deep-fried bread.  Therefore, this dish is typically high in fat and calories and should be limited.

Gulab Jamun – These are a dessert option and should be consumed in moderation or split amongst the table.  These are similar to fritters as they are deep-fried.  Milk solids are combined with flour to create dough that is then deep-fried and soaked in sugary syrup.  These are certainly indulgent and should be treated as such!

Kheer – This is a dessert dish that is similar to rice pudding.  Kheer is made by boiling rice, wheat, tapioca or vermicelli with milk and sugar.  Again, this is a dessert option and is best split amongst the table.

Mango Lassi – Lassi is a blend of yogurt, water and spices.  Mango Lassi is just one variation of this popular drink.  This beverage should be treated as a dessert given the yogurt is likely full-fat and thus high in calories.

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