Winter, the run in to Christmas, no beach holiday for the next 6 months at least, all of the above mean that having the figure of your dreams can be postponed for a while and the darkened evenings, exhausting post work shopping trips and better telly naturally lead the mind of the thinking person to the takeaway. But even though no strangers are going to have to see your body for a while, that’s no reason to leave your desire to eat healthily on the counter with the wildly ambitious tip dish. Takeaway food usually does away with considerations like low fat and salt, preferring instead to give us the deliciously unhealthy version of Chinese or Indian that always tastes so much better than the way we cook it ourselves. But with a few simple guidelines it’s possible to get yourself a healthy meal at any of the high streets takeaway staples.
For Cod’s Sake
The traditional British takeout, first things first, have you seen how large a large portion of chips is? Enormous. If there are two or more of you eating then split a large portion between you, and if at the end of the meal there are chips left, don’t feel you have to eat them. Chip shops, like all takeaways, have a habit of giving you loads of food because to give you just enough would make the portions seem smaller, necessitating a lower cost which would make running a takeaway economically unviable. Avoid trusting the server to take your health into account when adding salt and vinegar, do it yourself when you get home, and while your there dump the chips on to some absorbent kitchen roll to soak up the excess fat. For the other part of your dish, remember that batter is evil and can provide a recommended monthly allowance of fat, remove it from the fish/sausage/mars bar before eating.
Pizza the action
Go for a deep pan rather than a thin and crispy base. The thicker base will fill you up more and contains both fibre and carbohydrate. As with chips, buy to share, having a whole pizza to yourself is third circle of hell stuff, and don’t try and use that half pizza to justify adding chicken wings, garlic bread and other add-ons to your order which can be even more fat saturated. So we’ve got a nice deep pan pizza to share, as for toppings, again steer clear of the saturated fats contained in such toppings as pepperoni, bacon and particularly cheese. Instead go for peppers, onions, anchovies, mushrooms, pineapple, olives and sweetcorn.
The Lucky Burger
The delicious fries that are the natural accompaniment to your burger are in fact strips of saturated fat grafted on to strands of potato, do your very best to avoid ordering them. Burgers are better grilled than fried, which should help you establish which of the major chains we consider to be healthier, try and order burgers without cheese as burger bar cheese is often even worse for you than real cheese. Steer clear of milkshakes, which are a life threatening combination of sugar-laden syrup and whole milk, go instead for the diet soft drink or even an orange juice. Fish and chicken burgers will usually come fried in batter and are no healthier than a standard burger, the same goes for chicken pieces. Also go for a burger without mayo, the mass production methods employed by the major chains should ensure that you also then get a freshly cooked burger rather than one that has been sitting out and the
mayonnaise served with burgers is always high in fat, ask for a free portion of one of the other dipping sauces, preferably mustard or ketchup.
The UK's favourite food can also be one of it’s most unhealthy but tread carefully and you’ll curry favour with your body (ouch). As with Chinese, boiled rice is much healthy than either fried or pilau and once there’s loads of curry on it the taste difference is negligible. Chapatis are not only the more traditional Indian way of eating curry, they are also much more effective for scooping and far healthier than naan bread which tends to be brushed with ghee before being served. Tikka and Tandoori dishes are cooked in the tandoor after being marinated in spices and yoghurt, much healthier than ghee laden alternatives, but avoid the ubiquitous chicken tikka massala, not only is the dish as authentically Indian as the pyramids, it also combines ghee and cream to devastating effect. Korma and Biryani are also dishes to be avoided, the former because of the high cream content and the latter because it is invariably doused in oil. The advantage of having an Indian is that there are a vast range of delicious side dishes that are entirely vegetarian, so why not take one main course to share and then a couple of side orders like saag bhajee, bombay potato or a mixed veg curry.
Go traditional and eat with chopsticks, initially this will may mean you hardly eat anything at all but as your technique improves it should contribute to a psychological feeling of satisfaction before shovelling with a fork would. A grudging respect at client meals and work outings may also ensue. Chinese sauces are fairly low in fat, although they can have a high salt content, black and yellow bean, plum and hoisin are all good, but soy sauce is the best option healthwise. Lower fat protein choices like chicken, shrimps or tofu are considerably better than beef or duck provided they haven’t been deep fried. You should also be careful of the snack size starters, prawn crackers, spring rolls, sesame toast and crispy duck are all deep fried and spectacularly unhealthy.
The King and Thai
Thai food can be very healthy as long as you avoid dishes that employ the commonly found coconut milk. Clear soups made with lemongrass and coriander are excellent. For main courses look for a fish dish which is usually grilled with garlic but avoid dishes that are heavy on nuts and here again the deep fried starter trap needs to be dodged. The heavy reliance on fruit in desserts and drinks mean that they are also good options to fill you up.
Less the takeaway choice than the walk home choice, the kebab shop has become a national institution of late night salvation and stomach churning urban legend. There’s often little of nutritional merit on offer, from the enormous elephant’s leg on a skewer to the week old cabbage, it ‘s more a case of damage limitation. However a wise head will go for a chicken special kebab, grilled marinated chicken on a skewer with a little salad. Served in pitta or a naan bread this won’t leave you feeling guilty in the morning. If you’re in any doubt, may we recommend the Chicken Special Donner, widely available at the many excellent kebab shops in the Rusholme area of Manchester.
*All of the headers in this article are names of genuine takeaway vendors in the England (and one in Dublin)