Curry and Weight Loss

A bowl of rich, spicy curry makes for a satisfying meal, but if you're trying to lose weight, it might not fit into your diet plan. On the one hand, curry is often chock-full of vegetables, which help fill you up so you're less prone to snacking before your next meal. It's also a source of a compound called curcumin, which some research has linked to weight loss. However, curries often call for fatty meats and rich sauces that can derail your diet. Whether curry will align with your weight-loss plan depends on how you make it.

A dish of curry with prawns on a bed of rice in a bowl.
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Typical Curry Ingredients

The variations on curry recipes are endless -- from Malaysian beef curry to fish tikka curry to potato and cauliflower curry. However, a typical curry recipe includes oil, coconut milk, vegetables, spices and some type of protein -- either beans, lentils, chicken, beef or fish. Some curry recipes call for the addition of nuts, yogurt, tamarind paste, sugar, honey and other ingredients that all affect how many calories your bowl of curry will contain.

Calories in Curry

Since it's the balance of calories you expend versus those you take in on a regular basis that makes the difference between whether you'll lose, gain or maintain your weight, it's important to know how many calories are in the curry you're eating. For example, one serving of Jamie Oliver's chicken tikka masala contains 415 calories, while a serving of his pukka yellow curry contains 622 calories.

Rules for Weight Loss

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn through daily activities and exercise. Whether eating curry will help you lose weight depends on your individual calorie intake goals and factors including your height, age and activity level. A moderately active women attempting to lose weight might follow a 1,500-calorie meal plan, including three square meals of about 450 calories each and one 150-calorie snack each day. In that example, having a serving of curry that provides 415 calories will fit into her plan just fine; however, the serving of curry that provides 622 calories will likely put her over her daily calorie goal, unless she cuts calories from her other meals during the day.

Curcumin and Weight Loss

Turmeric, one of the spices in curry powder, contains the active compound curcumin, which may be of special interest to those looking to lose weight. Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service conducted a study in 2009 looking at how curcumin affected body composition of laboratory rats fed different types of diets. Rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with curcumin gained less fat and body weight than rats fed the same high-fat diet without curcumin supplementation. A review published in the January-February 2013 issue of "Biofactors" also confirmed curcumin's weight-loss properties, stating that curcumin reduces obesity and its adverse health effects.

Portion Size and Lighter Options

The potential effects of curcumin aside, it's still important to stick to a single serving size when you're trying to control your weight. When eating out, the portion on the table in front of you may be well more than a serving size. Eat half and box up the rest for another meal. When cooking curry at home, look for lighter recipes and make substitutions to lower the calorie content of your recipes. A serving of Cooking Light's vegetable and chickpea curry contains only 276 calories. A simple substitution to lower the calorie content is using light coconut milk instead of regular, or substituting nonfat yogurt for coconut milk. Choose lean meat and fish instead of fattier cuts in your recipes.

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