10 Ways to Eat Healthy at Indian Restaurants

Indian Curry Dishes
Indian chicken marsala, saag aloo and rice (Image: Joe Gough/iStock/Getty Images)

Marked by its use of spices such as turmeric, coriander and ginger, Indian cuisine can be sweet or spicy and rich or light, depending on your preferences. Like other ethnic cuisines, Indian food can be heavy on the calories if you don’t order wisely. Learn more about the basics of this cuisine to pick an Indian restaurant dish that won’t destroy your diet.

Skip the Appetizers

Indian Lamb Samosas
Samosa filled with spicy lamb and vegetable mixture (Image: JoeGough/iStock/Getty Images)

From deep-fried samosas to rich paneer, many Indian appetizers are high in fat and carbohydrates. To save your appetite -- and the calories -- for the meal ahead, skip these unhealthy appetizers. If you must get a starter, stick with a light lentil soup.

Look for Turmeric

traditional indian puppet dolls of jaisalmer,rajasthan india
Traditional Indian Biryani made with turmeric (Image: yuliang11/iStock/Getty Images)

Eating healthy isn’t all about fat and calories but also maximizing nutrients. Turmeric, which provides the yellow coloring of many Indian dishes, might have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, according to the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Health Medicine. More research is needed to confirm these effects, however.

Choose Tandoori Items

Tandoori Chicken on Naan
Tandoori chicken legs on naan bread (Image: Paul Brighton/iStock/Getty Images)

Tandoori items are made in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. Because of the method of cooking, the dishes tend to be lean. Look for tandoori chicken or shrimp for a low-calorie, low-fat entree.

Be Wise About Bread

Naan Bread
Naan bread in basket (Image: atosan/iStock/Getty Images)

An Indian meal might seem incomplete without naan, but it’s also a source of empty calories. Instead, order a side of roti, a whole-wheat bread, if you feel that you must have a side of bread at all.

Stick with Lentils and Chickpeas

Indian Chicken Curry with Lentils
Chicken dansak curry with lentils (dahl) (Image: JoeGough/iStock/Getty Images)

Indian food is friendly to vegetarians, as it has many legume-based dishes. Dishes such as dal are made with lentils and low in oil and butter. Chole is made with chickpeas. Both are high in fiber and protein to keep you satisfied long after you're done eating.

Avoid High-Fat Dishes

Palak Paneer
Paneer mixed with cooked spinach (Image: Paul_Brighton/iStock/Getty Images)

If a menu descriptor uses the words "paneer," "ghee" or "malai," stay far away. Paneers are high-fat cheese, while ghee is clarified butter and malai is cream. None of them is a healthy option for your Indian meal.

Cool Down Your Curry

Tomatoes Raita
Indian yogurt dip, Raita (Image: Eva Gruendemann/iStock/Getty Images)

If a dish is just too spicy for you, it's tempting to cool your mouth down with a high-calorie beverage. A healthier way to neutralize the spice, however, is to ask for a spoonful of low-fat yogurt and stir it into the offending dish.

Watch the Rice

two bowls of rice
Two bowls of basmati rice (Image: Noam Armonn/Hemera/Getty Images)

Each cup of basmati rice contains more than 200 calories, making it easy to pile on the calories without even realizing it. Stick to one serving to leave space for more of the main dish.

Choose Lighter Proteins

prawn curry in dish
Prawns in curry sauce (Image: neiljlangan/iStock/Getty Images)

If you're not interested in the vegetarian options, Indian menus offer a wide array of meat-based dishes. Though you're less likely to see beef on an Indian menu, there are typically plenty of lamb options. The American Heart Association recommends picking a chicken or seafood dish, however.

If You Don't Know, Ask

Servers at ethnic restaurants are used to diners being unfamiliar with the cuisine, so they're available to answer questions for you. If you don't know what a word means, ask before ordering or risk ending up with a high-calorie, high-fat entree.

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