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 Indian cuisine to pick a restaurant dish that won’t destroy your diet.
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Skip the Appetizers
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
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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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.