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Healthier takeaway choices

Last Updated: 13 January 2019








Healthier takeaway choices

Lacking the time, energy or inclination to cook we often rely on the takeaway. Food to go is a 21st-century lifestyle regular and, ordered wisely, can contribute to healthy eating – the doner kebab, on the other hand, is never a healthy choice.

For busy (and who isn’t these days) people, takeaway meals have become an intrinsic part of daily eating habits a new survey shows. VoucherCodes polled 2,000 adults and revealed last month that the average Brit spends £110 a month on fast-food takeaways (12 per month) with Londoners forking out more than double the national average – just over £221 – buying 25 takeaway meals per person per month. More important than adding up the financial cost of convenience, however, we owe it to ourselves to limit the cost that poor takeaway choices can have on our health.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most avid fast food consumers are twenty-five to thirty-four year-olds, almost half of whom say that they rely on takeaways because they have no time or no inclination to cook at home – and there we have it: it’s a sentiment many of us can empathise with.

The 21st-century fact is that takeaway meals do save us time and effort – and, for those who gain little or no pleasure from cooking, it’s an undeniably attractive alternative. Food ‘to go’ is here to stay and the takeaway can contribute to a nutritionally healthy, balanced diet provided we follow a few simple rules: steer clear of notoriously high-calorie, high-saturated fat, high-salt options; make it a habit to add an order of salad or vegetables and aim to buy from outlets using fresh, good quality ingredients.

The VoucherCodes survey disclosed that we now favour Chinese and Indian takeaways over traditional British fish and chips. The nation’s top five to-go are:

1st – Chinese 25%
2nd – Indian 23%
3rd – Fish and Chips 22%
4th – Pizza 14%
5th equal – Southern Fried Chicken 4% and Kebab 4%

A 2008 report in Which? magazine assessed a Chinese takeaway of sweet and sour chicken, egg fried rice and vegetable spring rolls to contain 1,436 calories and 60g of fat; an Indian takeaway of chicken tikka masala, pilau rice and a plain naan contains around 1,338 calories and 55g of fat. Excessive calorie, fat and salt intake are major risk factors for unhealthy weight gain, heart disease and other diet-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Department of Health guidelines recommend that, per day, men should have no more than 2,500 calories (women 2,000) and 30g saturated fat (women 20g) and that both sexes should have no more than 6g of salt.


The dos and don’ts for healthier takeaway meals

Some takeaway foods can invite more trouble than others, so wise menu choices can help protect health and wellbeing. Here, we point up the dos and don’ts for healthier ordering at the nation’s top five takeaway choices.



Do order As a general rule, says NHS Choices: ‘Steamed dishes are the best option, but stir-fries are fine because they’re usually lower in fat and include vegetables.’

For starters, go for steamed dumplings or soup – most soups contain around only 3g total fat per serving. Healthier mains include beef in oyster sauce, chicken chop suey and prawns in black bean sauce which come in at around 350 to 450 calories and 10 to 15g of fat per portion.

Rice? Choose boiled. A portion of egg fried rice contains around 625 calories and 32g of fat; boiled has just 370 calories and 1g of fat.

Don’t order If it’s in batter or described on the menu as ‘crispy’ it’s going to be deep fried and fat-laden. So, starters such as prawn crackers (400 calories and 30g of fat per bag) and spring rolls are out, and so is sesame prawn toast – 70 calories and 7g of fat per slice, ouch!



Do order To reduce the amount of fat, choose ‘dry’ tandoori-cooked dishes or those in tomato-based sauces (e.g. chicken madras). Chicken-, prawn- and vegetable-based curries will be lower in calories than those based on beef or lamb. Fill up with extra vegetable and lentil (dhal) side orders. The hotter the curry the harder it is (for most of us) to overeat so, a phall, vindaloo or madras could be the answer to sensible portion control.

For a respectable 1,240 calories and 33g total fat you could order a chicken tikka starter, beef madras with basmati rice and half a chapatti. In grim contrast, order two vegetable samosas, two poppadums with pickles, a chicken korma, pilau rice and half a naan and you’ll clock up 2,200 calories and a screamingly high 116g fat.

Rice? A portion of pilau rice contains a massive 280 calories and 34g of fat more than a portion of boiled.

Don’t order Skip kormas, masalas and anything else in a creamy sauce plus everything deep fried such as onion bhajis (190 calories, 16g of fat), vegetable samosas (110 calories, 6g of fat) and poppadums 65 calories and 5g of fat.

Naans are off the list (455 calories, 12g fat per bread); much better to order a chapatti which has around one quarter of the calories and less than 1g of fat.


Fish and chips

Do order Small portions are the way to go: a small portion of battered cod and chips contains 685 calories and 38g of fat while a large portion wallops us with 1,385 calories and 77g of fat. Order cod or haddock, which are lower in calories and fat than plaice or rock; a small battered haddock, for example, contains 280 calories while rock comes in at 445.

Ideally, choose fish in bread crumbs because this coating soaks up far less fat than batter does. Cut calories and fat by not eating all the batter around the fish and remember, the thicker the chip the less fat it absorbs so, skip thin-cut fries.

Raise the fibre factor with a side order of baked beans or mushy peas.

Order a small battered haddock with chips and mushy peas and you’ll consume around 770 calories and 39g fat – not bad at all. A large battered rock with chips, gravy and two slices of bread and butter contains 1,920 calories and 115g fat – oh dear.

Don’t order Added salt – if you must have salt, use the least possible and add it yourself so you can keep it in check. Don’t be tempted to eat soggy batter or chips, it may mean the cooking oil wasn’t hot enough; fish and chips cooked at the right temperature taste better and absorb less fat.

Tempted by the chippie’s other high-fat wares, such as pies and those jumbo sausages? Don’t be. And resist adding even more calories with extras such as curry sauce, gravy and white bread and butter.



Do order Tailor-make your pizza for healthier nutritional content. The size, type of base and toppings determine any pizza’s calorie and fat content. Order the small, thin (Romana) based version and lower-fat toppings, such as fish, shellfish and chicken plus extra vegetables and/or pineapple (to boost your five-a-day), and spice up the flavour with chilli, pepper or garlic.

Don’t order Skip fatty pepperoni, salami, spicy sausage and bacon toppings and ask for half the usual amount of cheese – all of these will pile on the calories and saturated fat.

Side orders of garlic bread, wedges and stuffed potato skins, also, drive up the calorie count and fat content. A four-piece portion of garlic bread contains around 400 calories and 17g of fat – order a side salad instead.

Two slices of garlic bread with cheese and half a large Stuffed Crust Meat Feast pizza typically contains 2,040 calories and 91g fat, but tuck in to half a medium Hawaiian pizza with a dressed side salad and the count falls to a mere 765 calories and 25g total fat.


Southern fried chicken

Do order The key here is to keep the portions small and order a salad on the side. Two average pieces of Southern fried (marinated chicken on the bone, fried in seasoned flour) will deliver somewhere between 450 and 930 calories and around 28 to 32g of total fat (around 3g of which is saturated fat).

Don’t order Go easy on the chips and steer clear of skinny fries. Mayonnaise and other creamy dips add calories and fat, so opt instead for yogurt or a chilli dip. Ask what the chicken pieces have been marinated in – brine will drive up the salt content and there is often lots of salt in the seasoning so best not to shake on any more.



Do order Shish kebab – whole cuts of meat or fish on a skewer and usually grilled – with pita bread and salad. A grilled chicken kebab with onions and salad comes in at a pleasing 155 calories and 1.7g of saturated fat.

Don’t order That large, greasy lump of lamb revolving slowly on the spit is a great big NO. A large donor kebab can contain up to 2,000 calories, more than 62g of fat (29g of which is saturated fat) and almost 6g of salt (which amounts to 98 per cent of our RDA) – and that’s before dolloping on the mayo. Don’t go there!



Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000, 6535- Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Detailed Expenditure Items, 1998-99, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mf/6535.0/
2. http://fitness-revolution.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Your-healthy-guide-to-takeaway-food.pdf

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