For busy (and who isn’t these days) people, takeaway meals have become an intrinsic part of daily eating habits a new survey shows. The average Australian family spends about 15% of their food budget on fast food or takeaway foods. 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.
A 2008 UK 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. The Department of health guidelines recommend that per day a man should have no more than 2,400 calorie (1,800 for women) and less than 24g of saturated fat and not more than 2.3g a day.
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 our 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, 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.
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 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.
Do order The key here is to keep the portions small and order a salad on the side. Two average pieces of KFC 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 your RDA) – and that’s before dolloping on the mayo. Don’t go there!
Written by Ruth Tongue