Healthier takeaways

Takeaways are often cheap, convenient and satisfying but, unfortunately, they're not always very healthy. 

Some takeaway meals can push you over your recommended daily maximum amount of salt and fat, which can lead to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Some takeaways and restaurants now list calories on their menus, which lets you opt for something with fewer calories.

Below are some tips on foods to avoid and healthier options when ordering your favourite takeaway.

Fish and chips

There are lots of ways of making your trip to the chippy a healthier one. Have a portion of baked beans or mushy peas with your fish and chips. Watch out for other foods that are high in fat, such as pies and sausages.

The thicker the chips the better because they absorb less fat. Try to have a smaller portion or share your chips. Ask for your fish and chips without salt – if you want some salt then add a small amount yourself.

Don't eat all the batter around your fish because it soaks up a lot of fat. If available, have fish coated in breadcrumbs as it soaks up less fat.

Fish and chips that are cooked in oil at the right temperature taste better and absorb less fat. So watch out for soggy batter and chips because this is often a sign that the oil wasn't hot enough.

  • Try to avoid: thin-cut chips, pies such as cheese and onion or steak and kidney, jumbo sausages.
  • Healthier options: fish coated in breadcrumbs, mushy peas, thicker-cut chips without salt.

Italian

If you're having pizza, choose lower-fat toppings, such as vegetables, ham, fish and prawns. You could ask for some extra veg on your pizza to bump up your daily fruit and veg portions. But if you don't want to increase the saturated fat content and number of calories in your meal, don't ask for extra cheese.

With pasta dishes, if you want a lower-fat option then go for a sauce that's based on tomatoes or vegetables rather than cream.

If you're having a starter or a dessert then you could go for a smaller main meal such as a starter-size pasta with a side salad – Italian restaurants often serve two sizes of pasta dishes.

Rather than garlic bread, which often contains a lot of butter (and is therefore high in fat), you could try bruschetta, which is a tasty ciabatta bread toasted and topped with fresh tomatoes and herbs.

  • Try to avoid: large deep-pan pizzas, pizzas with the crust stuffed with cheese, triple cheese with pepperoni pizzas, creamy pasta sauces, garlic bread.
  • Healthier options: small or medium pizza with a thin base and vegetable or lean meat topping, tomato-based pasta sauces, bruschetta.

Chinese

Anything that’s battered or marked as "crispy" on the menu means it’s deep fried. Watch out for starters such as prawn crackers and spring rolls because these are generally deep fried. Anything in batter will be high in fat. Sweet and sour pork is usually battered.

Steamed dishes are the best option, but stir-fries are fine because they're usually lower in fat and include vegetables.

  • Try to avoid: sweet and sour battered pork balls with special or egg fried rice, prawn toast, spring rolls.
  • Healthier options: crab and corn soup, steamed dumplings, steamed vegetables and plain boiled rice, steamed fish, chicken chop suey, Szechuan prawns.

Thai

Try to stick to stir-fried dishes or steamed dishes containing chicken, fish or vegetables instead of curries.

Thai curries, such as the popular green and red curries, contain coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat. If you choose a curry, try not to eat all the sauce. Have some steamed rice with your meal instead of egg fried rice.

  • Try to avoid: fried rice, fishcakes, spring rolls, prawn crackers, satay skewers with peanut sauce and sweet and sour dishes.
  • Healthier options: clear soups such as tom yum, salads, stir-fried meat, fish or vegetable dishes, steamed seafood dishes, such as fish or mussels.

Indian

Try to avoid anything that’s creamy or deep fried. To reduce the amount of fat in your meal, choose dishes with tomato-based sauces, such as tandoori and madras, plain rice or chapatti. Also choose plenty of vegetables, including lentil side dishes (known as dhal).

  • Try to avoid: any creamy curries such as korma, passanda or masala with pilau rice, naan, bhajis, pakoras and poppadoms.
  • Healthier options: tandoori or madras with chicken, prawns or vegetables, plain rice and chapatti.

Kebab and burgers

Doner kebabs can be high in fat. For a healthier option, go for a shish kebab, which is a skewer with whole cuts of meat or fish and usually grilled.

If you’re having a burger, avoid breaded or battered chicken or fish patties, extra cheese, bacon strips and high-fat sauces such as mayonnaise. Instead, go for a regular, single-patty hamburger without mayo or cheese and have with extra salad.

  • Try to avoid: large doner kebab with mayonnaise and no salad, burgers with cheese and mayonnaise, thin-cut chips, chicken or fish patties deep fried in batter.
  • Healthier options: shish kebab with pitta bread and salad, grilled burgers made from lean fish or meat (beef or whole chicken breast) and without cheese and mayonnaise.

Page last reviewed: 18/08/2013

Next review due: 18/08/2015

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Comments

The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

dananski said on 09 April 2013

Most of the advice is pretty obvious, but the first undesirable part of a takeaway mentioned - salt - is not mentioned again except to say to not add too much to your chips! No useful advice for cutting down on salt. Everyone seems so focused on calories these days.

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User363614 said on 24 December 2011

So, all the studies that indicate that it is high glycaemic foods that contribute to obesity should be ignored, because the food industry keeps lobbying authorities to maintain the status quo with regard to healthy eating guidelines?

Or you could try it for yourself; less bread, less batter (flour), less potato-see what happens...

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koopa009 said on 14 December 2011

Who cares about fat and salt, burgers: NOMNOMNOM!

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Artmike said on 05 December 2011

It is a bit disappointing that the advice is so broad it doesn't help you to really understand the evidence behind it and what is best for you in the context of what is a good diet for you or the impact you have on the environment. Equally anyone who has eaten real Asian food will know what gets served in UK often is a poor unhealthy second to the wide range of food, much very healthy, in home cooking. If only we could get that in take aways.

Too much of any fat will be high in calories but coconut milk isn't the usual meat based saturated fat, it has a different saturated fat structure and has lots of health benefits. What should I choose a jumbo sausage or a Thai curry for overall health? Would be good to know.

It is interesting that although cheese is targeted in this advice, the extent to which cream is added to so many supermarket takeaways isn't. Many people also have intolerance to milk, fortunately coconut cream is a much better alternative for many of us. It is also much more environmentally friendly than the cruel intensive milk farming that has a high carbon footprint. Need to consider the terrible impact of over fishing too.

By the way presumably we shouldn't eat the batter round fish either, can't be better for you than anything else deep fried surely. However, when did you last see breaded fish in a chippy - I never have.

Please let us know where your research evidence comes from and who funds it so we can use your advice more appropriately otherwise keep up the good work

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katdes said on 05 August 2011

To those who think 'Indians' (a vague European term to describe 20% of the worlds population) eat those sort of takeaways every day really don’t understand that most Indians eat lentils, rice, vegetables as their staple diet.
The term curry implies Indians eat curries every day but in reality curries are highly varied, in the major with no meat whatsoever.

These takeaways are more alien to Indians than to the British! Takeaways are a western marketing gimmick- don’t get me wrong i like them too but they are not Indian food as i know it.

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blue_flower said on 27 June 2011

Not sure what exactly Cushing0 meant when they said people live on that type of food...but its perfectly possible to eat Indian food that is healthy. (or chinese or any other food for that matter)

Most Indian's eat rice and curry and everyday, but because its made at home only a little oil is added and the flavour is brought out by the spices. Its possible to make curries without oil too.

Restaurants and take-aways should be for special occasions/treats only as these curries are loaded with so much oil, that sometimes looking at it puts you off.

It's not difficult to make a curry at home, just google the recipes. If the recipe calls for a lot of oil or ghee/butter only use a little olive or rapeseed oil. If it calls for coconut milk, just use normal milk. Try to replace cream with milk and perhaps add a little cornflour/tomato puree/potato or mashed potato if you need to thicken the curry.

Avoid deep-fried foods like samosas. Even some types of poppadoms can be made by putting them in the microwave for 10 seconds without any oil!

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Cushing0 said on 16 February 2009

well i don think an indian or any other takeaway is wrong every now and again, but people actually live on these types of food!

no wonder there obeise!

balanced diet is the way to do it

calorie control is the key

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sbn said on 15 February 2009

this has been really really helpful and will definitely make me feel less guilty when eating out

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