Healthiest Takeaway Choices for Clean-Eaters
Can you still get a takeaway if you’re into clean-eating? Well that is up to you. Clean-eating, the commitment to eating less processed food, is a long-term lifestyle choice. For any lifestyle choice to be sustainable, you need to be able to make it work with your everyday life.
Not everyone likes takeaway food, but if a takeaway on a Friday evening is your particular treat, then telling yourself you can never, ever have one again is likely to induce cravings and make you feel miserable.
A much more sustainable approach is to have an occasional takeaway, and to make the healthiest takeaway choices possible. You’re unlikely to be able to keep it completely clean, but if you can accept that, then let’s discuss the best choices you can make.
A few basic rules to follow:
Be brave and question the food establishment – not everyone finds this easy, but the best way to find out what the chefs put in their food is to ask.
Avoid deep-fried menu items – deep frying is never the healthiest form of cooking, but when you’re eating clean, an additional concern is the type of oil that is used for the frying. In most takeaway restaurants, the oil is highly processed vegetable oil which is definitely not ‘clean-eating’ and contains high omega 6 levels.
Keep portion sizes in mind – a portion of rice or noodles from a takeaway is actually a huge amount of carbohydrate. Keep your meal balanced, as you would when you cook at home, with a large portion of vegetables (50%), a protein portion (25%). Your carbohydrate portion should make up the remaining 25% and should be an accompaniment rather than the main star of the meal. This is especially important if you are eating clean for weight-loss reasons.
Eat brown rice if it’s available – it often isn’t in the UK so consider cheating and using a microwave bag of brown rice to go with your meal. You will need to ask about the ingredients in the vegetable side dishes, lentil dishes can be a good choice as they offer plenty of nutritional benefits.
Tandoori or tikka marinated meats and fish can be a good option for a main course, especially if you can find a restaurant that avoids using food colourings in the marinade. Alternatively, a shish kebab – skewered meat without a marinade – is a relatively safe alternative. Both tandoori and shish kebabs are usually served with vegetables and/or salad.
Chapati, also known as Roti, is an unleavened bread made with finely ground wholemeal, wheat flour. This is a better nutritional choice than a nan bread which is made with refined wheat flour.
The first question to ask your Chinese takeaway is whether it uses monosodium glutamate (MSG) in its food. If eating food free from artificial additives is important to you, it is vital to find a restaurant that is MSG-free.
For starters, broth soups or edamame beans can be good options. For main courses, choose stir fried or steamed vegetables, meat or seafood with either no sauce, or prepared simply with garlic, ginger or chilli. Be wary of added sugar, many of the sauces are loaded with it. White rice, egg noodles and rice noodles are made with refined white flour and offer little nutritional value so choose brown rice or noodles if they are available.
Like Chinese food, Thai food can contain a lot of sugar so proceed with caution. Clear soups and chicken satay with the sauce on the side can be good options. Thai curries use a lot of coconut milk, which is a staple in a clean-eating diet, but you may want to ask the restaurant about what other ingredients have been used, particularly sugar and MSG. Thai salads can also be a good option, as well as steamed or stir-fried vegetables. For protein, opt for steamed or grilled meat and fish.
Burgers and fried chicken
Most clean-eaters want to avoid highly processed, preservative laden foods. While this is possible in many other takeaway restaurants, it is very difficult to avoid in fast-food burger and fried chicken outlets. You may be able to find a fresh salad option and have this with a burger without a bun or chicken without the breaded coating. But your choices are really very limited if you are trying to make a healthy, clean-eating choice.
Don’t be fooled by the grilled chicken options. These are the ingredients from McDonalds grilled chicken: Chicken Breast Meat, Sunflower Oil, Potato Starch, Natural Flavourings, Stabiliser (Processed Eucheuma Seaweed), Salt. As you can see, this is not simply ‘grilled chicken’.
Tortillas are made with white flour and so are not the most nutritious option. Opt instead for fajita fillings (and eat them without the tortillas), spiced meat or fish from the grill, undressed salads or burgers without the buns. Many UK Mexican takeaway restaurants also offer fresh vegetable side dishes such as corn on the cob, roasted vegetables or sweet potato fries.
Ah pizza ……. the blunt truth is, unless you can find a takeaway that makes a fresh wholemeal dough from scratch, you’re not going to find a ‘clean-eating’ takeaway pizza. If you are going to order a pizza, do so as an informed choice that you are going to eat ‘off plan’ for this meal. Thin crusts are a healthier choice than thick crusts, however beware of Domino’s thin crust as it is made using GM ingredients.
Everything in moderation
You may find that the longer you have been clean-eating, the less you enjoy your old favourite takeaway dishes. When you eat real food everyday, it can highlight the inadequacies of more processed fast food. It may not be possible to make a ‘clean-eating’ choice when ordering a takeaway, but making more informed, healthier choices will help to keep you on track, and avoid you feeling unwell and/or guilty the next day.
Main Image Credit: By Bryan Allison from Las Vegas, NV (The universal language) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons