.The takeaway message
Eating food prepared by others has become a habit for Australians – we each eat takeaway an average of 2.5 times a week for dinner. As a result, we’re adding more salt, sugar and saturated fat to our diet than we should and may easily exceed the 8700kJ energy-per-day guideline for an average Australian adult.
The good news is that whether you love Chinese, Indian or Thai, you don’t have to sacrifice health for convenience. There are better dishes in most cuisines, says accredited practising dietitian Dr Kellie Bilinski – it’s just a matter of knowing what to choose.
In this report you will find information on:
Top 10 tips for a healthier takeaway
- Stick to the right ratio - 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25% carbohydrates make for a balanced meal.
- Avoid cream-based and coconut-based sauces. Tomato is a better option.
- If you get an all-protein dish like a chicken stir fry or Mongolian lamb, also order an all-vegetable dish.
- Ask for less salt and sugar to be used in your meal.
- Ask your local takeaway what type of oil they use in their cooking. Avoid takeaways that use oils high in saturated fat, such as coconut or palm oil, and stick with those that use vegetable oils such as sunflower or canola.
- Avoid battered food.
- Don't overdo the carbohydrates - a takeaway container of rice is likely to contain far more than you should eat. Stick with one cup of cooked rice per meal.
- Choose brown rice where possible.
- Steamed or grilled dishes are a better choice than fried.
- Control your portions. You can have too much of a good thing.
Pitfalls of takeaway food
One pitfall of takeaway food is that it’s difficult to know exactly what ingredients and cooking methods have been used. There’s far less saturated fat in a stir-fry that’s been cooked in a vegetable oil such as canola or sunflower, for example, than in an oil that has very high saturated fat such as coconut.
Bilinski recommends asking your takeaway haunts about their cooking methods and choosing those that are healthier. You can also always ask for sauces and dressings on the side, and for less salt and sugar in your meals.
What to avoid
Dr Kellie Bilinski says that, as a general rule, when looking to eat out healthily it’s important to avoid battered and fried foods, as well as curries or soups that are creamy or contain coconut milk or cream. Also look out for all-protein dishes (if you want Mongolian lamb for example, balance it with a mixed vegetable dish). She suggests opting for fresh salads, fresh rice paper rolls, steamed fish dishes and stir-fries with lots of vegetables.
And make sure you don’t undo your good menu choices with too many carbohydrates. “People generally eat too much rice,” says Bilinski. “Just have one cup rather than the three or four you get to a serve, because it’s quite an energy-dense food. If you can get brown rice, definitely go for that. And avoid the fried rice, as it is high in [energy] and fat.”
While there are better and worse options available in Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines, Bilinski believes Thai has the widest selection of healthier meals. However, she warns against eating takeout too often, as doing so makes it very difficult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
“When you’re cooking at home, you have more control over what goes into your food – and it tends to be less processed,” she says. “It’s all about being prepared. Lean fish and meat doesn’t take long to grill or steam at home. People resort to takeaway when they’re not prepared.”
The right ratio
Bilinski says that when it comes to takeaway, skewed ratios of the food on our plates is a big problem. “You should base your meals on vegetables. When you look at a plate, you should have half of it covered in vegetables or salads, one-quarter with protein such as meat or fish, and one-quarter with carbohydrate such as rice or pasta. This balance is very difficult to achieve if one relies on takeaway foods.
“That said, if someone’s diet is based on plenty of wholegrain breads, cereals, fresh veggies and fruit, a takeaway here and there is fine.”
*SOURCE: Ipsos Australia.
**SOURCE: CommBank Signals, with data calculated through the collection and analysis of CommBank transactional data from 2009-12 combined with CommBank research findings.