The takeaway dilemma

CHOICE compares the most popular dishes and provides healthier, cheaper alternatives.
 
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01.Our findings

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In brief

  • Takeaways can pack in plenty of kilojoules and often have too much fat and salt for healthy eating.
  • CHOICE provides plenty of alternatives that cost less.
  • Takeaway makes for a quick and easy dinner when you’re pressed for time. Even in the midst of a global economic crisis Australians have increased their reliance on this convenient, but not always cheap, option. On average, we spend 10% of our food budget on takeaways and after a lull last year this percentage is on the rise again.

Takeaways are usually a family-pleasing option and, although there’s nothing wrong with them occasionally, many contain too much salt and artery-clogging saturated fat for regular eating.

  • Chinese and Thai dishes, such as pad Thai, tend to have too much salt and some are loaded with saturated fat due to their high coconut milk content.
  • Indian food is generally less salty, creamy dishes such as butter chicken contain far too much saturated fat, not to mention flab-forming kilojoules.
  • Most pizzas are very bad for salt, fat and kilojoules, especially those with stuffed crusts or extra toppings.

You don’t have to compromise on nutrition for speed and convenience. CHOICE found plenty of foods in the local supermarket that will make a healthy dinner in less than 15 minutes – and cost less than half the price of a comparable takeaway. What’s more, you don’t need Jamie Oliver’s cooking skills to prepare them.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2009 but is still a useful guide today.


Our investigation

We examined the nutritional composition of a wide range of popular takeaway meals from local Chinese, Thai, Italian and Indian restaurants. The same meal cooked by different restaurants can vary widely in nutrient content, so we used average values from Australian food composition tables.

In the table, we’ve ranked the meals within each cuisine by energy (kilojoules) per 100g – the more energy a meal packs in, the more likely it is to expand your waistline (see Healthy Eating). We’ve also used a “traffic light” system as a guide to the nutritional quality of these meals in terms of total fat, saturated fat and salt.

Red light means the food is high in something you should try to cut down on, so it should only be eaten occasionally.

Orange light means the food isn’t high or low so it’s an OK choice – but you shouldn’t eat too much of it or too often.

Green light means the food is low in fat or sodium. The more green lights, the healthier the choice.

Our findings

Best and worst

Most takeaway meals are nutritionally very ordinary, scoring amber lights. On average, Chinese and Italian takeaways (other than pizza) are better for your waistline but not for saturated fat and salt, while Thai stands out as the unhealthiest choice overall. When it comes to individual dishes, the Healthy Choices list which dishes to choose and which to avoid.

Compare prices

On average, a takeaway dish from a local restaurant will cost about $12 (and that’s excluding the cost of delivery and the extra you’d pay for rice if it’s Chinese, Thai or Indian, or garlic bread if it’s Italian). But we found big differences in prices – a range of $9 to $16.80, for example, for a serving of Chinese beef with black bean sauce, and $9 to $11.50 for spaghetti bolognaise. You may be able to save money by looking beyond your favourite local.

Fast food chains

We compared a basic fast food meal of chicken and chips from KFC, Oporto (not available in Tasmania and WA) and Nando’s. KFC had the most kilojoules, while all three got amber lights for fat and salt. We also compared supreme, vegetarian and Hawaiian pizza from Pizza Hut and Domino’s. Although one of the cheaper options, pizza packs in more kilojoules than most other takeaways, and on average hits you with more saturated fat and salt. Pizza Hut’s Super Supreme Perfecto, for example, gives you nearly half your maximum recommended daily intake of salt in just one serve (half a pizza).

 
 

 

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