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Nutrition Articles

Dining Out: Indian Cuisine

Restaurant-Specific Strategies


The menu usually features rich curries, creamy sauces, a variety of intense flavors, and many vegetarian dishes. Spices play an important role.
Common Ingredients:

Rice is a staple of many dishes. A variety of breads are also usually present at every meal. Indian cuisine often emphasizes more carbs and spices, and less protein. Legumes and vegetables are commonly used. Many dishes are prepared with butter, or are fried or sautéed.
Hidden Dangers:
  • Avoid fried appetizers like Puri (fried bread), samosa, and pakoris.
  • Traditional Indian yogurt dressings are usually made with whole milk yogurt. Try to find versions made with lower fat content.
  • Ghee, a clarified butter used for basting, adds a lot to your fat.
  • Kheer, a rice pudding made with coconut milk, raisins and nuts can have over 500 calories.
  • Muglai (creamy curry sauce)
  • Coconut milk or oil dishes
  • Fried cheese appetizers
  • Watch for these words:
    • Puri (fried bread)
    • Muglai (cream sauce)
    • Ghee (clarified butter)
    • Khopre (coconut oil)
  • Pork Vindaloo Curry: 620 calories
  • Rogan Josh: 500 calories, 30g fat
  • Lamb Pilaf: 520 calories, 35g fat
  • Alu Gosht Kari: 600 calories

Healthy Finds:
  • Dals (lentil dishes) are packed with antioxidants and vegetable proteins, and are good sources of fiber.
  • Rice-based dishes, called Pilafs or Biryanis, provide complex carbs and tons of flavor.
  • Vegetarian curries are among the most popular curry dishes and some of the most nutritious.
  • One 7-inch piece of Roti (baked whole-wheat bread) has just 60 caloriess and 1gram of fat.
  • Dhakla, a popular Dal, has 111 caloriess and 5 grams of fat.
  • Basmati Rice with veggies
  • Mulligatawny Soup
  • Look for these words:
    • Dals (lentils)
    • Biryanis or Pilaf (rice-based dish)
    • Pulka, Naan, Chapati, or Roti (bread)
    • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Naan (Indian yeast bread): 79 calories and 2g fat
  • 1 large Pappadom: 50 calories and 3g fat
  • Tandoori Chicken: 260 calories, 13g fat
  • Murgh Tikka: 300 calories, 4g fat
  • Chicken Tikka: 260 calories
  • Dhansak: 105 calories

The Big Tip:

Indian food is meant to be eaten in a group and cannot be served without a combination, making it the perfect cuisine to share. Ask your friends to come along—the more people to share with, the better!
Substitution Ideas:

 Try This Skip That
Modak (steamed dumpling) Kheer (rice pudding)
Vegetable-based curry Cream-based curry
Chicken or seafood Beef or lamb
Papadum (crispy lentil wafers) Samosas (fried veggie turnover)
Ghobi Matar Tamatar  Pakora

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Member Comments

  • Another thing to watch out for is portion size! Many restaurants serve you a portion that is 2-3 times larger than it should be.
  • Lots of information here, but what's with the "low fat", "avoid ghee" mantra? That's outdated info. Full fat dairy is way healthier.
  • Chana masala, dal soup, garlic naan, fresh salad with the lemon wedges are my favorites when I go out for this type of food. The restaurant I go to is more than happy to supply fresh veggies on the side, such as red onion, tomato wedges and fresh herbs.
  • There's also this really tasty spinach and cheese.
  • Agreeing with many comments here.
    THIS JUST IN: fat is a necessary nutrient!
    If anyone remembers the low fat "foods" of the 90s (Snackwells, anyone?), we were constantly hungry...
    I find this article very interesting. Being half Indian and having gone to this country numerous times to visit family, I find that not everything is true in this article. In India, no form of pig or cow are eaten in India, so one wouldn't see Pork Vindaloo in India. Indian food can be healthy for you as long as you are smart about how you cook the dish.
  • Although I love SP I must say I really disagree with a lot of the things in this article. I live in an Indian household (my spouse is originally from India and has only been here for a few years...) and eating Indian food all depends on where you are getting it. Many places that serve "Indian" food use non traditional cooking ingredients and methods, while if you go to a traditional Indian restaurant with real Indians the food is fatty, but in moderation is great for you.
    The key with all Indian food is moderation. The majority of the dishes have frying at some point in them. Instead of staying away from dishes like butter chicken or pakoras or samosas eat mindfully. But another point to mention is that it is very difficult to overeat Indian food since it is so rich, that you can not continue eating forever.
    Moderation is key, and if you don't try pakoras or samosas then it really isn't a true Indian experience.
  • Coconut oil is not bad for you. It is a source of medium chain fatty acids that are very hard to find in other foods.
  • Thank you for this article. I love Indian food since my brother-in-law who is from India introduced me to it. I love the flavors and the exotic spices and interesting flavor combinations. It is the only type of cuisine I could eat vegetarian on a regular basis!
  • I wish people wouldn't malign ghee (clarified butter) as being so awful. It's actually a better choice than regular butter. Why? Many reasons - it removes the milk solids that butter has and so ghee is tolerated well by those with milk intolerance issues...it removes other impurities, leaving behind a product that is shelf stable and has a high smoking point. There is much useful and correct information. I like the taste of it better than butter as well.
  • Many good tips, but: a whole-milk yogurt is really the least of your problems in an Indian meal. I wouldn't bother avoiding this. Nothing like Indian food!
  • I see that eating the chicken and fish is preferable to beef and lamb, but what about goat? The Indian restaurant where I eat serves goat and chicken. There's also this really tasty spinach and cheese dish that I'm sure is NOT good for me. Fortunately, it's not somewhere I eat often because it is nowhere near my home.
  • This is helpful, but would be even more helpful if it gave some idea of portion size - how can tandori chicken have only 260 calories when it comes in a heaping plate. Is it 260 calories for 3 oz (the usual portion for chicken?)