We have become increasingly fond of home food deliveries during the coronavirus lockdown, so it’s important to consider the implications of ordering in on a regular basis.
Nutritionist Kim Pearson gives us the lowdown on the nutritional downsides of takeaways, as well as the tricks to enjoying our favourite comfort foods without compromising our health.
It’s fine to treat yourself once in a while, but if you’re logging on to your chosen takeaway food app once a week, here’s how to tweak your order:
A classic Friday-night treat – there’s nothing more comforting than a doughy wheel of tangy tomatoes and gooey cheese. Takeaway pizza is a foolproof option for cozy nights in, and with these now becoming the new normal, we need to be aware of its nutritional content.
Why are takeaway pizzas often unhealthy?
They may taste delicious after a race, but most takeaway pizzas are doing little to refuel sore muscles and promote recovery. Not only are they often high in saturated fat and salt, but also they are usually scarce in micronutrients – crucial to converting your food into energy.
‘Takeaway pizza is a source of refined high-glycaemic carbohydrates that contain little of nutritional value,’ Pearson explains.
And that meat medley you’re ticking off as a protein source? It’s unlikely to benefit your running regime. ‘Processed-meat toppings are carcinogenic, meaning they are known to increase your risks of developing cancer if consumed regularly.’
And while everyone loves a good side dish, sometimes it’s the smaller items that can wreak the most havoc on your health. From oily spiced wedges to greasy mozzarella sticks, takeaway pizza menus are often littered with cholesterol-spiking nibbles. ‘Deep-fried cheese and cheesy garlic bread are particular offenders,’ warns Pearson.
How to make takeaway pizza healthier
Don’t worry – you don’t have to take a vow of pizza abstinence to protect your arteries. The key is to avoid major pizza chains and opt for smaller, local pizzerias.
‘Traditional Italian pizzerias will typically use traditional methods and make pizzas freshly to order with natural ingredients for toppings,’ says Pearson. Rather than piling the cheese with a farmyard’s worth of meat, add some fresh vegetables, such as aubergine, spinach and peppers.
If you’re set on having a side dish, garnish your meal with some crunchy greens. ‘You’re better off opting for a side salad or making your own at home if that’s not available.’
Fish and chips
Despite the abundance of options available, the classic ‘fish and chips’ duo remains Britain’s favourite takeaway. A 2019 poll surveying 2,000 adults found that nearly one in five British people pop into their local fish and chip shop once a week, with another one in three visiting at least once a month.
Why can takeaway fish and chips be unhealthy?
Contrary to what we like to tell ourselves, a typical ‘fish supper’ is not just an upgraded version of potatoes and cod. What makes the fish taste so good – its crispy coating – is also what makes it such a poor choice. ‘It’s the deep frying and batter that makes chip-shop meals so unhealthy,’ Pearson explains.
Fish and chips are also typically high in salt, which, when eaten in excess, elevates blood pressure and increases chance of stroke and heart attack.
How to make takeaway fish and chips healthier
Unfortunately, when it comes to chip-shop food, there are few ways to escape its nutritional defects. Its main selling point is its signature salty, thick blanket and without this, the dish can look a little naked.
However, you can minimise the damage by skipping some of the least-healthy menu items.
‘Meat products on sale at your fish and chip shop such as a battered sausage or a saveloy are likely to be highly processed, highly unhealthy options, so best avoided,’ says Pearson.
Indian food is another beloved takeaway of choice for Brits. Indian food is not considered unhealthy in its country of origin, though, so why do we feel so heavy after a trip to the curry house?
Why can Indian takeaways be unhealthy?
It may sound like a broken record at this point, but oil is again to blame for corrupting the nutritional content of Indian takeaway. ‘Many Indian fast-food restaurants deep-fry foods like poppadoms, samosas and bhajis, using hydrogenated oils, which are the worst type of fat from a health perspective,’ says Pearson.
Indian mains are also often served with refined carbohydrates, such as naan bread and white rice, which are low in fibre, vitamins and nutrients.
How to make your Indian takeaway healthier
Unlike a chip-shop menu, Indian cuisine offers a huge amount of healthy choices. The rule of thumb is to choose tomato-based vegetable dishes over their creamy, meat-laden counterparts. Think lentil dahl over chicken korma, or chana masala over lamb curry.
With so many staple Indian dishes built on a fusion of spices, there’s no need to sacrifice flavour for a healthier option. ‘The spices can have a host of nutritional benefits; turmeric, for example, is an anti-inflammatory,’ explains Pearson.
Chinese cuisine has long been hugely popular in the UK. However, like Indian food, it often loses its nutritional benefits when eaten in takeaway form.
What makes a Chinese takeaway unhealthy?
As well as a high salt and oil content, many Chinese takeaway dishes are doused in unhealthy sauces.
‘They often use sauces high in sugar and additives such as the controversial flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG),’ says Pearson.
How to make your Chinese takeaway healthier
There are multiple ways to increase the nutritional value of your weekend Chinese feast. Pearson advises saying no to anything deep-fried or cooked in a sweet or salty sauce, and instead to ‘opt for steamed dishes or stir-fries with a high vegetable content’.
And if you’re wondering about the worst options?
‘Pork balls or prawn toast,’ says Pearson. Instead, go for lighter sides such as steamed vegetable dumplings or a broth soup.
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