Why Indian Food Is Fattening, And How to Make it Healthier

Many people think that healthy takeaway food means simply avoiding a burger and fries or KFC chicken. Often, ethnic foods such as Chinese or Indian are seen as the healthy option – perhaps because they don’t come with a side order of fries and a coke.

Unfortunately, it’s a nutritional minefield out there, and things are rarely what they seem.

I am a great fan of Indian food – so here’s my take on ‘healthier options’ when eating Indian.Dairy Fat
Most curries are made with either cream or ghee. This will obviously vary from chef to chef and the menu on offer. Ghee is essentially clarified butter (unsalted butter is simmered until water has boiled off, the surface is spooned off discarding the milk solids at the bottom).

There are some that claim pure ghee has health benefits – however I suspect that most ghee used in modern Indian restaurants is probably a different version (perhaps vegetable-based) than the traditional pure butter version.

i-16f1491ad496eb59960f7a9e2a139568-garlicnaan.jpg
Garlic Naan

Fattening and Calorie Dense

A typical meal will also be accompanied with a flatbread and copious amounts of rice. Most people choose a naan (nan) bread. A naan is made from white flour, and is usually brushed with butter or ghee just before serving.

There are other breads such as roti, paratha, chappati, and all the variations that go with them. Typically a roti is made from wheat flour or a whole wheat flour blend.

Effectively you have a very calorie-dense meal with very little in the way of vegetables.

A diet like this will be fattening for most people. However there are choices you can make to eat healthier Indian food.

How to Make an Indian Takeaway Healthier

I used to get a chicken curry with naan and rice. That was enough to do me for two meals. Nowadays I’m even more choosy.

Once a fortnight I go out by myself and eat an indian meal at an incredibly leisurely pace. I have sat in the restaurant while others have come and gone. This is the anti-thesis of the fast food mentality.

I order a selection of entrees and sides:

  • A chicken tikka entree. Typically this is pieces of boneless skinless chicken marinaded in a varying array of flavors. This is not served in a sauce – it’s just the chicken.
  • Roti. Often the roti breads are a far smaller serving size than the naans and use wholemeal flour.
  • Salad. I ask for as large a serving as they will make. In most places the salads are delicious, and usually consist of a mix of cucumber, capsicum, cabbage, carrot, etc. Only once has a restaurant looked bewildered at my salad request. They ended up serving me with what looked like some quickly thawed frozen veg from a bag!
  • Sometimes I’ll get a glass of red wine.

That’s it. Due to the pace of the meal (and the level of protein) I feel completely satisfied. Other options include vegetarian curries. You just need to ask.

Never Enough
Just last week, in the time it took me to consume the above, a couple near me consumed a creamy curry and rice each, a naan each, asked for extra rice, and asked for an extra naan. An astonishing amount of food, eaten in a very short space of time (you tend to notice these things when eating alone!).

We really do need to re-learn the lost art of enjoying food.

82 Comments

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  1. maaz 4 months ago

    Not just Indian but any food that is high in carbohydrates and fats is going to be fattening. Although Indian food is the most delicious food in the world, it uses high amounts of carbohydrates and fats. And this is not just limited to restaurants, even homemade food is quite high in carbs and fats.

  2. Becca 4 months ago

    Jeesh! The author explained that westernized Indian restaurants are different from authentic Indian food. Just like the tex-mex Mexican food we eat here in the states is nothing like Mexican food that is eaten in Mexico. A health food store near where I live, offers the most incredible Indian food I have ever tasted. Beats the restaurant style that we are accustomed too. Fresh, little to none oils. You can taste just about every spice it’s made with. I’m trying to convince them to open a restaurant. Anyway, The author clearly states that most western Indian restaurants cater to our taste in food which is creamy style high fat foods. Indian food is one of my favorites and I enjoy the many flavors it brings.

  3. Dr. Mehta 7 months ago

    Article is 100% correct, most restaurants and eateries cook with bleached wheat, not so organic ghee and oil as well as quality of raw materials. Mostly for economic and taste reasons. There is no other reason why you feel better when you eat the same thing cooked at home vs outside, its the poor raw materials. Well written

  4. Adil

    I think most of you have missed the point here. This article is not written for people who are from India – whether they live there or not. It is written for people who enjoy Indian food but don’t know much about it and live in places where the Indian food that is offered and promoted in restaurants IS mostly fattening. The purpose of the article is simply to inform people who don’t understand Indian food, but enjoy it, how to enjoy it in a healthier way. The article is just trying to be helpful – nothing to take personally.

    • Haven

      Adil – you are absolutely correct. AUTHENTIC Indian FOOD is extremely healthy. Indian food served in restaurants in the west is a variation that is mainly adopted to western tastes and heavy on meat, creamy sauces and yummy yummy naan!

      Thanks Jim F for the tips on how to eat healthier in Indian restaurants in the west. I used this last night and ordered a salad with my curry and naan.

  5. Indian food eater

    This is a gross generalisation by someone who clearly knows little about Indian food beyond their local takeaway. You mentioned salad, but didn’t mention ANY of the many healthy Indian vegetable dishes?

    Indian food can be very healthy. Firstly, most curries people in India eat are water, not cream or coconut milk based. Especially in poorer communities, this isn’t affordable.

    Secondly, Indian food is majorly just daal ( lentils, slow releasing carbs, high protein)’and sautéed vegetables of a whole variety. Not to mention the array of spices used, all relatively calorie free, vitamin packed and the ability to ensure healthy food still packs a punch.

    Roti is a very healthy carbohydrate, if it is made with wholewheat flower even more so. It’s something that does not come out well if there is too much oil. My family has always made it with none.

    Indian food rarely has high calorie meats, like red meat, that you’ll find in your shepherds pies, moussakas, bolognese sauces, bacon, lasagnas, salami and chorizo. All delicious, not healthy. Nor cheese ( besides the far healthier paneer), no mozzarella topped with a heaping of Parmesan. Yes you still have your red meat curries and stuffed bread, but they’re far more rarely ate. Most Indians are fine with daal, roti and sabzi ( vegetables).

    I will agree that proportionately Indian food has a lot of carbs. But 2-3 rotis and vegetables still doesn’t get the calories too high, especially if you just have 1-2 full of the sautéed veg and a salad. For dinner today, I had a small portion boiled brown basmati rice, cooked with mixed veg, topped with streamed butternut squash and roasted peppers, onions, cauliflower and brocolli with a chicken breast. All coated in delicious Indian spices in a low fat yoghurt marinade. Sprinkled with seeds and ate with a raw spinach salad. Not a drop of oil needed, and deliciously healthy food meeting all dietary requirements.

    Whilst I agree that most Indian vegetables are cooked too far and loose some of their nutritional value in the process, this is easily amended and still does not take enough away for every Indian cuisine to be percieved as unhealthy. There could also be more fish in the every day diet, but coastal areas get a good share of omega three. Was just on Jamie Oliver. Com, and most healthy meals are Asian. I’d probably say Japanese, Chinese, Thai food etc, is healthiest. Western food can be very healthy and delicious, but it’s far easier to get the calories in given the variety people have here.

    India is such a huge country, and each corner differs greatly in terms of cuisine from one place to another. Just as much as food in Europe differs from each other. Makes sense right, big piece of land, more people, more ideas, different climate, different cuisines… So it’s not fair to even judge all Indian food as one particular way, let alone judge it only from the list on your local restaurant’s menu…

    • Asmita Bose

      Thank you for your reply. I was just thinking the same what you put beautifully in words. Today I ate small amount of red local grown rice with daal, shaag curry with sweet pumpkin, jhinge posto and fish curry with salad. All of this are made with very little oil and not overcooked. This is the type of food which people in eastern part of India generally consumes. It has all the essential nutrients that is needed for our body.

  6. Prakash

    Every country has a mix of both healthy and unhealthy dishes. Indian food in general is calorie dense because of the way it is eaten. A regular, traditional Indian meal contains 70%-80% high carbs such as white rice or roti, only 20% – 30% of the meal contains vegetables, meat or pulses. So it doesn’t matter how healthy or oil free the curry is cooked, overall calorie content of the meal still remains very high. But, ofcourse, one can change that into a healthy meal by reducing carb content and increase the content of the veggies. Unfortunately, thats not how an proper Indian meal is served or eaten.

  7. Ruby.

    Ah, a ‘fan’ of Indian food, not an Indian. Please stop spreading trash about another culture’s food when you are an uneducated moron who doesn’t know the basics about writing a factual article.

  8. Ruby.

    Your entire article itself shows that you are discussing RESTAURANT food, which is unhealthy for every food in the world, and that you are discussing how PEOPLE make the food. Nothing in this crap reflects anything of Indian food, the healthiest.

  9. Komal

    False. Indian food is the healthiest thing on the entire planet. It is the way PEOPLE make it that makes it unhealthy bullshi*. Roti is as simple as whole wheat flour and water, period. No salt or oil is needed for that and it is the most healthy carbohydrate to consume, as well as whole wheat and brown rice. It is when PEOPLE add abnormal amounts of oil and salt in the food that it becomes unhealthy, AND when they then sit around all day with zero physical activity. Life in previous eras were highly active and any toxins and unhealthy fats, which are natural in everything, would be eliminated. So change the way you deliver a message, because you’re giving a whole lot of wrong ideas and misconceptions here. Ayurvedic food is the original ‘Indian’ food and it is modern methods of using impure food that makes it unhealthy. Indian food is NOT fattening, dead animals are. And raw vegetables is also a stupid, moronic western fad that puts the body into such hard labour that it gives out. Indian food, every single spice used, is carefully designed for proper digestion, proper absorption, and overall health. Stop adding abnormal amounts of oil to the food, make sure the ghee you use IS pure, stop adding abnormal amounts of salt to the food, and you have the healthiest food on the planet.

    Learn the right facts. ‘Ethnic Indian’ food is the healthiest.

    • Tommy

      ‘”Ethnic Indian’ food is the healthiest.” lol! Never in a million years!

  10. Lekshmi

    8.Indian curry contain only these things which I list below-
    1.coconut
    2.onion
    3.tomato
    4.ginger garlic paste
    5.spinach
    6.yogurt
    7.coriander leaves
    8.mint leaves
    7.green chilli
    These are the only ingredients found in most of the curries with spices and powders mentioned above.No cream,no butter,no cheese,no cream.
    You can

  11. Lekshmi

    I am a south Indian.Our food is healthier due to many reasons.I will mention it one by one.
    1 All eat cooked food so it’s super easy for digestion.(Not half cooked or partially cooked).Mostly it is prepared in pressure cooker.Its the most healthy and easy way to cook rice and red meat.We rarely use oven.
    2.In all our dishes we add healthy powders like Turmeric , Pepper , Cumin , Coriander and spices like cinnamon stick,cardamom…etc.These are our treasures.Rarely seen in other countries.

    3.Indian food contain no unhealthy cream or sauces.These are used in other countries.We rarely use them.Since our food is spicy to make other country people to eat it restaurants use cream and sauces.

    4.We daily eat home cooked foods.Once in a while we go to restaurants as a family get-together.Mostly once in a week.It is a women’s duty to cook food daily breakfast lunch and dinner.Whatever the circumstances are … if she is working or not working it doesn’t matter.(99℅ womenin India cook food daily)
    5.About 30-40% of Indians are pure vegetarians.So more vegetarian dishes.we can make about 100 plus vegetarian dishes.Because in each states they have different dishes.
    6.From remaining 60% non vegetarians they rarely eat red meat.Almost 50℅
    non vegetarians eat only fish and chicken.So only 10℅ eat red meat.So out of 100 only 10℅ cook red meat lije beef or pork at home.And one more thing only once in a week they buy meat/fish.All eat more vegetarian dishes than non vegetarian foods.
    7.Indian dishes use coconut oil and ghee.Both are good for our health compared to butter , cheese , cream ,sauces.
    You guys have seen only restaurant foods.These foods are modified to attract you guys who cannot handle spices and masalas.Do come to our home and then comment on real Indian food.☺

    • Chris King

      I’m white but second this. There are some authentic restaurants though and they offer great food. Not all dishes are spicy so that no one can handle it or it is just me because I ate a lot of spicy stuff. Actually, eating super spicy is unhealthy. It can give you ulcers, stomach cancer, and even esophageal cancer.

  12. Rafael15

    I retired as a chef some 26 years ago just about when take-aways were kicking off (irrelevant) . Having retired to Spain I have taken up cooking Indian food as a hobby and of course to eat. As a rule I do not eat Bread and potatoes but really enjoy the variety of Indian breads and potato dishes and they are a joy to make and eat. I did discover though, that there is a great deal of oil in a lot of recipes. If you use a good, thick bottomed non-stick pan you can easily reduce the amount of oil by 3/4. if you fry things like onion bhaji the oiI does not go into the bhaji if you keep the oil level below the bhaji thickness, they seal (if the oil is hot) apply this to everything you fry and it just drains off into the (crumpled) kitchen towel. I also find that Indian food is very satisfying in its richness so a large amount is not required. Simply put. Cook your own! It is very theraputic. Consume in moderation and ENJOY!

  13. Kevin Pemberton

    Curry is not unhealthy if you leave out the ghee or cream. Curry is made of vegetables and spices and water. It’s the sundries that are fattening ie naan rice chips and usually beer

  14. Nola West

    July 22, 2016
    Hi Jim F.! My daughter, Krystal, turned me on to Indian Food & I’ll tell you – “I’m Hooked!”
    Now, Krystal is a Lax Vegetarian -lol [she love broiled or grilled chicken breast], & she orders take out to bring to me once a week. She gets 1) naan bread that’s w/ onions baked; not fried in & NO Butter [very good w/ extra sweet onions.]. 2) vegetables [green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions] in a tasty & spicy tomato sauce [not creamed] & she asks for potatoes in it. 3) spicy tomatoe creamy sauce with chicken breast pieces & potatoes. 4) rice.
    That’s it! I worry, though, that we might be eating a high-calorie diet due to the creaminess & potatoes.
    Could you please give me your thoughts &/or suggestions to make it less fattening?!?! I’d really appreciate it!
    Sincerely, Nola West

    • Amanda

      There is no such thing as “Lax Vegetarian”. That meal has nothing to do with a vegetarian diet. Chicken is meat.

  15. phoenix

    Indian food is healty im from west india and in every shaak we have TONS of veggies in it also the roti takeout is full of oil so yeah better to make indian food at home gosh these websites make me not want to live anymore

  16. B J Mistry

    Indian Food is NOT fattening, It is so good that people do not stop eating. Need to eat small portion of meal with lot of raw vegetables to fill up the tummy.