Aside from small snack bars attached to spas, there are no restaurants in Dubai that advertise themselves as healthy eating establishments.
Aside from small snack bars attached to spas, there are no restaurants in Dubai that advertise themselves as healthy eating establishments. But that does not mean you can’t look after your waistline when you eat out as we discovered on a tour of restaurants serving a whole range of cuisines.
Many regard the idea of healthy eating with dread and huge suspicion. It is widely assumed that this is a purgatory that requires man to survive on a diet of lettuce and grapefruit, and never to eat chocolate.
Some are misguided into thinking that if they are to embark on a healthy eating mission, they will have to become a vegetarian, and sacrifice their beloved steak in favour of lentil cutlets forever more.
But this is not so. Eating a healthy diet is a very easily explained phenomenon, requiring a basic understanding of fundamental nutrition. Rest assured, it is no hardship.
In moderation, not many things are truly bad. We have taken into consideration just a few simple guidelines in assessing Dubai’s restaurants. We have looked for menu items which are low in fat; this means using dairy products sparingly, using low fat cooking methods (fried foods are good for an occasional treat only!) and using lean cuts of meat.
Fruit and vegetables are at their most beneficial, nutritionally, when eaten raw or freshly and lightly cooked. So we have scrutinised the way chefs prepare and serve their fruit and vegetables.
Cakes, sweets, biscuits and desserts are generally made from refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour etc) and they often have a substantial fat content too, which excludes them from the realms of healthy food. While fruit salad is often the token offering for healthy eaters, on dessert menus, some chefs do produce lovely low fat, low sugar desserts and cakes.
The present trend to restrict red meat intake, means that many chefs have also introduced more fish and poultry. Protein in all forms is a vital part of a healthy diet.
Japanese outlets are the obvious choice for a healthy boost of protein. Sushi in all shapes and forms is high in protein, as is tofu, for vegetarians. Vegetables are all quickly stir-fried and served immediately, which preserves an optimal amount of their vitamin content. Sea vegetables (including seaweed) all have high mineral contents. This is a very low fat cuisine, (no dairy products are used) and unless you choose tempura, which are deliciously light crisply battered items (but, sadly, are deep-fried!) almost anything you eat will be good for you and your waistline. All the far-eastern cuisines are similarly low in fat, highly flavoured and have great noodles.
Modern European cookery has moved away from the bad old ways of cooking with an abundance of butter, cream and eggs. The food is generally much lighter now; dairy products are used more sparingly and a certain Mediterranean influence means that olive oils often replace butter. Portion sizes and the time between courses, have a bearing on how much you eat. While a steak house does not necessarily epitomise healthy eating, a carefully chosen meal can be exemplary. A lean, grilled steak with salad (and without chips and butter- rich Bearnaise sauce!) can be as sinless as a fish or vegetarian meal.
Dubai does not have ‘healthy eating’ restaurants per say, or none that classify themselves thus. So we have visited a wide spectrum of eateries to see how they fare in the healthy eating stakes, and just how much they care about the well being aspects of the food they serve. We were pleasantly surprised. Polynesian, Japanese, modern European, Mediterranean, Moroccan, seafood and Italian restaurants were all on our list.
We also visited a steak house and an antipodean style café. With a very basic understanding of nutrition, it is remarkably easy to eat a very healthy meal in all of the above. However, the quality of the food, the variety of light options available and the presentation were variable.