Guide: Healthy eating

With winter indulgence about to set in we remind you of the best ways to stick to a healthy diet

That extra wiggle is symptomatic of a wider problem – Dubai is one of the fattest cities in the world. So it’s a good thing Time Out has the low-down on how you can continue to take advantage of the city’s restaurants without piling on the pounds.

It’s true that Dubai practically hijacks newcomers into going to brunches and lunches and dinners, where the bubbly and chocolate fountains are flowing, but eating out doesn’t necessarily mean eating everything in sight.

Many expatriates see Dubai’s lifestyle as a cycle of doom: they eat out all the time, they choose unhealthy dishes from the menu, they drink too much and they don’t exercise as often as they did back home. The reality is that here, unlike most cities in the world, your social schedule will involve more eating and drinking, especially during the killer summer months; and since there’s hardly anywhere to walk to, you won’t be working out as often as you used to, unless you go to the gym (and how often does that happen?).

If you look at the numbers, you’ll realise how much trouble Dubai’s adult population is in. According to the World Health Organization, 70 per cent of adults in the emirate are either overweight or obese, and 20 per cent of expatriate adults are suffering from type 2 diabetes – a condition that could’ve been avoided had they led healthier lifestyles. Those are staggering numbers, especially if you consider that most of these adults arrived in Dubai as healthy individuals. Clearly something’s got to give, and it probably won’t be eating out. What are you going to do? Eat at home? Not in this emirate.

Aside from the obvious – drinking less and doing more exercise – you need to regulate your food intake. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out, but it does mean that you need to make smarter choices when you order your meal. For instance, when going to an ‘all-you-can-eat’, there’s no need to fill every chink of your stomach with bounty. Instead, take a tour of the buffet and hone in on your favourites. Or if you’re ordering à la carte, choose items on the menu that won’t leave your body struggling to digest your intake.

To make this a little easier for you, Time Out, with the help of nutritionist Belinda Rennie, has come up with a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to jumpstart your transformation.

But bear in mind that while the healthy choices you make at a restaurant will help make you healthier, you need to couple that effort with some physical activity. And no, shuffling to the front door to let the housemaid in is not exercise.

How to eat out healthily


Order: Hummos is healthy and a staple of Lebanese cuisine – a third of a cup is a good serving size. Restaurants add lots of olive oil so ask them to cut back on this. Also order salads such as fattoush and tabbouleh and get them made with minimal olive oil. For a main course, grilled fish is much healthier than beef or lamb.

Avoid: Many places add sugar to fruit juice. Request that they don’t do this. The bread in Arabic restaurants is often thick and white – go for thin crispy bread if it’s available. Avoid minced meats and go for lean meats instead – a lamb cutlet is better for you than lamb kofta. In terms of fast food, falafel is better than shawarma – at least you’re getting a chickpea base. If you insist on shawarma, find the places that use leaner chicken, and if you can, get the restaurant to add some tabbouleh to your wrap.


Order: Start with salads and focus on fresh vegetables. Then move onto the cooked foods – seafood is always a good option. When it’s time for dessert, look for dishes that include lots of fresh fruit.

Avoid: Don’t try to eat everything. Some people go overboard on a Friday lunchtime. Tour the buffet before you start eating, decide what you’re going to eat, and have a sensible meal. If you stuff your face every Friday you’ll eventually lose the concept of what it means to feel full and happily sated, so just take it easy.


Order: Burgers aren’t necessarily bad for you, but it really depends on the quality of the meat. If you go to McDonald’s, for example, a Filet-O-Fish is a better option than a hamburger, although you’re better off going for their salads with light dressings.

Avoid: The French fries, which are fried twice at McDonald’s – so you’ve got lots of fat and not enough potato.


Order: Order vegetarian dishes and get lots of broccoli, mushrooms and pak choi. Before you eat these, shake off the sauces as they are often fattening. Tofu should also be enjoyed at Chinese restaurants – it offers most people plenty of health benefits.

Avoid: Some people have difficulty metabolising MSG, which can cause problems like headaches and nausea. Ask the waiting staff to prepare your food without it. Also, avoid dishes like sweet and sour chicken, with its sugary sauce and oily meat.


Order: Vegetarian dishes in light gravy sauces are very digestible. Spices help you digest pulses and turmeric is meant to be particularly good for women’s health and has also been linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Dry dishes such as tandoori chicken are healthier than curries because they’re not in such heavy sauces. Ask for long grain basmati rice– it has a low glycemic index and helps release sugar into your bloodstream.

Avoid: Ghee is a clarified butter made almost entirely from saturated fat – a small amount of this is fine but many restaurants overdo it. Ask if your food can be made with less ghee. Similarly, coconut oil, often found in South Indian food, is not unhealthy in small quantities but restaurants can easily cut down on their usage of this. Try to keep naan bread consumption to a minimum too.


Order: Carpaccio is a good choice for an appetiser, as are most soups. For a main course, thin-crust pizzas are okay as long as the toppings are fresh and not too fatty, and risotto is another safe bet.

Avoid: The problem with pasta is that you get a huge amount of carbohydrates in one sitting without many vegetables. If you do go for pasta, avoid thick creamy sauces like alfredo. Instead, go for simple tomato with seafood rather than red meat.


Order: As long as the fish is from a good source and you’re not risking contamination, sushi is extremely good for you. The enzymes help with digestion while ginger helps you deal with microbes. Miso is also really good for you – it’s fermented so its enzymes further aid your digestion.

Avoid: When chefs cook meat and fish using the teppanyaki grill they use lots of soy bean oil – so go easy on this option. Tempura is probably the most fattening thing on the Japanese menu – pieces of deep-fried and battered fish and vegetables.


Order: Always go for thin rather than thick-crust bases as these aren’t so full of refined flour. Restaurants like Bella Donna make good quality pizzas with fresh ingredients and thin bases.

Avoid: Places like Pizza Hut love using incredibly thick bases that absorb plenty of oil – these types of bases should be avoided. Stuffed crust pizzas – when the rim is full of gooey cheese – are very fattening.


Order: Fish like mackerel and sardines contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids that are good for circulation, skin and hormonal balance. The local hammour is also a good choice.

Avoid: Get your fish grilled rather than fried. Also you should avoid larger fish – these are far more likely to have taken in quantities of mercury and lead.


Order: Always ask for vegetables, prepared without butter, as a side order. Steakhouses rarely serve balanced meals. They tend to give you far too much red meat and not enough of everything else. For a healthy person, red meat once a week is fine, but don’t overdo it.

Avoid: Make sure you go for the smaller and leaner steaks – you don’t need a portion that could feed a whole family. Only order raw meat if you’re confident in the restaurant’s ability to handle it well.

Belinda Rennie works at the Osteopathic Health Centre in Umm Suqeim. For more information on the services she offers see

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