Diet advice for Dubai

What to eat and what to avoid if you want to stay healthy eating in one of Dubai's many restaurants.

Healthy eating & diets

An after-work dinner at an Indian restaurant? A children’s party at McDonald’s? The dreaded all-you-can-eat Friday brunch? Stop worrying about your waistline – as nutritionist Belinda Rennie explains, it’s possible to eat healthily at almost any restaurant .

Arabic

Order
Hummos is healthy and a staple of Lebanese cuisine. Restaurants add lots of olive oil, so ask them to cut back on this. Also order salads such as fattoush and tabouleh and get them made with less oil. Grilled fish is healthier than beef or lamb.

Avoid
Many places add sugar to fruit juice – tell them not to do this. The bread 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 than a lamb kofta. For fast food, falafel is better than shawarma – at least you’re getting a chickpea base.

Brunch

Order

Start with salads with a 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. Do a tour of the buffet before eating, decide what you’re going to have, and choose 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.

Burgers

Order

Burgers aren’t necessarily bad for you, but it really depends on the quality of the meat. If you go to McDonald’s, a Filet-O-Fish is a better option than a hamburger, although you’re best 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 potatoes.

Chinese

Order
Order vegetarian dishes and get lots of broccoli, mushrooms and bok choy. Before you eat these, shake off the sauces, which 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 meats.

Indian

Order

Vegetarian dishes in light gravy sauces are very digestible. The spices help you digest pulses, and turmeric is really good for you. Dry dishes such as tandoori chicken are healthier than curries because they’re not in such heavy sauces. Also, 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 is OK, but restaurants overdo it. Ask if your food can be prepared 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 nan bread consumption to a minimum too.

Italian

Order

Carpaccio is a good choice for an appetiser, as are most soups. For a main course, thin-crust pizzas are OK 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.

Japanese

Order

As long as the fish is from a good source and you’re not risking contamination, sushi is good for you. The enzymes help with digestion, while ginger helps you deal with microbes. Miso is also great – it’s fermented, so it too helps you digest.

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

Pizza

Order

Always go for thin rather than thick-crust bases. 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 use incredibly thick bases that absorb lots of oil – these should be avoided. Stuffed-crust pizzas – with a rim full of cheese – are very fattening.

Pubs

Order

If you’re going to consume alcohol, a glass of red wine is your best bet. You should also try to order lighter beer.

Avoid
If you’re drinking spirits with mixers such as tonic water, lemonade or coke, you’re adding lots of sugar to your drink. Request diet soft drinks.

Seafood

Order

Fish like mackerel and sardines contain plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for circulation, skin and hormonal balance. The local hammour is a safe bet.

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

Steak

Order

Always ask for vegetables, without butter, as a side order. Steakhouses rarely serve balanced meals. 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 huge portion that could feed a 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 see www.lifestyle-uae.com or call 04 348 7366.

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