A dietician’s guide on what constitutes healthy takeaway food… and what doesn’t.

So apparently I’m not the only one that adores eating out. Recently, Choice magazine discovered that Australians eat takeaway about 2.5 times a week on average, while 42% of Aussies eat out more than three times a week.

The only downside about eating out is how bad for you it can actually be. You don’t realise it, but restaurants can add obscene amounts of salt and sugar to meals in order to make them appetising. Portion sizes are generally out of control, so you end up eating six times the amount of pasta that you would normally. Oh, and you always have alcohol and dessert, too. Because you’re out and you’re spoiling yourself. Right?

Watch Nigella Lawson chat to Mamamia’s Mia Freedman about our unhealthy relationships with food (post continues after video).

It’s not that you should never go out to dinner. Ohhh, no. What is life without some delicious Thai food and a serve of Gelato Messina after?

But if you eat out often, or if you are generally watching your calorie intake, it’s good to be mindful of what you’re eating – as you can quite easily clock up thousands of calories in just one meal.

I asked Amy Vero, an accredited practicing dietitian, to give us some tips on how to make your takeaway eating that little bit healthier. This is what she said:

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Take-away foods can be enjoyed as part of healthy eating plan, if they are consumed occasionally and in smaller portions. It is best to choose foods that are higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat and salt. I recommend that you always have some quick and easy meal ingredients in the pantry, so you are less tempted to order take-away such as fresh vegetables, lean BBQ meats, lean mince, pizza bases and ready prepared lentils. For example, pizza can be made at home using wholemeal Lebanese bread as a base, with vegetables and low-fat cheese as toppings, served with baby spinach on top for a quick, easy and nutritious meal.

But if you absolutely, absolute have to go out – here’s your cheat sheet of what you should go for and what you should stay away from. Take note and try to remember next time you’re dialling the number of your favourite Thai restaurant, or strolling in through the entrance of the best Italian.

Japanese

Eat: Sashimi! Brown rice sushi! Edamame! Seaweed salad! Miso soup! The possibilities here are delicious.

Avoid: The fried tempura dishes and sushi that’s served with copious amounts of mayonnaise on top.

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Thai

Eat: The salads, the fish (especially if it’s steamed), veggie-rich stir-frys and the rice paper rolls. Also opt for brown rice instead of white if you can. Stir-frys with lots of veggies are also good.

Avoid: Sauces can be ridiculously high in sugar, oil and fat, so keep an eye on how much sauce is on your dish.

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Italian

Eat: Tomato-based pasta sauces and pizzas with plenty of veggies on top.

Avoid: Creamy pasta sauces, heaps of bacon and heaps of cheese.

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Chinese

Eat: Stir-fries, soups and steamed veggies.

Avoid: Anything deep fried. We’re sorry, but you have to put down the spring roll…

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Pub food

Eat: Grilled, lean meats or fish – go for salmon or chicken with a salad if it’s an option. If you must have chips, try to divvy up the plate with some salad, too.

Avoid: Crumbed and fried things – chicken schnitty, anyone…?

Image via iStock.

Indian

Eat: Curries that are tomato-based, as opposed to those made with coconut cream. Also, try and go for something with a few veggies in it – and not just potatoes!

Avoid: Fried extra options such as pappadums – also keep an eye on how much naan bread you’re nibbling on.

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Image via iStock.

General eating-out tips

– Don’t ever feel obliged to finish your meal. It’s a sucky feeling to leave food on the plate, but you’ll feel worse if you gorge yourself. Don’t be scared to ask for a doggie bag – it’s super-standard in North America and is becoming more common here as well.

– Better still, go to the kind of restaurant where you can keep ordering small portions of food until you eat the perfect amount. Japanese restaurants are great for this very purpose.

– If you are being strict with your healthy eating, try to avoid places where they specialise in the unhealthy.

– Don’t be afraid to be that unpopular person who doesn’t want to share meals. Much better way to pick exactly what you actually want to eat.

What do you eat when you eat out? Do you try to stick to healthier food choices?

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