Let's Go Out ForIndian

Enjoying this exotic cuisine doesn't have to mean a blow-out. Try these strategies to make healthy choices.Whether your Indian restaurant resembles the Taj Majal or serves its food out of the window of a food truck, you're sure to encounter some tempting staples of the Indian table. Here's how to make the most of your meal while minimizing extras that will tack on hidden calories.

While Indian food can be calorie-intensive, it's not always necessary to do the full-course meal for an authentic taste. Rather than sit down for a monstrous meal, incorporate Indian flavors into your day with a smaller takeaway nosh from places that specialize in one item, like an order of tandoori, vegetarian , a spicy dish with thick chickpea gravy, for example.

Naan, the most popular bread in Indian restaurants, can easily measure 10 inches across and comes brushed with ghee (clarified butter) and garlic. Having one is like eating an entire personal pizza crust; each has a value of about 5. "There are healthier breads to choose from," advises Vandana Sheth. Unlike naan bread, roti is unleavened and is available in white or whole-grain. A typical 6-inch round has a value of about 3. Chapati is similar to roti in character and calories, also with a value of 3. Made on a skillet, it closely resembles a whole-wheat tortilla.

Indian restaurant appetizers are made for quick service, and therefore mostly flash-fried, with few redeeming dishes in the bunch when it comes to nutrition. The "pakora," "samosa" and "bhaji" families of small bites all indicate deep-frying. "You need to be really careful about portions here if you're looking to cut back calories. About the best you might do to avoid these is to request a cup of lentil soup," says Sheth.

The flavor of grilling with the moist succulence of baking, tandoori dishes are that elusive combination of flavorful and healthful. Meats are traditionally marinated in spices and yogurt for up to 24 hours, delivering amazing flavor and moistness. "Chicken, fish or meat, this is absolutely one of the best methods of cooking and should be top of your list," says Sheth. "It's hard to go wrong." The Indian restaurant table is a build-your-own feast, set with chutneys as key condiments, usually one red and one green. "If you can handle the spice, the green chutney is the best choice," says Sheth. Made with mint, cilantro and spicy chilies, this herbal and fiery condiment brings big flavor, with almost no calories and 0 values. That sweet red chutney, on the other hand, is loaded with fruit sugars from tamarind, dates or mango, meaning you'll pick up 1 value for each tablespoon. "In the worst instances, you might be getting nothing more than sugar and red dye," warns Sheth.

As with Thai and Chinese cuisine, it's perfectly acceptable to request your dish be made mild, medium or spicy. The calories and values will be the same, but most people tend to eat less of a mouth-searing dish.

Similar to Greek tzatziki, raita is a cooling condiment of yogurt, cucumber and cilantro flavored with cumin, coriander and other spices. While the yogurt is generally of the whole-milk variety, with no additional calories, you'll find a 1/2 cup of raita has a value of just 2. To quell the burning from a hot spice, a spoonful is a much better solution than chowing on rice and bread. If you can order a nonfat variety, better still.

"Masala" is your friend, a word that denotes a rich mix of Indian spices. Occasionally, however, you'll encounter some other "m" words in place of, or alongside, masala. "Makhami" refers to a rich sauce oozing with ghee and heavy cream. "Malai," popular in the dish Malai prawns, among others, refers to rich, clotted cream with up to 55-percent butterfat. These belong on the naughty word list.

"Most Indian restaurants have a large selection of vegetarian meals, and in general, they can work," says Sheth. "However, there are many fatty vegetarian dishes where you still need to watch portions," she cautions. For instance, malai kofta are vegetarian dumplings swimming in heavy cream. (See , above.) And "paneer" indicates firm cheese, which is almost always fried. "An Indian restaurant can be a tasty place to go meatless, but you need to read deeper than just vegetarian," says Sheth. Ask for suggestions that have tomato- or broth-based sauces.

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