There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself to a nice takeaway meal from time to time. If you are watching your weight or are on a fitness drive, you might not want to undo all of your hard work by overdoing it. Looking for the healthiest Indian Curry can be tricky, but don't worry, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know. I'll talk briefly about calories, which ingredients to go for and avoid, and give you some great options. Spicy and healthy? Let's do it!
Quick Answer | What is the Healthiest Indian Curry
The healthiest Indian Curry is any dish that is not laden with calories, specifically 'hidden' calories in ingredients like cream, oil or butter. Tomato-based dishes like Jalfrezi and vegetarian dishes like Vegetable curry have far fewer calories. As a result, you can eat them more freely without overdoing it.
If you are looking for the healthiest Indian curry recipes, I suggest some great cookbooks below.
Before We Begin | Understanding Calories...
Ok, we need to get one thing straight.
There is no such thing as bad food. It all boils down to how many calories are in the food and how much of that food you consume.
It really is that simple.
The energy contained within food is measured in something called calories.
Wondering what calories actually mean? Let me explain.
In scientific terms, a calorie is a measure of energy. The scientific definition of a calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise 1 gram of water by 1°C.
More calories equal more energy. Fewer calories equal less energy. So far, so good?
Your body uses energy to move around, keep your heart beating and lots of other functions. When you take in more calories than your body uses, it stores this energy for use later, as fat.
If you use more calories than you are consuming, then you will eventually lose weight.
But what has all this got to do with the healthiest Indian Curry?
Well, it goes like this…
Imagine two bowls. One has 100g of butter, the other has 100g of carrots. Butter is a fat; each gram of fat holds about 9 calories. Carrots are a carbohydrate… carbohydrates generally have 4 calories per gram.
On a gram by gram basis, you will consume the same amount of food based on weight, but the bowl of butter has much more calories.
Carrots are what are known as calorie sparse. There are relatively few calories in each gram.
Butter is called calorie-dense. There are a lot of calories in each gram.
If you made a curry using that bowl of butter, your dish would have more calories than one made with carrots. The volume would be the same, but the butter-based Curry would have over double the calories of the other.
Oh, and one more thing…
Don't be confused by fat!
Fat doesn't make you fat!
Fat is calorie-dense, but there are other foods that aren't fatty and have a high number of calories per gram.
Want an example?
Let's compare our bowl of carrots with a 100g bowl of potatoes: -
100g carrots = 30 calories
100g potatoes = 74 calories
See? The same amount of vegetables, but the potatoes are nearly double the calories!
Now that you have this knowledge, let's see how it impacts your choice of the healthiest Indian Curry to order…
Thinking About Your Curry Ingredients
Most curries are spicy and really tasty. However, the odd thing that can sneak in that really ups the calories. The good news is that with a little knowledge and thought, you can steer clear of those calorie-dense ingredients and choose something that is still really tasty and filling.
Here are some ingredients in Curry that are really calorie-dense: -
- Oils (820 calories per 100g)
- Ghee (878 calories per 100g)
- Cream (680 calories per 100g)
- Fatty meats, such as lamb (406 calories per 100g)
- Coconut cream (669 calories per 100g)
- Sugars (375 calories per 100g)
- Ground nuts and powders (612 calories per 100g)
Avoiding some of the above can be harder than it sounds. Curry with a coconut base will probably use a fair chunk of coconut cream. This does absolutely nothing to fill you up (but it does make a Curry taste nice). Order something like this, and you can easily add 300 extra calories without even noticing…
That certainly doesn't make for the healthiest Indian Curry!
What Ingredients are in the Healthiest Indian Curry?
So, we've seen that calorie-dense ingredients tend to make curries pretty unhealthy. It stands to reason that we will need to order a curry that has calorie sparse ingredients instead?
Here are some great curry ingredients that don't go overboard on calories: -
- Lean meats, like chicken.
- White Fish
- King Prawns
- Most vegetables, like cauliflower or aubergine.
- Leafy greens, like spinach
- Pulses, like lentils
Which Curry has the Least Calories?
If you are looking for a low-calorie curry, then there are a few options available to you.
Vegetable curries can be a really great option. They are really filling. They can still contain a little oil and/or dairy and still be relatively healthy.
Because vegetables are so calorie sparse, you gain a bit of credit and offset the higher calories contained in the other ingredients.
If you really want some meat in your dish, a good option could be something like a chicken dhansak. It doesn't contain dairy, and it is 'padded' out with a sweet and spicy lentil base. Lentils are really low in calories. They are also pretty high in protein.
A jalfrezi could also be a good option. This Curry is a little like a stir fry and is slightly dryer in consistency.
Chicken Madras is another good option. This is made with a tomato base, it doesn't have any calorie-dense ingredients, plus it is really spicy, meaning you might eat less of it!
What Indian Meal has the Least Calories?
If you want to reduce your calorie intake further, you can still order Indian without having a curry.
Dry dishes are the way to go. Chicken tikka is an excellent choice. Normally it is grilled. This allows any fat to drain away (thus reducing the calories, remember fat doesn't necessarily make you fat!). Further to this, chicken is really lean meat high in protein with low carbs and fat. This means that it is really filling too!
Another great option is a biryani dish. Biryani is full of Indian spices and flavour, but the main ingredient is rice. Provided you don't have too much oil in your dish, it can be really filling yet is relatively calorie sparse.
Choosing the Healthiest Curry to Order | Healthier Curry Options
Listen, Indian menu's sometimes have hundreds of dishes listed, and I couldn't possibly go through them all.
But here's what I can do…
Let me give you some guidelines on choosing healthier curry options. Next time you are looking for the healthiest Curry to order or are making one yourself bear the following in mind: -
- Choose something low in oil, dishes such as bhuna are really oily. Avoid!
- Try and avoid curries that are made with cream. Things like korma, tikka masala, and butter chicken are high in calories, so they aren't what I'd consider a healthy curry.
- Be sure to choose a curry with lean meat, such as chicken, fish or king prawns.
- Do your best to find a curry that is made more substantial with calorie sparse ingredients. Anything with a lentil or rice base is a good place to start.
- Consider going veggie if you can. These are nearly always lower in calories than the meat-filled equivalents.
- Steer clear of things like naan bread. Bread isn't particularly unhealthy; however, you'll find that most recipes feature lashings of ghee or garlic butter. If you can't do without bread to mop up your sauce, try a chapati or roti.
- Go easy on the poppadoms! While they might not seem too substantial, poppadoms are deep-fried, and they can soak up quite a lot of oil!
- Don't blow it with the starter! Things like onion bhajis and samosas might not seem like a big deal, but they are cooked in hot oil. Not waistline friendly, especially if you are having a curry afterwards!
- If in doubt, choose a dry curry Indian dish as a healthy option… there is less likelihood of any oils or fats sneaking their way in.
What is the Healthiest Indian Curry? | Check the Table!
By 'healthiest', you probably want the lowest calorie curry you can find. Here's a table with Indian food calorie content. Looking at the table, the healthiest Indian Curry would be a vegetable curry. If you want some meat in your diet, tandoori chicken would be a good option.
For a curry with sauce, the healthiest would be a chicken jalfrezi.
Source: NHS calorie counter and Myfitnesspal
Vegetable Samosa, each
Meat Samosa, each
Onion Bhaji, each
King Prawn Dhansak
Paneer Tikka Masala
King Prawn Pathia
Remember that each restaurant and chef will cook using different ingredients and techniques. As a result, the above is intended as guidance only. If you really want to focus on your food choices, your best bet is to speak to a nutritionist or dietician.
Learning How to Cook Healthier Curry Options | Book Suggestions
Obviously, if you are out and about, you have no say in what goes into the food that you order. Even if you specify less oil or no dairy, you don't always get what you ask for.
So, what's the answer?
My suggestion would be to make your own takeaway style curry at home.
I've got plenty of recipes here; however, I've found some really great cookbooks, if you prefer. I prefer the real versions over the 'e-books'. That way, I don't knacker my kindle every time I spill something.
Have a check of a few of these. There are plenty of tasty dishes!
Chetna's Healthy Indian
This book is written by an authentic Indian Cook. Chetna Makan grew up in central India, so she knows a few things about cooking authentic dishes!
Chetna's book features quite a few favourites, along with some things you probably won't find on your average takeaway menu. My particular favourites are prawn Pulao (a rice-based dish… healthy) and Chicken Seekh kebabs (again healthy).
The best thing is that she doesn't tend to use really outlandish ingredients (I'm looking at you, Jamie Oliver). You will be able to pick up everything you need in an Asian supermarket or even at the ever-growing 'world foods' section of your local supermarket.
The recipes are all really convenient too. There isn't too much messing around, which is always a big plus: -
- Plenty of tasty dishes that are also healthy
- The featured ingredients are really easy to find
- Chetna has menu suggestions if you want to hold a dinner party
- This isn't your typical takeaway style cookbook, and it might be a little too classy for some who are just wanting a quick and easy standard curry.
Look, if you don't like meat, I haven't neglected you guys. The author of the above book also has made a vegetarian equivalent which is every bit as good.
Remember what I said about veggies being lower in calories. If you like the sound of that, this could be the book for you. Plates bursting with colour and flavour? What could be better?
As a semi-finalist in the Great British Bakeoff, Chetna certainly knows her way around a kitchen. You'll find plenty of low-calorie dishes. There are loads of pulses, beans and lentils, so the recipes are really filling.
My particular favourite is courgette kofta curry!
- The recipes are simple and uncomplicated
- I found it quite easy to make substitutes with the vegetables if I was running short
- Some of the dishes look really eye-catching
- I wish there were calories included in the recipes. I love the chilli naan… But I feel like it would be easy to overindulge (that said, I'm a little greedy)
Dan Toombs is one of my favourite curry authors. When it comes to BIR Indian curry, his recipes are perhaps some of the most authentic.
The good news is that Dan has produced a cookbook that is similar to his famous 'Curry Guy' series that promises to deliver a similar taste with fewer calories!
If you want healthy options, there is plenty to have a go at. The grilled sea bass might not be something you'll see in a traditional Indian restaurant, but it is super tasty and really low in calories!
If I was asked to describe how easy the recipes were to make, I'd say… Medium. Some are super quick. Others can be a bit fiddly.
One thing I didn't like was that there are fewer 'traditional' BIR recipes than his other books, this is more of a conventional cookbook with a healthy twist, but that said, if takeaway could be made healthy, they'd already be doing it!
- These dishes taste amazing, considering that they are 'healthy.'
- I love that he puts the calories at the top of each page
- There are one or two that taste every bit as good as an authentic takeaway
- One or two of the dishes can be a little fiddly
- I sort of wish there was more traditional Indian takeaway dishes
The Healthiest Curry? Final Thoughts
Choosing the healthiest Indian Curry is a little bit of a balancing act. Choose curries whose ingredients are more calorie sparse and avoid things that are full of things like butter and cream. By making smart choices, you can still enjoy the occasional Indian without worrying about your waistline.
Got any healthy curry ideas? Why not share them in the comments below?