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Healthy Menu Navigator: Indian

What should you steer clear of besides the basket of naan? Nutritionist Heather Bauer explains how to order healthy dishes off an Indian restaurant menu.
Chicken tikka (Photo:
Chicken tikka—not tikka masala!—is one of Bauer’s best bets. (Photo:


Even if you know to steer clear of the bread basket, er, naan basket, it turns out the average restaurant meal clocks in at a whopping 1,128 calories—yep, 1,128—making it easy for even the most health-savvy among us to think we’re eating well while eating out, when we’re not.

HealthyMenuNavigatorFinalEnter nutritionist-author Heather Bauer, of Bread is the Devil and Bestowed fame—and our culinary compass. Each week, Bauer steers us toward the healthiest choices on restaurant menus of any type.

Last week, Bauer helped us navigate the menu at a Japanese hotspot. This week, it’s Indian food! Enjoy, everyone.

Heather Bauer’s Indian menu navigational nugget

It’s always a good idea to stop yourself from scarfing down bread when you’re out for a meal (a tall order, we know!), but it’s particularly important when you’re out for Indian. “Avoid the bread in the beginning, because Indian can become a very carb-heavy meal,” Bauer says. In fact, she advocates avoiding traditional oven-baked naan bread altogether. (Sorry!)



1. Spicy tomato and tamarind rasam soup—it’s full of flavor (and antioxidant-rich lycopene from the tomatoes!) and is awesomely filling.

2. Lentils are an Indian menu staple and another safe starter, Bauer says. They’re high in soluble fiber and low in calories.


1. Chicken tikka, which is chunks of chicken marinated in spices and cooked on skewers. Warning! Be sure not to confuse it with the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, which is cooked in a lot of cream, making it a very heavy dish, Bauer says.

2. Chicken or shrimp tandoori—AKA poultry or fish, marinated in yogurt and seasoned with spices. Have your tandoori with half a piece of roti bread (it’s lower in calories than naan), a fist-size portion of rice, or two papadum (large, crispy lentil crackers).

3. Black and yellow dals are also good bets, because they’re lentil-based. But loading up on lentils and beans is one of the ways an Indian meal can go carb-heavy really fast, so watch your portions, Bauer says.


1. Samosas. Sure, they’re tasty, but these fried or baked savory pastries are loaded with calories and rarely filled with anything particularly nutritious. Potatoes and peas? Come on.

2. Vegetable pakora. Don’t be fooled by the “vegetable” in the name; these are the deep fried Indian equivalent of onion rings.

3. Makhani, a tomato-based dish made with cream and butter, or highly caloric ghee. The dish’s name means “with butter”—a pretty clear hint it’s best avoided!

Hungry for more? Next week, Bauer’s spilling her secrets to ordering healthy tapas. Or check out last week’s guide to ordering healthy Japanese.