Food & Nutrition

Let’s Go Out for…Indian

What to know    What to eat    Menu decoder

Whether you're a complete newbie to Indian cuisine or have a favorite go-to spot for takeout, it's always good to keep some things in mind when navigating the menu of any delicious cuisine in order to stay within your budget. Here's how to make the most of your Indian meal. Here’s how to make the most of your meal while minimizing extras that will tack on hidden SmartPoints values.

Settle for a taste
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 an extensive 3-course 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 dosa or kadhi, a spicy dish with thick chickpea gravy, for example.

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

Avoid the app trap
The “pakora,” “samosa” and “bhaji” families of small bites all indicate deep-frying. Be really careful about portions here if you’re looking to cut back SmartPoints values. Instead, request a cup of lentil soup.

Eat more tandoori
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.

Choose your chutney
On an Indian table, you might find a variety of chutneys as condiments, usually one brown and one green. If you can handle the spice, the green chutney is the best choice. Made with mint, cilantro and spicy chilies, this tangy and fiery condiment brings big flavor, with 1 SmartPoints value. That sweet reddish brown chutney, on the other hand, is loaded with fruit sugars from tamarind, dates or mango, meaning you’ll pick up 3 SmartPoints value for each tablespoon.

Turn up the heat
As with Thai and Szechuan cuisine, Indian dishes can range from mild to very spicy. If you enjoy heat, lean into the spicier dishes. Heat doesn't affect calories ot SmartPoints and most people tend to eat less of a mouth-searing dish.

Get the raita stuff
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 SmartPoints value of just 3. To quell the burning from a hot spice, a spoonful is a much better solution than chowing on rice and bread.

Don’t get creamed
“Masala” can mean a rich mix of Indian spices, but in the context of chicken tikka masala, it typically signals the use of cream. Other words that will clue you into a heavier, creamier sauce could be "malai," such as in the dish malai prawns. This refers to a rich, clotted cream with up to 55-percent butterfat. Another one to look out for is "Makhani," another name for popular butter chicken.

Verify the vegetarian
Most Indian restaurants have a large selection of vegetarian meals. However, there are many calorie-laden vegetarian dishes where you may want to pay attention to portions. For instance, malai kofta are vegetarian dumplings swimming in heavy cream. And “paneer” indicates firm cheese, which is almost always pan fried. It never hurts to ask your server if they will simmer or steam the paneer for you instead.