• Vietnamese has been described as "one of the healthiest alternatives to fast food". (Food Safari Water)Source: Food Safari Water
In 2020, takeaway is a vehicle that supports the hospitality industry and gives us a night free from cooking. here are some tricks to keep your order healthy.
Nicola Heath

27 May 2020 - 12:00 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2020 - 12:08 PM

When COVID-19 restrictions saw the nation's dine-in hospitality industry shut down in March, takeaway suddenly became big business.

While sitting down to a meal at a restaurant was verboten, ordering takeout was encouraged by politicians and restauranteurs alike who were desperate to save hospitality businesses and keep people employed.

One upside is that you can now enjoy some genuinely fabulous meals from restaurants that had previously limited service to dine-in. The downside is that all that takeaway food can be unhealthy.

Dietitians often warn us about takeaway, particularly fast food such as burgers, chips, pies, pizzas and sausage rolls, which tend to be high in calories, saturated fats, salt and sugar, and low in nutrients and fibre.

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Anika Rouf, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says. "When people eat these foods, they tend to consume a lot of calories, but they're short of nutrients."

In the revised and updated edition of health-food book Nutrition for Life, nutritionist and dietitian Catherine Saxelby discusses the health benefits of cooking at home.

"Spraying oil, using lean meat, being frugal with cream or sour cream, adding plenty of vegetables or salad, which fill you up, are all things fast food places never do," Saxelby writes.

But the good news is that not all takeaway food is unhealthy. Like everything, when it comes to takeaway there are good and bad choices. Here are the healthiest takeaway options according to dietitians Saxelby and Rouf. 


"The traditional Japanese diet comes close to the perfect diet," Saxelby writes in Nutrition for Life. The abundance of ingredients such as seafood, seaweed, vegetables, rice and green tea in Japanese cuisine ensures it is high in nutrients.

There is an emphasis on variety and portion control – the famous Japanese saying hara hachi bu translates as 'eat until you're 80 per cent full' – adds to Japanese food's healthful qualities.

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For lunch on the run, it's hard to beat sushi rolls, which score top marks for convenience.

"They're pre-made, easily placed into a paper bag, portable and easy to eat with your hands – and hardly ever get messy," notes Saxelby.

"The traditional Japanese diet comes close to the perfect diet."

Sushi filled with tuna, salmon, prawns or avocado is a neat nutritional package. "They give you protein, vegetables and ride in one compact roll."

Saxelby advises avoiding deep-fried and salt-laden dishes like tonkatsu and fried gyoza. When ordering sushi, choose tuna and salmon over katsu and tempura options, while a seaweed salad on the side is an easy addition to your five-a-day vegetable serving.

Middle Eastern

Mediterranean cuisines like Lebanese are plentiful in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and seafood.

"Tabbouleh is a great salad with lots of veggies," says Rouf.

Dolma, kebabs, koftes, rice pilafs and vegetables stuffed with spiced mince are some of the delicious Middle Eastern dishes that Saxelby calls out for particular praise. Avoid fried boreks and syrupy sweets such as baklava.

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Another Mediterranean cuisine famous for its good nutrition is Italian food, particularly from the south of the country, which makes an excellent choice for takeaway

"Prawns, calamari, fish, ricotta, pasta, olive oil and tomatoes give you heaps of omega-3s, phytochemicals – like those greenish polyphenols from olive oil – vitamins and little in the way of saturated fat," writes Saxelby.

Opt for dishes with lots of vegetables and protein like fish over creamy pasta and gnocchi.

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Saxelby is a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine, which she describes as "one of the healthiest alternatives to fast food".

Garlic, chilli, lime, Vietnamese mint, basil and coriander add flavour to noodles and rice – staples of Vietnamese food – while pork, fish and eggs are go-to sources of protein.

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Saxelby gives her seal of approval to dishes such as pho, hot sour and chicken vermicelli soups, stir-fries and salads. Steer clear of processed foods and keep sweet and salty sauces to a minimum. 

Tips for making your takeaway order healthy 

A rule of thumb is the less processed, the better. Choose dishes made from ingredients that are as close to the whole-food form as possible, advises Rouf, such as grilled chicken instead of chicken nuggets.

Don't make high-kilojoule, deep-fried dishes a regular order. Instead, look for grilled, baked or pan-fried dishes.

Be wary of hidden ingredients, says Rouf, such as sugar in salad dressings.

Remember to take into account any sides into your nutritional reckoning. "Instead of getting a side of chips, get steamed vegetables or salad," says Rouf. "And say no to soft drinks."

If you find that your order is low in veggies, whip up a simple salad at home instead of ordering a side dish.

Love the story? Follow the author on Twitter at @nicoheath

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