Indian Food Nutrition Facts: Menu Choices & Calories

The Healthiest Indian Food to Enjoy

Indian food
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If you're like many healthy eaters, you like to eat a wide variety of foods to fuel your body and enjoy flavorful meals. Eating different foods can also help you stick a diet so you can lose weight and keep it off. But some ethnic food menus can be hard to navigate if you are unfamiliar with the dishes. For example, Indian food calories may be hard to calculate if you've never heard of the ingredients. But that shouldn't steer you away from enjoying the flavor and nutrition in the cuisine. These are some of the healthiest Indian foods to choose when you dine out or eat at home.

Indian Food Calories and Nutrition

Poha, or flattened rice, is a popular Indian breakfast or brunch dish that you can make at home or order at an Indian restaurant. While there are many variations and ways to prepare poha, almost all of them include potato, onion, and flattened rice. The spicy, fluffy dish is a significant source of carbohydrates and even provides a little bit of protein. Recipes that include peanuts offer more protein.

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one quarter-cup serving (30g) of thick poha.

  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 20mg
  • Carbohydrates: 23g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 2g

Other popular Indian dishes provide more fat. Pakora, for example, is a fried snack, like vegetable fritters. While recipes vary, a single order of vegetable pakora is likely to provide between 125-140 calories and between 6-7 grams of fat.

5 Best Indian Food Nutrition Choices

Traditional Indian food is full of healthy ingredients. Many healthy Indian dishes include lean protein like chicken or fish and most include diet-friendly high fiber lentils and vegetables. These filling ingredients help you to eat less and still feel full and satisfied.

Another benefit of eating Indian cuisine when you're on a diet is that it is full of flavor. Some American versions of Indian food include curry, a delicious spice that is often full of heat. The authentic version of curry, called garam masala, is a warm spice mix. Eating hot and spicy foods flavored with these ingredients might also help you to eat less and slim down faster.

So what is the healthiest Indian food to order at your favorite restaurant? Recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant so be sure to ask your waiter for details. Remember that you can order sauces on the side or smaller portions to keep your diet on track.

  • Tandoori chicken combines the flavors of yogurt and tandoori masala. Ingredients are baked in a clay oven, also called a tandoor, to get flavorful and satisfying chicken. This dish provides protein without excess fat. You'll consume about 350 to 400 calories if you eat half of a tandoori chicken.
  • Chicken tikka masala is another smart chicken dish. Made with chunks of chicken and curry, the dish is often combined with white rice. You'll get about 350 calories and 30 grams of protein in one serving. Cut the rice to cut calories and starch.
  • Raita is a condiment that will help cool your mouth if the heat of your Indian food gets too intense. The dish is made by combining vegetables, herbs, and fruit with yogurt. A single serving provides about 40 to 60 calories depending on how it is made.
  • Roti (also known as chapati) is the best bread choice because it is made from whole wheat, but you might also enjoy naan (a leavened bread made from white flour)  as long as you keep portion size in mind. One seven-inch roti provides about 110 calories and 3 grams of fat.
  • Vegetable or meat shish kebabs are a smart choice as a meal because they can be made with little fat. Chicken and veggie kebabs will be lowest in calories if they are made without coconut milk. Lamb and beef kebabs will be higher in fat and calories. Depending on the preparation method, a chicken shish kebab will provide about 100 calories and only about one gram of fat.

You can also cut calories if you cut back on rice when you visit an Indian restaurant. White rice provides about 100 calories per half-cup serving. Order brown rice and you'll get a few extra calories but you'll benefit from the fiber provided by this whole grain. For flavoring meats and vegetables, consider using raita (Indian yogurt and cucumber condiment) or kothmmiri chatni (green chutney containing cilantro, ginger, yogurt, and chilies) to avoid using higher-creamed or buttered condiments.

5 Less Healthy Indian Food Choices

Every cuisine has foods that provide more calories than you need. Indian food is no different. Some traditional Indian foods are fried and may include creamy sauces that are full of fat.

In general, these are dishes you may want to avoid. 

  • Samosas are tasty and savory fried triangles that can derail your diet in a heartbeat. They are full of fat, calories , and starch. Just one potato-filled, deep fried samosa provides over 300 calories and 18 grams of fat.
  • Chicken korma is made by combining protein (like chicken) with vegetables and cream sauce. The savory dish can provide 800 or more calories depending on the preparation method.
  • Pakora is a dish that may sound healthy because it includes vegetables, but they are served with deep-fried dough. There are other dishes, like gobhi matar tamatar (made with cauliflower and tomatoes) that are more healthy if you're looking for a veggie dish. 
  • Any dishes made with coconut milk or cream. Vegetables or chicken dishes made with coconut milk will be higher in calories in fat. For example, a vegetable curry made with coconut milk sounds healthy, but can easily provide nearly 500 calories per serving. Saaq paneer might also look healthy because it is made with spinach or mustard leaves. But it also includes cream and/or cheese and can be quite fatty.Moderation and pairing these dishes with lower calorie items are recommended
  • Dishes made with ghee. Ghee is clarified butter. While it is delicious when brushed on naan or used in other traditional dishes, it will boost your fat and calorie count. One tablespoon of ghee provides over 100 calories and 14 grams of fat.

If your favorite Indian food is on this list, consider splitting an order with a friend so you eat less and keep your weight loss program on track. Or take half of your order home for another day.

How to Cook Indian Food at Home

Of course, the healthiest Indian food for any dieter is the food you make at home. When you cook at home, you can control the ingredients and even make a few healthy swaps to keep the calorie count under control. For example, you can use chicken stock in a non-stick pan instead of oil to saute veggies with less fat.

Try this traditional Poha recipe if you'd like to experiment with Indian cooking.

Traditional Poha (makes 4 servings)

  • 1.5 cups poha (flattened rice flakes)
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/4 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/8 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1/8 tablespoon red chili, ground
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

First, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat and add and add mustard and cumin seeds. Then saute the onion and potato for about five minutes or until brown. Add the tomato and continue to cook for five minutes. Add turmeric and chili and mix well. Finally, add the poha and blend.

Nutrition facts for this recipe: 206 calories per serving, 3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 14 milligrams sodium, 40 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams protein.

Remember to eat your healthy Indian food in moderation (just like any food you eat!) and to enjoy your meal with a healthy low-calorie drink, like water.

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  1. Thick Poha. USDA FoodData Central. Updated 4/1/2019

  2. Vegetable Pakoras With Tamarind Dipping Sauce. USDA FoodData Central. Updated 4/1/2019

  3. Indian Inspired Vegetable Pakoras In A Savory Yogurt Curry Sauce, Indian Inspired. USDA FoodData Central Updated 4/1/2019