The buffet is a hostile place for anyone seeking to fight the battle of the bulge. Expert advice on how to eat out sensibly, this season and beyond
As New Year resolutions go flying out the window only to be replaced with a barrage of wedding/ dinner/ lunch invitations, we wondered: Is there a way to avoid those clingy 'holiday' kilos or was one's only choice to risk social ostracisation in the vain attempt to stay trim?
Experts say yes, it is possible to do both: Socialise and be kind to the weighing scale. If you're heading to a Chinese restaurant, "Stir-fried veggies are a healthy option," says fitness expert Zareen Watson, who also gives a thumbs up to steamed fish and sushi.
"Edamame beans, rice paper vegetable rolls and lemon wraps are all healthy starters. So are clear soups. If you're craving something spicy, opt for the Tom Yum soup," suggests nutritionist, health and obesity consultant Naini Setalvad.
Mexican cuisine on the menu? Slight problem. Enchiladas and tortillas are typically laden with melted cheese and must be avoided, says Watson. Opt instead for Fajitas (Mexican wraps) with stir-fried veggies, and request for salsa sauce or an avocado dip (Guacamole) in place of a cheesy one.
Tomato Bruschetta is better
Start your meal with a Minestrone soup or a Tomato Bruschetta starter, if the menu is Italian. For the Main Course, request for whole wheat instead of regular pasta, which is the "lesser of the two evils", according to Watson.
Pastas tossed in a tomato sauce, instead of a white sauce (Bechamel or cheese) are also less heavy on the calories.
Setalvad advises opting for the Arrabbiata sauce, which is made with tomatoes, olive oil, chilli flakes.
If your Italian meal isn't complete without pizza, ask for your pizza to be topped with lots of veggies, instead of toppings like cheese and pepperoni, which are high in fat, salt and calories.
'Tandoori' yes, 'Makhni' no
When going desi, experts say that 'tandoor' or 'grilled' options are a better deal, while Naans, fired papads and dishes with 'makhni' in their name are also strict no-nos. Setalvad also advises against eating Galouti kebabs. "They have too much cream, cheese and ghee."
A great strategy to avoid over-eating is to be prepared. "Eat before you go out, as you never know what you might get there," says Setalvad, especially when it comes to buffets, which are the equivalent of temptation islands for dieters.
Small portions diet don't work at a buffet, as all the cheeses, chocolates and cream add up to a lot of calories, according to Watson, who suggests, "Fill up on the soup, as it will help curb a large part of your hunger and gorge on salads. You will feel full before you get to the Main Course."
Sugar is the enemy
Watson feels that the biggest damage is the dessert counter and that it is best to stay away from it. If you must end your meal with something sweet, opt for some seasonal fruits (strawberries with yoghurt and a drizzle of honey are a great option) or sorbets over ice creams.
"Sangrias, margaritas and other fancy cocktails go down real smooth, but you would need a trailer to get you up and working the next day. They are laden with sugar," says Watson, who advises a glass of red wine or vodka with a squeeze of lime.
"Ditch colas; ask for sparkling water or soda, instead," suggests Setalvad.
Did you say 'baked'?
Read the menu closely. If a dish is 'grilled' it is relatively low in calories, while 'baked' can be a tricky term. "A baked dish can be baked with cheese, margarine or butter, so read the description closely," says Watson, adding, "All pastries and savouries are baked too, and are fattening."
Sauteed is a good word too, as it means that the food was cooked on a high temperature with relatively less oil. "Breaded usually means that it's been deep-fried," says Setalvad.
If a potato is roasted or sauteed, it need not be high in calories. The calories of the dish shoot up, however, if the potatoes are served with a mayonnaise or sour-cream dip. Hummus, the Lebanese dip made with chickpeas, olive oil and garlic is a better bet.
The day after
There will be days, dinners or meals that you slip up, so don't be too hard on yourself. Recover the following day by drinking lots of water and bulking up on fresh fruits and seasonal veggies, including leafy greens. Try to strike a balance between proteins and carbohydrates.
Cardio and strength-training exercises are also a great way to get back on track. Setalvad advises chooses foods with a low Glycaemic Index (GI), as these foods are likely to help prevent a sudden spike in insulin levels, and may improve long-term blood-glucose control. Most fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, whole grains and certain nuts are examples of low GI foods.
Good to know
Not all carbs are created equal. Carbohydrates are considered a bad word for dieters, but not all carbs are bad for you. The ones to avoid are those found in most baked goodies, including breads and cakes, and other deep-fried foods. Good carbs are those found in whole-grain foods such as fruits and even dried fruits.
Dried fruits are not as high in fat as nuts. True, (unsalted) nuts are good for you (they contain "good" monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and not the "bad" saturated ones found in meat and dairy products), but it is still best to consume them in moderation, as they are high in fat. Dried fruits such as prunes and apricots, however, have zero fat, and a handful make a good mid-evening snack.
Watch out for!
menu descriptions that can wreak havoc on any healthy eating plan: 'Au gratin', 'Basted', 'Creamed', 'smothered', 'stuffed' 'in white sauce', 'crispy' and 'crunchy'
Tempura: This is the Japanese term for battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables. It's the equivalent of a bhajia or batata vada.
The amount of calories in just 50 grammes, equivalent to a fistful, of chips.
Sangrias, margaritas and other fancy cocktails go down real smooth, but you would need a trailer to get you up and working the next day. They are laden with sugars.
Zareen Watson, Fitness Expert
3 tips to eat out sensibly
Start your meal with a clear soup. This is a great way to cut back on calories. Make sure to steer clear of
any garnishes of fresh cream and deep-fried croutons, though.
Cut out sugar. Skip the temptation to end your meal on a sweet note. Avoid alcohol.
Eat on a small plate. Remember, we all eat with our eyes first, and so this is a simple strategy to trick your brain into feeling full.