By Stephanie S. Saunders

As we all learned in grade school and most of us subsequently forgot, in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue looking for an alternate trade route to India. And why did he want to go to the Near East so desperately? The answer is spices, which were, at the time, one of the most valuable commodities on the trade market.

Today, those spices—cumin, turmeric, saffron, and others—are slightly easier to come by, simply by popping over to your local Indian restaurant. The cuisine has become one of the most popular choices for eating out in the world. The UK alone has over 10,000 Indian restaurants, and Indian cuisine continues to increase in popularity in the United States, with vegetarians and carnivores alike being tantalized by a vast variety of tastes. With such a heavy emphasis on vegetables, legumes, and rice, how can one go wrong with eating Indian food?

And there's the problem. Indian chefs use butter, clarified butter, oils, nuts, and full-fat cheeses to create their rich creamy sauces. Naan, a traditional flatbread that comes with most meals, is also high in calories, carbohydrates, and often fat. And rice is often used in such abundance that the caloric intake of it alone could make up an entire meal. Indian food may be accessible nowadays, but with all the hidden fats and starchy breads, as well as the sizable portions, a night out at Joe's Tandoor can make your gut expand like the Niña, your hips grow to the size of the Pinta, and your rear end stick out to Santa Maria-sized proportions.

So can the flavors of India be enjoyed without feeling "sari" for your waistline? Let's look at some options in this installment of Beachbody Restaurant Rescue.


Most Indian restaurants offer a variety of appetizers, many of which aren't so rough on the waistline. Unfortunately, in this country, the most popular offering is the samosa, which is kind of akin to a savory potato-stuffed donut. As tasty as samosas are, a small one can have up to 400 calories and 20 grams of fat. That's equivalent to a McDonald's® Quarter Pounder, which is not how most of us want to begin a meal. Branch out and try something different, such as the aloo tikki. Or, if you have the willpower, save your calories for the main course.

Here's a brief description of some popular appetizers:

A vegetable samosa is a vegetarian turnover, stuffed with potatoes, peas, spices, and herbs. A lamb samosa is the same as the vegetable version, with ground lamb mixed in. The sev puri is a crisp wheat wafer topped with onions, potatoes, and chutney, and sprinkled with chickpeas. The chicken chaat is pieces of marinated boneless chicken, tossed with a blend of spices called chaat masala. The shrimp pakora is shrimp marinated with ginger, light green chili, and cilantro. The aloo tikki is an Indian potato pancake topped with chopped onions, tamarind, and green chili chutney.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Samosa 400 20 g 29 g 356 mg 5 g
Lamb samosa 369 14 g 48 g 300 mg 12 g
Sev puri 400 6 g 35 g 400 mg 4 g
Chicken chaat 282 17 g 11 g 415 mg 12 g
Shrimp pakora 164 15 g 1 g 80 mg 7 g
Aloo tikki 51 2 g 7 g 235 mg 2 g

Soup and Salads

salads go, many establishments have very few offerings, and nothing of true Indian origin. Soups, on the other hand, come in great variety and often are fairly healthy. Remember that warm liquids expand in your stomach and will make you feel full faster, so beginning a meal with a healthy broth-based soup is always a great idea.

Many Indian restaurants offer a vegetarian soup, usually mixed vegetables and lentils with ginger, chili, tomato, and cilantro. They might also serve chicken soup made of onion, ginger, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, spices with basmati rice, and, of course, chicken. Mulligatawny soup is a lightly spiced coconut-flavored soup cooked with lentils and rice. And "Indian salad" is lettuce, cucumber, and tomato with cumin-cilantro dressing.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Vegetarian soup 188 2 g 39 g 367 mg 7 g
Chicken soup 158 2 g 9 g 431 mg 3 g
Mulligatawny soup 225 15 g 10 g 800 mg 8 g
Indian salad 50 2 g 15 g 234 mg 1 g


Welcome to vegetarian paradise, otherwise known as the vegetable section of an Indian restaurant menu. After thousands of years of the vegetarian-espousing Hindu religious influence, Indian chefs have taken vegetables to an artistic level. Unfortunately, many of the selections are so delicious because they are prepared with butter, oils, and cheeses that would do damage to almost anyone's diet. If possible, try to lean toward dishes without cheese or nuts, and remember that tomato-based sauces are probably better than most sautéed options.

Here are a few popular vegetable choices. The vegetable bhuna is vegetables sautéed with spices. The akbari kofta are potato balls stuffed with nuts in a mild sauce. The bengan aloo is eggplant and potatoes sautéed in spices. The bhartha is roasted eggplant sautéed with onion, tomato, green peas, and spices. The gobi aloo is cauliflower and potatoes sautéed in garlic and ginger, steamed in a sauce. Saag paneer is spinach cooked with homemade cheese. Channa masala is chickpeas prepared in onions and tomato sauce. And bhindi masala is okra sautéed with onions, Serrano chilies, and spices.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Vegetable bhuna 271 4 g 52 g 333 mg 10 g
Akbari kofta 188 12 g 8 g 490 mg 8 g
Bengan aloo 103 4.7 g 32 g 26 mg 1.3 g
Bharta 200 13 g 22 g 11 mg 3.5 g
Gobi aloo 206 8 g 32 g 332 mg 6 g
Saag paneer 194 11 g 19 g 183 mg 11 g
Channa masala 243 5 g 43 g 677 mg 9 g
Bhindi masala 205 17 g 10 g 900 mg 4 g

Meat Dishes

There's a fairly wide divide when it comes to how different regions of India prepare their meats. With that split comes a huge difference in how healthy it is. Meats that are tandoor grilled are usually very healthy, and considerably lower in fat than their sauce-cooked cousins because sauces add butter, oil, or cheese, blowing the fat grams through the roof. A kebab is always a safe bet, as it's a smaller portion and is usually tandoor grilled. Again, leaning toward chicken and fish and avoiding the sauce will save you the work of taking it off later.

You'll find great variety in tandoor-grilled meats. Tandoori salmon is a wild salmon marinated in spices, garlic, and ginger. Shrimp tandoori is jumbo shrimp marinated in oregano. Tandoori chicken is chicken marinated in spices. Mint chicken kebab is boneless chicken marinated in fresh mint. Shrimp bhuna is jumbo shrimp prepared in garlic, ginger, celery, mushrooms, bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, and cilantro.

If you are leaning toward a sauce-covered meat, here are some options. Chicken tikka is boneless chicken marinated in different spices than tandoor chicken, and served in a yogurt and tomato sauce. Chicken masala is boneless chicken prepared in a tomato sauce. Lamb vindaloo is lamb prepared in a tangy tomato-based sauce, with potatoes. Seekh kebab is minced lamb prepared with fresh mint, red onions, garlic and ginger.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Tandoori salmon 127 4 g < 1 g 73 mg 22 g
Shrimp tandoori 200 10 g 15 g 87 mg 20 g
Tandoori chicken 276 7 g 7 g 305 mg 45 g
Mint chicken kebab 170 3 g 4 g 114 mg 34 g
Shrimp bhuna 210 5 g 18 g 477 mg 23 g
Chicken tikka 260 16 g 2 g 497 mg 27 g
Chicken masala 297 14 g 8 g 685 mg 34 g
Lamb vindaloo 713 57 g 8 g 533 mg 44 g
Seekh kebab
336 23 g 5 g 491 mg 26 g

Rice and Bread

We spent the last decade fearful of carbohydrates, believing that one bite of bread would destroy our entire physiques. As it turns out, the breads in an Indian meal might make all of these fears a reality. And not just the result of the carbs themselves, but the overall calorie count, which skyrockets because of the higher fat content in many Indian breads. One-fourth of a regular piece of naan bread can hold up to 7 grams of fat and 200 calories. And who really eats one-fourth of a slice? Then, there's rice, which is usually white and often fried in oil, butter, or ghee. Yes, both Indian rice and bread taste amazing, but is it really worth it? Should you decide to indulge, watch your portion sizes, and avoid anything with added cheese.

Basmati rice is aromatic rice suffused with saffron. Banarasi pulao is fresh vegetables, nuts, and raisins with basmati rice. Gucchi pillau is mushrooms cooked with, yes, basmati rice. Naan is fresh tandoor-baked white bread. Cheese naan is naan stuffed with cheddar, parmesan, and cream cheeses. Garlic naan is naan topped with freshly chopped garlic. Onion kulcha is naan topped with freshly chopped onion. Paratha is whole wheat unleavened bread. Aloo paratha is whole wheat bread studded with spiced potatoes.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Basmati rice 150 < 1 g 35 g < 1 mg 3 g
Banarasi pulao 293 11 g 44 g 1,8220 mg 4 g
Gucchi pillau 700 53 g 50 g 780 mg 5 g
Naan 200 7 g 12 g 435 mg 4 g
Cheese naan 332 10 g 49 g 407 mg 16 g
Garlic naan 209 6 g 34 g 462 mg 5 g
Onion kulcha 220 7 g 15 g 334 mg 6 g
Paratha 290 9 g 42 g 178 mg 11 g
Aloo paratha 360 12 g 47 g 220 mg 8 g

India has more undernourished people than any other country in the world, and yet obesity is on the rise. Some states report a 30 percent obesity rate amongst their population, thanks to an emerging middle class. In a country where over half the toddlers are malnourished, India already has the world's largest number of diabetics at 30 million people.

It isn't only about what you eat, but about how much you eat. Indian food's use of fragrant, flavorful spices makes it a favorite all over the world, but leave it up to the United States to consume it in super-sized portions. Try ordering just one dish, preferably of a lean meat or non-cheese-laden vegetable, and discover how truly satisfying it can be. You can always order more if you are hungry, or try other dishes at a later date. The fact that most Americans have access to food 24/7 does not mean we have to eat like we do.