No more telling yourself that pasta you ordered was probably prepared in a healthy way: under new regulations by Dubai Municipality (DM), all eateries are going to be required to list the calorie counts of their dishes, right there on the menu. Maria Abi Hanna and Nadine Tayara are dietitians who founded KeepEATReal to provide the local food and beverage industry with guidance on health and nutrition claims and menu development. We asked them to walk us through the changes and give some healthy advice to follow when dining out.
What do people need to know when they approach a typical restaurant menu?
Maria: Before ordering your meal, it’s always important to go through the menu and when scanning a menu, make sure you read between the lines. Avoid dishes with descriptions such as creamy, crispy, deep-fried, breaded, batter-fried. Select foods that are steamed, grilled, broiled, baked, boiled or roasted; swap unhealthy sides for an extra serving of greens.
Nadine: It is important for people to stay informed and ask about how the food is prepared and what ingredients are in it. Understanding the calories and macronutrient information is also valuable, as not all calories are created equal.
What are the top 3 things to keep in mind when ordering at restaurants?
Maria: Practice portion control and avoid super-sizing. Generally, restaurant portions tend to be bigger than the recommended serving size. Listen to your body and tune in to your hunger and satiety cues.
Nadine: Sharing is caring, when it comes to dessert and even main meals. Always split the portion, if the plates are too big or ask to take away any leftovers. When it comes to dressings, sauces, gravies and any other condiments, ask for them to be served on the side.
How can you arm yourself against restaurant menus that sometimes seem designed to confuse people who are trying to eat healthily?
Nadine: On the whole, the UAE community is becoming much more aware of the importance of healthy eating. Both restaurant owners and consumers are taking the right measures to design their meals accordingly, which is a great first step. However, there’s still not enough information on the nutritional value of menu items nor on the ingredients used and especially possible allergens. As a consumer, it is important to always be well informed, so ask about ingredients and cooking methods used before ordering and avoid going to a restaurant too hungry, as this may lead you to make the wrong food choices.
What are the most typical ways that restaurants cook that are unhealthy?
Maria: To keep dishes tasty and flavorful generally restaurants tend to add more salt, sugars or fats to the meals. A lot of added dressings and sauces that are not made from scratch tend to contain a lot of salt and sugar, thus making them unhealthy. The more natural the food, the better. Another way is overcooking vegetables to the point of losing a lot of their nutrients and vitamins.
When it comes to oils, it’s also very important to not overheat oils beyond their smoke point, which makes them unhealthy. Aside from ingredients, the type of cookware used at restaurants is important as well.
How are you helping the Dubai food and beverage sector through KeepEATreal?
Maria: We work with cafes, restaurants, hotels and schools to bring better nutritional balance and help with health and nutrition claims, nutrition analysis, recipe and menu development and expert nutrition advice. We also help F&B gain credibility and trust with their consumers by endorsing their menus and products and in parallel empowering consumers to make smarter more informed food choices.
Featured photo Maria Abi Hanna (left) and Nadine Tayara, founders of KeepEATreal/Photo courtesy KeepEATreal