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Staple Indian foods like rice, whole-wheat flour, and lentils are delicious, but high carb. But there are low-carb Indian food options out there.
Popular foods like naan, jelabi, and pakora may be mouth watering, but this classic Indian fare can have a major impact on your blood glucose.
Don't worry! You don't have to part ways with your favorite Indian restaurant or takeout picks. Just keep these tips in mind when scanning the menu — you'll enjoy the flavors of Indian cuisine without seeing your sugars climb.
One Drop Guide to Carbohydrates
Rethink Fried Food
Indian appetizers, like samosas (a savory stuffed pastry), are often fried. Instead of veggie samosas (pastries), try this spicy peanut chaat ("chaat" tells you something is a snack) or shahi paneer—a homemade cheese in curried tomato sauce. A favorite dish in northern India, “shahi paneer” translates to “royal cheese” and was served at the Imperial Court of the Mughal Empire.
Hungry for more? Grilled meat, seafood, or vegetable kebabs are awesome app choices. Substitute mulligatawny for a bowl of chicken shorba—a lower carb soup of chicken, garlic, ginger, and other spices. Another Mughlai classic, chicken shorba is high in protein and deliciously tender.
When choosing dishes, avoid words like "vada" or "pakora," which are fried foods. Look for "tandoori". Tandoori-style items are cooked in a tandoor (metal or clay oven). You can even cook tandoori foods at home on your BBQ outside to get those great grill marks.
Tandoori chicken is marinated in a combination of spices and yogurt. The traditional bright red color comes from a dash of food coloring.
“Tikka” is a good word to look for. It describes a meat with no bone cooked in a spice-driven sauce.
In summary, ask your server how dishes are prepared if the menu is unclear.
Skip Starches and Added Sugars
Indian meals often include roti (a flatbread) and many traditional dishes are built upon starches. Eating a low-carb diet doesn’t mean you need to avoid carbs altogether. It’s all about balance. If you’ve been craving your favorite garlic naan, allowing yourself a taste and limiting carbs at another point during the day is perfectly fine.
But if you want to limit all carbs at your next Indian feast, try these tips:
- Bounce on the bread.
- Pass on the potatoes.
- Refuse the rice.
If getting takeout, instead of naan or roti, buy papadum at your local Indian grocery store. Cook each papadum in the microwave for one minute, then 30 second intervals until it’s crispy. Papadums that aren’t fried are crunchy, satisfying, and five to six carbs each.
You can also ask for condiments like pickle, coconut chutney, or cilantro chutney on the side, or pair your dish with raita, a cucumber yogurt sauce (<4 carbs per serving).
All you need is a few tablespoons—a little flavor goes a long way!
Get Your Greens
Non-starchy vegetables are low in carbs and high in fiber and nutrients. Start with a traditional Indian salad. Most use fresh ingredients like raw onion, cucumber, coriander/cilantro, chilis, and lemon. Then, look for other veggie-based dishes:
- Beans Poriyal (green bean stir fry)
- Palak Paneer (cheese and spinach)
- Bhindi Ki Sabzi (stir-fried okra)
Say Yes to Spice
Spices are one of the best ways to add excitement to a dish without increasing calories (or carbs).
Indian cooking uses turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, clove, and many more spices! All of which have medicinal properties and tons of flavor. If spicy food with heat is not for you, ask if the cook can make your dish less spicy.
Cook Your Own!
Indian restaurant menus definitely include diabetes-friendly options, but there's no need to second guess your order when you're the one cooking. Whether you’re a beginner in the kitchen or a seasoned veteran, the following low-carb Indian recipes are fun to prepare and might even taste better than takeout.
Check out these low-carb Indian recipes, and get in the kitchen!
Low-Carb Paneer Makhani
<11 carbs per serving
Easy-to-prepare vegetarian recipe featuring Indian-style homemade paneer cheese covered in creamy, spicy, tangy, and sweet curry. Yum!
Get the recipe on Keto Diet App
Coconut Fish Curry
<11 carbs per serving
Get the recipe on Indian Healthy Recipes
Gobi Ki Sabzi
<16 carbs per serving
This cauliflower dish uses common Indian spices and ingredients, so if you have those, you are ready to cook!
Get the recipe on Food.com
This article has been clinically reviewed by Hanna Rifkin, RD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.