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Published On: Tue, Jun 5th, 2018

What should you get for lunch at a halal cart? Nutritionists explain how to pick a protein that isn’t packed with calories and why you should beware the white sauce

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By Mary Kekatos

It’s lunch time and you want something quick and cheap.
You could go to the salad place, which can charge you as much as $15 – and then there’s the halal cart where meals are roughly between $5 and $6.
But with plates that are loaded to the brim with meats and rice and slathered in sauce, it’s easy to pick a dish that will leave you feeling bloated.
We asked five nutritionists what foods they would pick to leave you feeling satisfied and what they would recommend to steer clear of. THE GOOD: PICK DISHES THAT ARE HIGH IN PROTEIN AND FIBER

Nutritionists agree that when it comes to meats, chicken is the best way to go.
‘Chicken, especially the breast, is a lean protein and has less saturated fat than the red meats,’ Mary Jane Detroyer, a registered dietitian in New York, told Daily Mail Online.
About half a cup of chopped or shredded chicken breast makes up a chicken gyro.
That’s 22 grams of protein, or about half of a woman’s daily requirement of 46 grams and 39 percent of a man’s 56 gram requirement.
And between rice or a salad, the latter was recommended as the best way to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium.
‘Aim for creating your own salad and add as many veggies as they offer – lettuce, tomato, and onions,’ Lara Metz, founder of Lara Metz Nutrition in New York, told Daily Mail Online.
‘And if they have black beans, add those too because they’ll provide you with extra protein and fiber.’
Chicken gyro salads generally cost about $6.

Our nutritionists recommend that if you get a side with your dish, go for an option that is low in starch.
‘If you’re going to get a side, go for the hummus,’ Rochelle Sirota, a registered dietitian in New York City, told Daily Mail Online.
‘It’s got chickpeas, cumin, turmeric and, in good quality ones, you also have olive oil and lemon juice.’
Chickpeas, which are the base for hummus recipes, are high in protein, as well as iron, folate, B vitamins and fiber, which keeps you full.
The portion size, which costs about $4, that you receive is also what makes this dip a good option, according to Sirota.
‘You’re likely just getting a small amount and not a plate of it so it’s going to be hard to overeat with that,’ she said.

Although falafel is made with chickpeas, just like hummus, you won’t be getting the same nutritional benefits.
‘The falafel that you get at the halal carts are usually fried so you’re getting more calories than you would from baked falafel,’ Lyssie Lakatos, of the Nutrition Twins in New York, told Daily Mail Online.
A 3.5 ounce serving of deep-fried falafel – about three falafel balls – without the pita or toppings has approximately 330 calories and 17.5 grams of fat.
Deep fried foods are often cooked in hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fats

Trans fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels, and raise your risk of heart disease.
The sandwich, will run you about $5, uses pita bread, which is also low in nutritional value.
‘It’s a white bread so they strip off the outside,’ said Lakatos. ‘The outer shell contains all the nutrients and fiber that prevents diabetes and heart disease.

‘So you’re eating pure carbohydrates and there’s no fiber to slow down digestion so it doesn’t fill you.’
While it may seem obvious, our nutritionists warn that getting french fries as a side dish is a poor choice.
French fries are high in refined carbohydrates, which can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, when eaten in excess.
They are also often laden in salt, as much as 600 miligrams per serving, which costs around $3.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that individuals consume less than a half-teaspoon a day of salt, or between 1,500 and 2,000 milligrams.
‘Because it’s less expensive than some other side dishes, you’ll probably get a big portion and it’ll take up a lot of room on that plate,’ said Sirota.
‘And french fries are easy to overeat. Next thing you know, you’ve eaten 400 calories and you’re not feeling energized and not feeling so good.’
Our nutritionists recommend avoiding the platters due to the size of the portion and the lack of nutrients.
‘The rice platters usually contain about two to three cups of rice,’ said Detroyer.
‘Three cups without any oil is around 700 calories and not many people are burning that off in one day. Add one tablespoon of oil, that’s another 125 calories.’
Most halal trucks serve white rice or yellow rice – essentially white rice, which has been colored – for their platters, which can run you anywhere from $6 to $10.
While both options are a good source of carbohydrates, they are refined carbs and not whole grains.
Diets that are high in refined carbs have been linked to weight gain and obesity.
‘It’s extremely caloric in content and more than anybody’s body needs. You don’t get a lot of vegetables and less fiber so you may feel hungry in two to three hours,’ said Detroyer.
Our nutritionists also recommend being careful about loading up on that white sauce, which usually mayonnaise-based, not yogurt-based.
If you’re going to go for a meat option and you’re not in the mood for chicken, this could be a good option for you.
‘It’s grilled meat so it’s better than meat that is fried or charred,’ said Tammy Lakatos Shames. ‘And if they use tenderloin, it’s cubes of one of the leanest cuts of meat.’
While red meats are high in protein and iron, some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol.
High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week.
A kebab will generally cost around $4 per skewer.
‘It’s a better portion that the meat platters you get and then, if you bring your own salad from home, you can top the kebab on that,’ Lyssie Lakatos said. ‘So it’s not as bad as some of the other options.’
Lamb can be part of a healthy diet if it is not consumed often, but having it on a regular basis could wreak havoc on the body.
‘Lamb is pretty fatty and it’s higher in calories and higher in sodium,’ said Detroyer.
Lamb is also a source of purines, a compound that your body converts into uric acid. If you can’t properly remove the uric acid from your body, it can raise the risk of kidney stones and trigger gout attacks.
But, our nutritionists says that if you having a craving for lamb, shawarma – about $8 or $9 per plate – could be a good option.
‘The coriander and the cumin and paprika it’s spiced with is a good way to add flavor without adding extra calories as you might with the sauce,’ said Lyssie Lakatos.
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