The hidden calories in your upmarket takeaways


When lockdown got us hooked on takeaways, as a nation we were consuming an average of 470 kcal more calories per week. Comfort eating during a global pandemic seemed acceptable. But we’re still eating on average 400 additional calories – still more than it was pre-Covid.

The numbers reflect a change in habits. Services like Deliveroo and Uber Eats have made restaurant-quality food an at-home option with quick delivery times and user-friendly apps. According to data from Kantar Worldwide, the average consumer orders 15 times a year – more than once a month.

You might pat yourself on the back for scrolling past the deep-fried pizza and battered chicken to select something from an upmarket eatery that contains something akin to your five-a-day and some fibre. But inside those seemingly healthy dishes are some hidden calories. Dr Sarah Cooke, a registered associate nutritionist and practising GP, reveals where they’re hiding.

Yo Sushi

If your body is a temple but your cupboards are bare, sushi is a good choice. “It’s a great little package,” agrees Cooke, “as it’s likely to have some healthy fats in it either from avocado or from fatty fish, fibre from vegetables and a bit of protein either from fish or tofu, so it’s actually a pretty complete, balanced meal.” Nutritious doesn’t always mean low in calories, which is of course fine as long as you’re aware of it. “The chances are there are going to be some higher calorie items in there – probably a mayonnaise, or deep-fried items – even if it’s sushi.”

The dish: Yo Sushi’s vegan Plant Power box

Two avocado maki, two cucumber maki, two kaiso gunkan (seaweed) nigiri, two inari tacos, four yasai rolls and four hoisin faux duck rolls.

Calorie count

862 kcal (more calories than two McPlant burgers)

Nutritionist’s verdict

The rice accounts for some of that, and that’s not a red flag. “You need some carbohydrates,” confirms Cooke, “and when it’s consumed alongside other things like protein it’s not going to raise your blood sugars as much.” But vegan options do often rely on frying to bolster their flavour, and in this instance the inari – tofu pockets that have been deep-fried before being marinated in soy and sugar – will be sneaking in some extra saturated fats. Plant-based proteins aren’t necessarily healthier than the meats they’re standing in for, either: Yo Sushi’s mock duck rolls are 7 per cent higher in calories than the original version. And never underestimate the power of mayonnaise (vegan or otherwise) to fatten up the numbers.


With its roots in Japanese cuisine, Wagamama’s noodles, curries and soups could cure anything from the common cold to a broken heart. Surely ramen, with its nutrient-rich broth and fresh veg, would be a sensible choice for even weekday meal emergencies?

The dish: Shirodashi pork belly ramen 

Slow-cooked pork belly drizzled with a spicy Korean barbecue sauce and noodles in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso.

Calorie count

878 kcal

Nutritionist’s verdict

“A broth is a really nourishing option,” says Cooke, who instead suggests we pay attention to “what you’re popping on there. Pork belly in itself is a very fatty meat – chicken has slightly less saturated fat but if you were trying to make it a little bit healthier you could choose vegetable, tofu or seafood.” The problem is that humans are programmed to enjoy the taste of fat, and, as Cooke notes, “taste is always going to trump health with these foods. Oil is an extremely concentrated fat source. It’s not something you have to avoid but there is a limit to how much benefit it’s going to give you.”

Rosa’s Thai

No batters, no mayo, no butter – at first glance Thai food is a safe space for calorie counters. The trouble is, where there’s a wok, there’s oil. Cooke reassures that using fat to cook with is absolutely fine, but points out that in restaurants “generally they’re going to use far more than we would at home in our kitchen.” It won’t surprise you to hear that a portion of egg fried rice contains double the calories of steamed jasmine rice, but you probably wouldn’t have guessed that pad thai is nearly the most calorific main course on the menu.

The dish: Prawn pad thai

King prawns with stir-fried rice noodles in tamarind sauce, coconut sugar, eggs & crushed peanut

Calorie count

1,224 kcal

Nutritionist’s verdict

“It’s a drier dish but they will still be adding a fair amount of oil,” Cooke explains. The stir-fried eggs in the mix might help extra oil to make it out of the pan and onto the plate, and adding garnishes such as peanuts, albeit a positive thing nutritionally, will be adding to the calorie count, “not crazy amounts, but it can bump it up”. The good news is that a green curry with prawns is a very respectable 680 kcal, so even with an entire portion of jasmine rice it’s a fifth lower than the pad thai. Not forgetting that you might not finish it all.


According to analysis from Just Eat, Indian is the most popular cuisine in Scotland and Wales, and is only narrowly beaten by Italian in England. Curry is part of British culture, and while it can absolutely be a nutritious choice, not many people are choosing it on diet days. Can Dishoom’s well-heeled version offer something lighter?

The dish: Matar paneer

A curry made with cheese and peas.

Calorie count

1,075 kcal per portion

Nutritionist’s verdict

“The paneer is cheese, so relatively high in saturated fat – certainly bumping it up compared to curries that just have vegetables in, for example.” Perhaps that goes some way to explaining its hefty calorie count.

There’s often a lot of oil in a traditionally made curry base, of course, and on top of that Dishoom’s secret weapon is double cream. It’s found in the matar paneer as well as in their house black daal. “There are probably slightly more nutritionally optimal Indian choices you could have than the matar paneer,” Cooke advises, “but one meal isn’t a problem. The way to help cravings is to honour them – I’m not saying you should go and eat every craving you have, but when it’s a meal out or a takeaway that you’re having as a treat and there’s something on the menu that you really fancy, then you should have it.”

Get some garlic butter on that naan, then, and fingers crossed for free poppadoms.