Cafes offer limited options for weight watchers

If you want a healthy meal in Islamabad, turns out it’s not that easy to find one.

Maha Mussadaq/sahar Habib July 31, 2010

ISLAMABAD: If you want a healthy meal in Islamabad, turns out it’s not that easy to find one.

The capital city has recently seen a wave of new cafes and restaurants, with Domino’s and Nandos amongst the most recent.

But people who want to trim down their daily fat intake find it hard to do so as few restaurants and cafes offer healthy, low-fat or low-calorie options on their menus.

With limited options, many people who are conscious of what they eat end up ordering salads at restaurants.

“At most places, there are not many healthy options except for the salad bar,” said Sabina Malik, who has done nutrition-related research for eight years.

Sabeen Abdal, an upcoming designer, usually orders the salad at Mélange and Mocca. Sehar Malik, 24, a government employee, tries to avoid food with a lot of cheese, and mostly eats salads or grilled food. “I love the Chicken Caesar Salad and Stir-fry Chicken at Kuch Khaas,” she said.

However, at some restaurants and cafes, a few options are available. Gloria Jeans Coffee offers “99 percent fat-free” non-dairy fruit chillers and customers have the option of getting their drinks made with either full-cream or skimmed milk, as well as sandwiches with either brown or white bread. Arsalan, the shift manager, said most customers opt for brown bread.

“The drinks menu is approved from Australia so we cannot change that. However we can change the food menu according to consumer demand and requests,” he added.

Mocca Coffee nearby also offers low-fat smoothies and some low-fat, reduced sugar baked items.

Najia Rafiq, owner of Jia’s Deli in Blue Area, has recently introduced non-dairy fresh fruit smoothies. “People who come in are very health-conscious, much more than I am,” she said. She plans to introduce low-calorie, low-sugar baked items to the menu as well.

Rafiq seems to have responded to her customers’ preferences. However, it is possible that most cafes and restaurants in Islamabad do not offer more healthy items on their menus because a majority of people do not care much about how healthy their food is. Pappasallis, in Sector F-7, used to have a dieter’s section on the menu. But hardly anyone ordered from it and so it was discontinued.

Similarly at Table Talk restaurant in Kohsar Market, food is prepared according to customers’ preferences. “We entertain requests by customers that their food be prepared in a particular way, like cooking the meal in only olive oil,” said Amjad Akhtar, the restaurant’s manager. However, he estimated that every day about five percent of customers ask for low-calorie food. “There are many suggestions to include more vegetarian items on the menu and there are a few options we are considering,” he said.

At Kuch Khaas Café, the priority is clean home-cooked meals rather than low-fat ones. “Those who are health-conscious always go for the salads and others do not really mind,” Shayan Afzal Khan, owner of Kuch Khaas Café.

If there is more of a demand for healthy, nutritious food, then restaurants may alter their menus. An explanation for the low demand for healthy food may be a lack of awareness.

Dr Rezzan Khan, who has been working as a Consultant Nutritionist at Shifa International Hospital for 16 years, said, “Consumers must develop food and nutrition knowledge as this will help them to remain healthy. Such knowledge includes nutritive values of the foods, food groups, components of a balanced diet, food choices according to food guidelines. This knowledge enables them to reach their daily food requirements without damaging their health.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2010.

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Wasif | 10 years ago | Reply A very neat observation. Weight watchers like do not have anywhere to go becuase all of these cafes do not cater to clients like me. Very well written piece, keep the good work coming...
Nauman | 10 years ago | Reply Totally agree with the writer(s). And I say that as a guy with no weight problems whatsoever... Contrary to popular beliefs, healthy food is more than just about looking skinny, it is something that has to be a part of a one's life, which I'm afraid is rarely the case in Pakistan. Businesses don't really have a noteworthy incentive to add "good" meals to their menu at the moment!
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