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Understanding menu descriptions

When it comes to choosing a meal, how it's described can tell us a lot about the calorie content and how healthy it may be.

It's not only the food type you are choosing, it's the way it's prepared and cooked that can pile on the calories.

Below we list some 'danger' words you might spot when deciding on your meal choice.

Cooking or preparation methods

If you see these words, you might want to avoid these foods:

  • Breaded: a food coated with a breadcrumb mixture or batter that is then baked or fried
  • Creamy: a smooth and rich texture that usually comes from the incorporation of a dairy product
  • Fried (or deep fried): food cooked in hot oil which usually makes it crispy and golden brown
  • Honeyed or caramelised: a sweet or candied taste that can come from cooking the food in honey or sugar
  • Rich: a full, heavy flavour, often used to describe foods containing cream
  • Velvety: a smooth and rich texture

You might want to choose foods described with these terms instead:

  • Blanched: a food cooked quickly in boiling water to soften it before being moved to cold water to stop cooking
  • Broiled: a food cooked with intense radiant heat, in an oven or on a grill
  • Charred: food that's grilled, roasted, or broiled to give it a blackened appearance and a smoky flavour
  • Marinated: a food covered in a liquid like vinegar or oil, flavoured with herbs and spices
  • Poached: food cooked in nearly boiling liquid to make it tender and moist
  • Roasted: food cooked with dry heat in an oven or over a fire


We've listed some common words which describe the sauce used within a dish. These are ones which you may wish to avoid if you're trying to lose weight:

  • Aioli: a flavoured mayonnaise, often made with garlic
  • Au gratin: cooked with butter and/or cream and topped with cheese or breadcrumbs
  • Béchamel: the base of most white sauces, made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux (see below)
  • Beurre blanc: made with a wine, vinegar and shallot reduction and butter
  • Bisque: a thick, rich soup usually made with cream
  • Carbonara: this includes cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon
  • Hollandaise: made with butter, egg yolks and lemon juice
  • Roux: a mix of flour and fat (butter, dripping or pork fat) used to thicken mixtures such as soups and sauces
  • White sauce: this can be a cream or roux-based sauce

Salad dressings

Here are some descriptions of the dressing which may go with your salad or similar choice. These are ones to avoid if you're trying to lose weight:

  • Ranch: usually made from butter or milk, garlic, onion, mustard, herbs, and spices. They're mixed into a sauce based on mayonnaise or another oil-based dressing. Sour cream and yogurt are sometimes used.
  • Blue cheese: a combination of blue cheese, mayonnaise, and buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt
  • Thousand island: a mayonnaise-based dressing. It can include olive oil, cream and tomato puree or ketchup. 
  • Caesar - its ingredients include olive oil, egg and Parmesan cheese

You might want to choose these instead:

  • Olive oil and lemon dressings
  • Balsamic vinaigrette - balsamic is a dark, intensely-flavoured vinegar originating in Italy
  • Honey mustard vinaigrette - olive oil, honey, and Dijon mustard
  • Italian vinaigrette - vinegar or lemon juice, vegetable oil

For more about a healthy balanced diet, see Healthy Eating: the Eatwell Guide

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