Healthy eating gets a tasty boost at Under 500

Iraqi-Egyptian co-founder Fadi Ghali, who has lived in Dubai for 26 years, says he was inspired to launch the cafe after his own struggle with weight.
Chicken Lettuce Tacos. Courtesy Under 500
Chicken Lettuce Tacos. Courtesy Under 500

A new cafe has opened in ­Dubai that aims to make it easier to stick to a healthy diet while dining out.

Under 500, which has locations in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Business Bay, is a home-grown, healthy concept in which the chefs promise that every meal and dessert on the menu contains fewer than 500 calories.

Iraqi-Egyptian co-­founder Fadi Ghali, who has lived in Dubai for 26 years, says he was inspired to launch the cafe after his own struggle with weight.

“I had my on-and-off phases with being overweight and being fit,” says Ghali. “I’ve always had a problem maintaining my weight. Whenever I was on a strict meal-plan diet, the food was generally very bland. It was a struggle finding an equilibrium between healthy food and food that tasted great.”

Ghali praises the growing number of health-food concepts around Dubai, but feels there isn’t enough focus on flavour.

“Contrary to common belief, healthy food includes more than just simple salads that lack flavour,” he says.

So while developing the menu for Under 500, he paid as much attention to taste as he did to nutritional content. To get it right, Ghali collaborated with Dubai-based Italian chef Giovanni De Ambrosis and nutritionist Monica Neri, who has a degree in food science and technology.

“Our menu has a variety of egg whites, lean Australian strip-loin steak, free-range chicken breast, fresh grilled salmon and quinoa meals,” says Ghali.

“All the food is fresh and cooked daily. Each ingredient is weighed by the gram and the nutritional value of each ingredient is then added to calculate the final nutrition of every meal. If the total comes above 500 calories, we evaluate the high-calorie ingredients and replace them with lower-calorie substitutes.”

Under 500 serves breakfast dishes, mains, pastas, burgers, wraps, sides and desserts. Signature dishes include chicken lettuce tacos, consisting of grilled chicken mixed with home-made vegan mayonnaise tucked into an iceberg-lettuce wrap; grilled salmon with avocado, beetroot, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, carrots, balsamic dressing and pumpkin seeds; and steak with kale, courgette, asparagus, mushrooms, bell peppers, balsamic dressing and chia seeds. Calorie, carbohydrate, fat and protein content is listed beside each dish on the menu.

“Obviously we need calories, but we want to make sure that when we do consume them, the fat, protein, and carbohydrates that we choose to eat are as ­micronutrient-dense as possible,” say Ghali.

This is especially important when fasting during Ramadan.

“You should not break your fast with a feast or you may put on weight instead of losing it,” he says. “If you are not careful, heavy meals eaten during the predawn and dusk meals can cause weight gain.

“We recommend approaching the fast with discipline. The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control. This shouldn’t fall apart at the end of the day.

“It is recommended for people to have more small meals during non-fasting hours to regulate their metabolism.”

Ghali believes there’s a positive shift happening in the UAE’s restaurant scene and he hopes Under 500 plays a big role in it.

“Say goodbye to the heavy rice dishes,” he says. “Welcome tasty, healthier alternatives. This is the biggest trend happening today.”

• Under 500 in Jumeirah Lakes Towers is on the ground floor of Lake Shore Building, Cluster Y; 04 275 9034. The Business Bay restaurant is in Damac Executive Bay, shop 12; 04 429 8959. Both locations are open during the day throughout Ramadan

sjohnson@thenational.ae

Published: June 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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