Is it possible to have a healthy diet in Dubai?
Food has become a hot topic across the UAE in recent years, although not always for the right reasons. The country’s love of fast food and rich ingredients has led to a sharp rise in obesity and associated illnesses. Today, things are changing, with healthy eating fast becoming a growing trend.
It’s fair to say that both expats and Emiratis love eating out, with an estimated 7,000 – 8,000 restaurants1 open for business in Dubai alone. However, the country has become associated with a more sedentary lifestyle; long office hours spent at a desk and time spent indoors, combined with the hot climate also creating barriers to exercise, have led to increasing levels of Type 2 diabetes2 and heart disease3.
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 20134, more than 66% of men and 60% of women in the UAE are now overweight or obese, with a recent UAE University study5 reportedly estimating the same figures applied to around 40% of children.
What are the local eating habits in Dubai?
Thanks to its vast expat population, Dubai boasts an array of dishes from around the globe.
Many Emiratis and expats eat out at least once a week, according to the KPMG 2017 UAE Food & Beverage Report, with brunch a hugely popular pastime on Fridays (the first day of the weekend). Something of a Dubai tradition, it is enjoyed by residents and tourists alike
Quick service and casual dining restaurants are both popular and economical ways to eat out, with burgers and shawarma wraps hugely popular and fine dining is generally viewed as an occasional treat
23% order takeaway more than 8 times a month
(Source: Survey respondents in the KPMG 2017 UAE Food & Beverage Report)
Due to the extensive number of international dishes available at any time of day, takeaways and restaurant visits are a real temptation
The average amount of overtime worked in Dubai is five hours according to UBS Prices and Earnings 2015. This means that many people are working the maximum 48-hours a week allowed – or even longer – making a lack of time and convenience primary reasons for eating out or ordering in
Due to the higher costs associated with importing certain items, grocery shopping can be expensive – leading many single residents and couples to grab fast food options or visit low-cost eateries
Scorching summer temperatures can easily reach 50oC,6 causing residents to spend more time indoors – combined with reduced levels of exercise increases the likelihood of snacking
A new 5% VAT charge7 now applies to many products, and could increase day-to-day costs. All food will be subject to this levy, which is part of a move by the Gulf Cooperation Council to strengthen the region’s economic position in the wake of a period of lower oil prices.
Is eating out bad for your health?
Restaurant or fast food meals are typically high in salt, sugar, carbs or fat
A growing trend towards healthy food8 in Dubai means more eateries are catering for guests looking to discover new ingredients and fresh takes on traditional cuisines
Dubai’s governing authority is taking steps to promote greater transparency with a dedicated Food Watch9 app and digital platform, which enables residents to track their food from ‘farm to fork’ and check the nutritional information of around 20,000 eateries, as well as school cafeterias
Diners will soon be able to check the nutritional claims of restaurant meals, using a new Healthy Food10 logo.
What are the best ways to have a healthy diet in Dubai?
The World Health Organisation11 suggests limiting your daily intake of fat to no more than 30% of your daily food intake, and substituting saturated fats (such as ghee or coconut oil) with non-saturated oils (such as olive or sunflower varieties)
Aim for a balance in your daily intake by eating the right proportions of a variety of foods
Explore healthier options. For example, Emirati cuisine is influenced by Arabic, Iranian and Lebanese cuisine that includes plenty of grilled meats, one-pot stews, pulses and salads
Avoid fried foods and creamy sauces, and view desserts such as Luqaimat (sweet fried dough balls) and Knafeh (sweetened cheese) as very occasional treats.
35% of 1,000 UAE residents surveyed12 say they now regularly incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables in their meals.
While the vast array of cuisine in Dubai can challenge everyone’s good intentions, the city is taking steps to reverse the trend towards obesity.
There is a growing awareness that the more sedentary lifestyle associated with residing in the city has negative health effects. A love of dining out and takeaways, the hot climate and typically long working hours may remain a constant, but the Dubai menu is now laden with nutritionally-focused cuisine that matches its residents’ good intentions.
This is underpinned by moves from the government to encourage a much more open approach to food – with an increasing number of restaurants enabling people to make more informed decisions about what they eat.
The information provided in this article is designed as a guide and reference point to what you might expect in Dubai. Please be sure to check any information with local Dubai authorities to ensure information is valid and timely.