Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Healthy Is Halal?

The title of this post is of course, provocative. Halal comprises of a wide variety of food groups - some are good for you, some are bad for you. However, when I say Halal, I mean the food options open to a Muslim living in the West who observes Zabihah and eats only at certified Halal restaurants.

The above poster is a real one from a restaurant in Waterloo where I was visiting on the weekend. It's a small take-out/cafe style place, where the menu consisted of burgers, fries, chicken wings, shawarmas and gyros. Plus pop - of course. Given that neither fries nor burgers, as promoted by the poster, is fresh or healthy, it got me thinking.

Toronto and the surrounding areas are one of the most blessed in terms of Halal stores and restaurants in Canada. Yet, the over-riding category of these places seem to fall into one of the following:
  1. "Arabic" places, serving shawarmas but also fast food like burgers, fries, chicken wings.
  2. "Desi" places serving butter chicken and assorted South Asian ghee-flavored food cooked in a tub of oil.
  3. Fast food - 'halal' KFCs, Pizza Pizza, and so on.
  4. Chinese food (usually Hakka). Some are questionable Halal but that's a topic for another day.
There may be others but these are the common options. And I have to ask, how healthy are they?

Then of course, there are the 'Fillet-o-Fish' eaters. They go to non-Halal places and order the fish meal. Nothing wrong with that, except that in such restaurants the fish typically has consumed even more oil than a meat dish (for example the BK fish burger has twice as much calories as the Whopper).

If you want to eat grilled chicken, or a good sized steak, there's usually nothing. You want to eat healthy non-veg food, you can't do Halal. And that's the sad truth. In the end, doing what is right for you means skipping a healthy meal.


Molly said...

Interesting post, with an almost complete lack of zabihah fast food (something I didn't see until I went overseas) I have never really thought about it.

I also do not stick to zabihah meat. I always eat halal of course, but whether its zabihah is not something I consider.

Thinking of the places here that are actually zabihah, I would have to say they're about as healthy as any other place there are to eat out. Theres a fabulous afghani place in minneapolis that does grilled kabob I might just actually kill for. And its realatively healthy not being fried in grease. Their rice probably has butter in it,but oh its yummy.

We also have a buffet style restaurant on the same block that could be healthy if you chose the right food. But overall, I guess they're about as healthy as eating out ever could be.

I just wish we could have halal chinese food, perkins, and applebee's, I would be happily zabihah-only if we did.

'liya said...

Good post. Too many equate Halal with Healthy. Fries in whatever oil they're fried in isn't healthy!


Organic-Muslimah said...

Molly, why do I somehow recognize the Afghani restaurant you mentioned and instantly felt my mouth watering for some of their signature chutney pizza.

I don't adhere to a strict Zabiha diet, but I do try to eat healthy. Although, when I do eat out healthy isn't my number one concern. Recently I've been ordering lighter options because I feel better afterwards. Like a few weeks ago I visited a famous Arab joint in my city, I ordered the veggie platter with tabouli, salad, stuff vine leaves, hummus and baba ghanouj. I conisder that healthier that the fries and gyro.

Anonymous said...

I should have been a vegetarian - alas the world would not have it so :( hence I I have sinned and eaten in many of these 'Healthy halal' joints. lol

sophister said...

Maybe it is the fact that muslims are sure of an afterlife, therefore they assume if a year or ten is taken off of their lives by eating halal fatty fast food, it isnt SUCH a big deal? Mayhaps, mayhaps indeed.

mezba said...

Molly, Thinking of the places here that are actually zabihah, I would have to say they're about as healthy as any other place there are to eat out.

I think that's pretty true and what a friend of mine (Ahmed) was telling me earlier. Still, I would like some halal Subways (like they have in UK). Also wouldn't mind some variety - while eating out may not be healthy, definitely desi food or fast food (both of which comprise the majority of halal eateries) is at the top of the unhealthy list!

Liya, yes definitely. Too many people say Halal = healthy whereas Halal is just food.

Organic Muslimah, Arab restaurants (except one or two) have a very bad reputation here in Toronto. Given the questionable freshness of their salad you might be better off ordering a dish with a high turnover, like gyro! lol.

We have some great Afghani places here, but some use too much oil to cater to the desis.

Anon, oh I couldn't have been a veggie!

Sophister, what I would like is some Muslim to open an eatery that is both halal AND healthy!

Molly said...

Organic- seriously? How the HECK do you know mpls so well? Did you live here? what?

And yes, if you're thinking of Crescent Moon on central just south of Holy Land that makes pizza like nobody's business then you're right.

but really, how do you know?

Molly said...

wait, I was told Toronto had a halal Subway. Its like in the Northwestern suburb area I think?

There IS one though, but maybe a hike to get there depending on where you are.

Organic-Muslimah said...

Mezba, your reminded me of my not-so-great experience at the new Aghani place around the corner of my house. I had the kabob and salad platter for lunch. Later the same day I had a night class and may I tell you that 70% of class time was spent in the bathroom trying not to puke.

My father has prohibited me from eating salad outside because I keep getting sick.

However, the Arab restaurant I spoke of earlier is right next to a big university with Muslim and non-Muslim patrons(many who are vegetarians), so his stuff is fresh, thank the Lord!

Organic-Muslimah said...

Molly: I've lived everywhere except Canada. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes,it is difficult to find a nice healthy halal food, I know of this place(can't remember the name and I haven't eaten there,yet). I think it's about pitas and some greens with grilled chicken/meats. I think I saw the place at the west end and probably they have another one is Mississauga. sf

mousehunter said...

We need some western halal restaurants! REAL restaurants. Like a Casey's or Montana's. I think I mentioned once before, there used to be one but they went all west indian...sigh....sometimes you just want a nice authentic chef cooked chicken parmasian, or a philly cheese steak sandwich...not the desi/arab/chinese knock offs.

Safiyyah said...


Meat not slaughtered in the zabihah manner is not halal - unless one follows the Saudi fatwa that Muslims in the west can eat the meat of the People of the Book (whole other post, lol). Allahu Alim.

But - good post. Halal doesn't always equate healthy. Even though they food may be halal, the preparation can make it unhealthy.

sonia said...

very good point. why is there no halal grilled chicken?

A good reason to go vegetarian!!

mezba said...

Molly: I haven't yet heard of a halal Subway in Toronto. I will try to find out.

Organic Muslimah: I usually have learned (sadly by experience) that these run-of-the-mill stores even if they are Muslims sadly do not practice the "cleanliness is part of faith" portion of Islam. Some restaurants on the Danforth (a Bengali area of Toronto) are not that great - I wonder how the health authorities give them a pass. But then no one seems to mind - I guess people have acquired immunity by now.

Sf: the west end seems to have more healthy halal options than the east - or at least a variety than the usual desi/chinese/shawarma fare!

mousehunter: I completely ditto what you are saying.

Safiyyah: yes there are some differences amongst Muslims - I personally don't care too much about zabihah as long as it's halal meat (i.e. not pork etc).

sonia: no no, I can't be veg!