What makes the Indian diet a healthy one?
We all love our moms’ haath ka khaana. Be it the Makke ki Roti with Sarso ka Saag or aromatic Biriyani, we just drool. Paranthas smeared with fresh butter or fluffy Idlis with piping hot Sambhar or chutney, drive us into a food coma. And the fragrant halwas or laddoos, leave us licking our fingers off the last piece from the container! Even something that is as quick fix as Tikkis, Curd Rice, or an instant mixed veg Poriyal satisfies every bit of hunger and craving. Well, what makes the Indian diet so interesting and appetizing?
The typical Indian Thali (platter) is mostly a combination of these 6 predominant flavors – Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, pungent, and astringent. As per Ayurveda, these various dishes usually served in cute, little steel bowls in small quantities each, balance the 3 Doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Every person’s body is delineated to be aligned with a specific Dosha.
The Indian diet specifically provides a synergy of not just flavors but also nutrient profiles. Combining more than one dominant ingredient to make a dish is an integral part of Indian cooking. For instance, our Dosa (Indian crepe) batters make use of significant parts of lentils, pulses, and rice/semolina, each providing their own essence, consistency, and nutrient rendition.
Here are 4 reasons why the Indian diet falls really well into the bracket of health and balanced nutrition:
Brilliant use of Grains
Rotis/ Chapatis/Phulka (varieties of Indian bread) and rice, which are predominantly the Indian staple, form a massive percentage of the recommended 70-80% of dietary carbohydrates. More so, cereals, pulses, and millets constitute a significant portion of the required carbohydrates served on the Indian platter, particularly for breakfast and lunch.
The best part about the Indian diet is that most of the carbs present in our main course dishes are the complex ones instead of those made with simple carbs like refined flour. A lot of our foods are prepared with whole grains like millets, oats, wheat, brown/boiled rice, etc, which relatively have low Glycemic Index (GI); meaning, they do not lead to sudden spikes in blood sugar levels after eating them.
From the humble Khichdi to those yummy Idlis, scrumptious Paranthas, crisp Dosas, Akki Rottis or Thalipeeth, whole grains have been integral to our meals.
Every pulse that is part of daily Indian cooking such as chickpea, pigeon pea, split gram which mostly go into making curries, soups, fritters, or even bread varieties, reserve high amounts of Zinc, folate, amino acids, and protein.
“Half of your total calories of the day should come from carbs. The problem is that we emphasize more on refined carbs in the form of bread, biscuits, white rice, and wheat flour.”
Dr. Mukta Vasishta, Chief Dietician, New Delhi.
Dominant inclusion of Probiotics
Popularly taut for their digestive benefits, probiotics are the collection of live microorganisms that promote healthy gut flora.
The Indian diet is incomplete without fermented foods. Probiotic-rich substances like yogurt (curd), buttermilk, Paneer (cottage cheese), and fermented Dosa/Idli batters are common Indian foods throughout the year mostly in tune to seasonal renditions.
These probiotic elements largely account for a healthy gut and prevent a wide range of digestive health disorders like ulcers, inflammation, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and many more.
Spices and Indian Diet – The inseparable
For over centuries, India has been known as the treasure trove of aromatic and magical spices that toss their unique and precious zing to the food they are added to.
Ginger, garlic, turmeric, black peppercorns, Asafoetida, cloves, and nutmeg regularly make into a lot of our main course foods.
And as much flavorful these spices individually are, each of them is loaded with a labyrinth of health benefits. For instance, ginger, Asafoetida, and turmeric are cardinally regarded for their anti-inflammatory properties. Not just that, preparing your food with these spices prevents bloating and aids good digestion.
Turmeric is a panacea for a whole range of lifestyle diseases of today. The other part of the world has also taken to the enormous list of its curing properties either through its processed and powdered form or in capsules. Basically, it is turmeric’s most important component Curcumin which plays a major role as a medicinal substance. A lot of today’s health-conscious people are aware of Curcumin’s potential in reducing blood pressure, curing digestive disorders, reducing inflammation, avoiding premature aging, and even preventing cancer. Thanks to the humongous efforts behind the much-needed marketing of this miracle spice, which surprisingly, has been an inseparable part of our cooking routine.
At the same time, it’s pretty interesting to acknowledge the maximum effectiveness of turmeric as a ‘dietary’ medicine when combined with black pepper. It has been scientifically demonstrated that turmeric is absorbed rightly by the body only in the presence of pepper in any form.
The traditional way of cooking curries and gravies in India has always involved preparing the base or sauce with natural vegetables. And no other ready-made or store-bought processed or refined ingredient. Whether it is the regular Bhuna masala (tomato-based puree sauteed with a specific combination of spices), coconut milk with roasted herbs and veggies, or blanched and pureed leafy greens, the Indian way of cooking sauces has remained innovative and all-natural.
We ‘Dip’ it right!
Nah! It’s not been always mayo, pepper jelly, tomato ketchup, Guam, or cheese dips for us.
Most of the Indian dips make use of naturally available, unrefined ingredients. Classified into a variety of Chutneys, ours are based in and out of herbs like cilantro (coriander leaves), coconut, groundnuts, mint leaves (Pudina), tomatoes, onions, and even yogurt.
‘Raita’ or yogurt-based dips or sides are regular in a balanced Indian diet. As mentioned above, yogurt is a natural probiotic food and is mostly avoided for dinners, since it can potentially induce mucus-formation likening a cold or cough when consumed during the second half of the day. This is also valid from the lens of Ayurveda.
There’s a variety of healthy unrefined cooking or cold-pressed oils in India, specific to the climate and topographic conditions of a region. And surprisingly, all of these oils are low on saturated fat and are rich in Vitamin E loaded with a cartload of health benefits.
Likewise, in the northern parts of the country, mustard oil, groundnut oil, or sesame seed oil are quite commonly used in cooking procedures like shallow frying, deep-frying, or tempering. Similarly, in South Indian states, coconut oil and groundnut oil are very familiar to the kitchen.
Unlike the commercially popular ‘refined’ oils which are marketed as ‘stripped’ of ‘unhealthy’ fats, all of these native oils are heavy on ‘good’ fat, are heart-healthy with no side-effects on the hormonal framework of the body in the long run. In fact, these promote advantages such as healthy skin and balanced cholesterol.
Ghee (clarified butter), which is now hailed as a superfood all across the world, is rooted in the Indian subcontinent for generations.
A majority of Indian homes make their own ghee using homemade butter churned from milk cream. Isn’t that been one of the most sustainable and insanely healthy practices we have been following?
Nutritionists like Rujuta Diwekar recommend consuming at least 1 teaspoon of ghee every day for a person, irrespective of his/her health condition. Ghee not just kick starts your metabolism, but also helps in digestion, improving skin health, and preventing orthopedic ailments owing to weak joints with age or injury.
While the Indian food culture may be a vibrant and varicolored one, what most of us do wrong is with portion control or choices of cooking methods. And that mostly happens with evening snacks. 🙂
An ever-growing obsession of deep-fried snacks or refined sweets during late hours can greatly mess up with the fat content in the body and with a habitual affair, can lead to pendulous bellies, diabetes, and hormonal issues. Add to that a lifestyle revolving around late-night office work, phone usage at bedtime, and stress, can spell a health disaster.
Hence, remember to:
- Stick to medium portion sizes,
- Include healthy greens and salads to your meals,
- Snack on something healthy every 2-3 hours.
- Reduce intake of refined ingredients such as refined sugar, flours, etc. Instead, prefer using natural sweeteners like honey, cinnamon, fruits, dry fruits, organic jaggery, or liquid jaggery.
- Avoid deep-fried food. Choose boiled/sauteed/steamed versions instead. Also, remember that adding spinach (Palak) or Methi leaves to your puri or pakodas doesn’t make it ‘healthy’ at all!
Until the next time, eat and live healthy!