Indian cuisine offers a carnival of colors, spices, and flavors. It's vibrant, fragrant, and utterly mesmerising. But it's not just the taste that marks Indian food as a standout. It's also nourishing and can act as a catalyst for maintaining a robust, healthy lifestyle. Living in Australia, away from the heartland of spices, it took me some struggle, several dosa flips, and a few YouTube tutorials to master the authenticity of these recipes, but the end result was worth every speck of turmeric stained on my apron. So let's embark on this journey to unravel the health benefits of Indian food and find ways to incorporate it into our diets.
Before we dive headfirst into the pool of Biryanis and Butter Chickens, it's important to understand the essence of Indian cooking – the spices. Whether it's the humble turmeric making our curries yellow or the aromatic cardamom elevating our desserts, every Indian spice tells a health story. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, cumin seeds aid digestion, cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, and the list goes on. Often, I get an amused "Not another spice!" reaction from my son, Vihaan, at the dinner table, but I can't help explaining these nuggets of wisdom I've gathered over the years.
Indian food is deeply entwined with Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system that emphasises the balance of body, mind, and spirit. The principles of Ayurveda are embedded in each morsel of Indian food, maximizing nutrition and promoting overall wellbeing. Foods are classified into three categories based on their qualities: Sattva (purity), Rajas (passion), and Tamas (ignorance). For instance, milk and fruits that encourage clarity and understanding are Sattvic, while spicy and pungent foods that evoke energy are Rajasic. I believe incorporating these principles into food choices not only enriches our health but also our understanding of the connection between food and wellness.
If starting the day on a healthy note is your goal, then Indian breakfasts are your saviours. Parathas packed with detoxifying fenugreek or protein-packed lentils, nutritious vegetable dosas, or quick and easy pohas –the options are endless. And guess what? Dessert for breakfast isn’t a forbidden concept in the Indian food arena. The buttery and gooey sheera or the wholesome bowl of kheer is not only lip-smacking but fills you up sufficiently to ward off hunger pangs till lunch. Good food is about basking in the small joys of life after all!
The rich and elaborate Indian lunch and dinners are authentic reflections of the country’s diverse culture. Balanced with multiple foods like cereals, pulses, vegetables, dairy, and meat, each meal has an indispensable mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Don’t forget to do the 'Roti-Shake' before serving it to get rid of extra flour. Trust me; I accidentally choked on it once, it was not a pleasant experience, but my wife enjoyed a hearty laugh at my expense. I guess there's a hint of comedy in every kitchen accident, isn't there?
If you're trying to lean towards plant-based nutrition, Indian food has got you covered. From appetising sambar to delectable chole, myriad recipes are purely vegan. Their protein content comes from lentils, while vitamins and fibre load up from vegetables. However, don't underestimate the power of these innocent looking dishes. I once participated in a sambar eating contest and couldn't even get past the first round while 70-year-old granny savoured her third bowl.
Fermented foods have been resonating loud for their gut-health boosting properties and Indian food menu is jam-packed with them. In fact, my go-to digestive hack is Kanji, a special drink made from black carrots or mustard seeds fermented in water. It doesn’t have the most pleasant of aromas, but it works wonders for digestion. Then we have idli and dosa, fermented foods that are breakfast staples in the Southern part of India, but now have garnered fans worldwide. I won't even get started on yogurt. It's Vihaan's favourite and he wolfs it down with parathas, biryanis -just about everything.
Indians love to snack and have mastered the art of creating nutritious snack foods. Take 'Chaats' for instance, these delightful dishes like pani puri, bhel puri, sev batata puri and many more, are made with simple ingredients like potatoes, yoghurt, tamarind and green chutney, along with a host of spices that enhance both the flavour and the nutrient value of these dishes. Light on the stomach and yet deeply satisfying! Take it from the doting father of a snack-monster. A plateful of chaat can make Vihaan's day any day!