In this article, Naini Setalvad lauds the goodness of Indian food during the National Nutrition Awareness Week, to which the world is slowly waking up
I love India, as it is the epitome of diversity: topography, demography, cultures, traditions, and, most importantly, food. A multitude of flavoursome spices, fragrant herbs, fruits, vegetables, grains, and lentils—we have it all. The diverse food can cater to a diverse range of food preferences; from vegan to vegetarian, the choices are unlimited. This National Nutrition Month, let’s dive deep into our nutritiously rich cuisine and reiterate its benefits.
I really get harrowed when people don’t realise how rich in life-supporting nutrients our Indian food is. I proudly say that the balanced Indian diet can prevent, reverse, and retard diseases and obesity, and improve mood and performance. It’s truly a nourishing and immunity-boosting diet. To the naysayers who run after Brazilian nuts, avocados, and acai berries, let me show you the treasure trove of health sitting in our backyard.
Many nations show the balanced diet food pyramid in the form of a plate which depicts a proportion of whole grains, protein, fats, fruits, and vegetables, emphasising plant produce. Sounds familiar? Let me light your bulb. A home-cooked Indian thali is a balance of all nutrients and spices, providing a medley of flavours. The combination of grains, pulses, and vegetables cooked in herbs and spices in good quality fat, satiates, heals, and energises us.
Let’s run through India’s incredible food variety:
Vegetables and leafy greens: Indians have intelligently mastered the art of cooking vegetables, preserving flavour, fibre, and access to antioxidants and vitamins. Antioxidants fight infections and uplift immunity. Fifty per cent of every meal should ideally consist of vegetables. Choose from India’s huge repertoire, which the rest of the world lacks.
Fruits and dry fruits: Vibrant seasonal fruits bring energy and pacify the innate sweet tooth, adding an influx of immunity-uplifting vitamins and minerals. The cornucopia is no match for the variety of fruits found across the length and breadth of India. The omnipresent papaya, banana (changing in size and colour), the seasonal king of fruits mango, amla, jamun, Kashmiri apple, cherries, peaches, and plums—the list can go on. Each comes with therapeutic properties appropriate for the season. Add on dry fruits like raisins, figs, and dates, and you have a canon of good health.
Whole grains: The buzzword today is unpolished grains and rice, gluten-free millets, and seed grains, which are a part of India’s heirloom foods. Changing seasons change our grains. I urge you to add on the hundreds of varieties grown in India. Pearl millet (bajri), amaranth (rajgirah), sorghum (jowar), barley (jau), finger millet (ragi), little millet (sama), the varieties of whole wheat, and various rice provide you with satiating complex carbohydrates and a host of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals. Whole grain fibre protects from a host of lifestyle diseases.
Pulses and lentils: My clients often have a query: “Should I take protein substitutes to increase my protein?” I tell them “When you, in India, have unlimited access to plant proteins like pulses, sprouts, legumes, dals, and peas, to choose from, why bother? Simply include a variety of pulses and dals to compliment a balanced meal. These supply you with digestible proteins, protective polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.
Spices and Herbs: Our centuries-old Indian spice box will leave you licking your fingers while healing your body from disease, and this has only been recently scientifically validated by the West. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon have been meticulously researched for their health benefits; they contain gastro-protective properties, fight free radicals, boost immunity, and are mental stimulants. Spices inhibit a certain pathway that plays a part in inflammatory diseases like IBS, cancer, arthritis, etc. Remember, we always consumed spices with fat and not raw. The West is now waking up to this.
Fats: Thank heavens we are done away with an era of demonising fats. Good fats like coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and desi cow’s ghee help absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as calcium, and lubricate the joints and digestive tract. Good fats boost memory, prevent Alzheimer’s, and are a must in a cancer-healing diet. They also help to transport functional chemicals present in our spices, herbs, and vegetables. So look towards India for your good fats, as we have them all.
Indians always tend to have less faith in their own achievements. The turmeric latte-chasing world has now awakened to the magic of Indian food. Eating from the plant kingdom, being vegan, or gluten-free is very easy with the Indian diet. The world has recognised the disease-retarding, protective nature of Indian food, and it is high time you wake up too. I rate the Indian diet as the best diet in the world, and my practice is based on this.
Dhanshak Dal with Masoor Dal
1 cup masoor dal
1 brinjal, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
¼ cup pumpkin, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3–4 garlic cloves
½ inch ginger, chopped
1–2 green chillies
2 tbsp fenugreek leaves (methi leaves)
2 tbsp coriander leaves
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp dhanshak masala or garam masala
Salt to taste
3–4 garlic cloves
1 tbsp roasted cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tbsp ghee
Wash the masoor dal and keep it aside.
Wash and chop brinjal, tomato, pumpkin, onion, fenugreek leaves, coriander, garlic, ginger, and green chillies and add them to the washed masoor dal.
Put dal and vegetables in a pressure cooker with water as required.
Add salt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, and dhanshak/ garam masala and pressure cook for three whistles.
Grind onion, garlic, and cumin to a paste
Grind the cooked dal once cooled down.
Heat the ghee in a pan, add the paste, and roast it for a few minutes.
Add it to the ground dal.
Squeeze lemon on top for taste.
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