The ideal fare
Naini Setalvad sings the praises of Indian food and proclaims it as the best diet in the world
I am going to share with you during National Nutrition Week India (1st–7th September) why the Indian diet is the only diet the world should follow.
I love India as it is the epitome of diversity—topography, demography, cultures, traditions, and most importantly—food. My subcontinent is home to a wide range of plant produce like grains, millets, pulses, good fats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. We have a platter of options at our disposal, with numerous health benefits, be it gluten-free, vegan, or simply vegetarian.
I really get harrowed when people don’t realise how rich our Indian food is in life-supporting nutrients. I proudly say that balanced Indian diet can prevent, reverse, and retard diseases, obesity, and improve mood and performance—a truly nourishing and immunity-boosting diet! To the naysayers who run behind 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 consists of a balance of all nutrients and the added benefit of spices, providing a medley of flavours. The combination of grain, pulse, and vegetable cooked in herbs and spices in good quality fat satiates, heals, and energises us. Let me run you through India’s incredible variety of food.
Vegetables and leafy greens: Indians have intelligently mastered the art of cooking vegetables, preserving flavours, fibre, and accessing antioxidants and vitamins. Antioxidants fight infections and uplift immunity. This is reiterated in the Dietary Guidelines published by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Fifty per cent of every plate at every meal must constitute vegetables. Choose from India’s huge repertoire, unlike the rest of the world.
Fruits and dry fruits: Vibrant seasonal fruits bring energy and pacify the sweet-craving, adding an influx of immunity-uplifting vitamins and minerals as stated by the ICMR. The Antioxidants in Fruits—This Millennium’s Health is well documented in a review by C. Kaur and H. Kapoor, 2001. The horn of cornucopia is no match for the variety of fruits found across the length and breadth of India. The omnipresent papaya; bananas in various sizes and colours; the seasonal king of fruits, mango; amla; jamun; Kashmiri apple; cherries; peach; and plum—the list can go on. Each comes with seasonal therapeutic properties. Add dry fruits such as raisins, figs, and dates, and you have a canon of good health.
Whole grains: The buzz is about 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 try the hundreds of varieties grown in India: pearl millet (bajri), amaranth (rajgira), sorghum (jowar), barley (jav), finger millet (ragi), little millet (sama), the varieties of whole wheat, and various rice, providing you with satiating complex carbohydrates, a host of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals. Whole-grain fibre protects from a host of lifestyle diseases, which has been documented in the 1970s by Burkitt and Trowell.
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? ICMR advises to 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 all been meticulously researched for their health benefits of gastric protection, mental stimulation, fighting free radicals, and boosting immunity. B. Bharat et al highlighted that spices inhibit a certain pathway that plays a part in inflammatory diseases like IBS, cancer, arthritis, etc. Remember, we have always consumed spices with fat, not raw, while the West is awakening to this.
Fats: Thank heavens we are done with an era of demonising fats. Good fats like coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and desi (indigenous) cow’s ghee help absorb Vitamin A, D, E, K, and calcium, and lubricate the joints and digestive tract. A review by Kumar et al from the Centre of Rural Development and Technology, IIT Delhi, reiterates the same. Good fats boost memory, prevent Alzheimer’s, are a must in a cancer-healing diet, and transport functional chemicals present in our spices, herbs, and vegetables. So look towards India for your good fats as we have them all!
We Indians always tend to have less faith in our own achievements. The turmeric latte-chasing world has now awakened to the magic of Indian food. Eating from the plant kingdom and 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.
Be Indian, eat Indian.
RIDGE GOURD + YELLOW MOONG DAL RECIPE:
• 1 cup yellow moong dal
• 2 cups water
• 1 ridge gourd, peeled, long cubes
• 1 tsp coconut oil or cow’s ghee
• 1 tomato, finely chopped
• 1 inch ginger, finely chopped
• 1 green chilli, slit
• 1/4thtsp of asafoetida, (hing)
• 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
• 1 tsp red chilli powder
• 1/2 tsp turmeric (haldi) powder
• 1 tsp coriander (dhania) powder
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• Salt to taste
• 6 sprigs of coriander leaves, finely chopped
• Soak the moong dal for 2-3 hours. Strain the dal.
• In a wok, add coconut oil or cows ghee, add cumin seeds, let them splutter, and then add asafoetida. Add the chopped ridge gourd to this, add salt to taste, and sauté for 2 mins.
• Add soaked dal to the wok and water, if required, to make a liquid consistency. Cook till the ridge gourd and dal are soft. Add turmeric, red chilli powder, and coriander powder.
• Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more.
• Garnish with lemon juice and coriander leaves.
• Serve with a side salad and hot warm rotis (thin flat round bread).
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