How to Eat Healthy Indian Food…Without Insulting Your Mom

By on August 24th, 2011 4 Comments

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Samosas: Delicious, yes. Healthy...not so much. Credit: Kalyan Kanuri/Creative Commons.

Samosas: Delicious, yes. Healthy...not so much. Credit: Kalyan Kanuri/Creative Commons.

After a few unsuccessful attempts at reaching my target weight, I’m finally considering that maybe I am what I eat. As a South Asian male who sometimes relies on a monthly shipment of home cooking for sustenance, balancing fitness goals with midnight servings of biryani and chicken makhani can be difficult. Since I can’t dismantle my domestic food supply without insulting my mother, I’ve been looking for a better solution to align with my health and wellness goals.

Desi food is tremendously popular because it calls on fresh fruits and vegetables, tender meats, flavorful spices and lentils among other unique ingredients. Unsurprisingly, Indians—and other South Asians—are proud of their national cuisine, love to eat and to feed others. In New York City, there are over 300 restaurants all serving a slice of a diverse ethnic cuisine that reflects a country with hundreds of dialects and numerous regional flavors. Unfortunately, genetics coupled with a diet that relies heavily on oil, sugar and salt contribute to India’s reputation as the “diabetes capital of the world”. In fact, Indians have a higher risk for heart disease than their Western counterparts. Physical activity and stress management help combat this, but those alone aren’t enough.

Luckily, we can make Indian food healthier. But doing so involves a careful food preparation and a willingness to sacrifice some samosas, pakoras, vadas, dosas and other fried “-as”.

Indian food provides several health benefits because it incorporates nutritious vegetables, calcium-rich yogurts and protein-filled lentils. The danger arises in the form of obvious culprits like deep-fried, highly caloric samosas, but also in the preparation of once-nutritious raw ingredients. In fact, frying not only increases caloric content, but also zaps the veggies of nutrients and vitamins. Moreover, nutrient-depleted vegetables are often served with a warm, white naan. Breads made with refined flour (versus whole wheat) actually promote fat storage within the body. Fortunately, there are alternatives to popular preparation techniques that can both preserve the flavor and enhance the nutritional value of a meal.

  1. Choose healthier ingredients: Try whole-wheat flour for naan, natural sweeteners like honey and cinnamon for desserts, and spices and herbs like iron-rich coriander and mint leaves for flavor in entrées.
  2. Limit portions: Minimize intake of fried foods and improve overall digestion.
  3. Embrace lentils: Many are high in protein, soluble fiber, vitamins and antioxidants and keep you fuller longer.
  4. Reduce consumption of red meat: Try leaner meats like chicken and fish.
  5. Steam vegetables: Better than frying because steaming locks in nutrients and lowers risks associated with high blood pressure.

By taking my own advice, I can still enjoy home cooked meals and preserve a vital food distribution operation that’s kept me alive for years. Eating Indian food in a healthier way doesn’t require much effort (on my mom’s part), improves my ability to reach fitness goals and reduces serious health risks. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even start cooking for myself.

Abdallah Khan is a contributing writer at Divanee.com.