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Healthy Indian Food

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Indian food is often perceived to be spicy, overly rich and ultimately unhealthy. I differ from this opinion, however, as I know that, prepared correctly and thoughtfully, Indian cuisine can be a delicious way to take care of all your health needs.

Try these ideas for making Indian food that's as good for your body as it is for your palate:

  • Healthy samosa. The samosa is a delightful evening snack consisting of a flaky pastry casing traditionally stuffed with potatoes and deep-fried. Up the health quotient by stuffing these with broccoli, raisins and nuts. Broccoli is a superfood full of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and also works well stir-fried with coriander, ginger and chilli and filled into a samosa. To reduce the fat content significantly, try having your samosa baked instead of fried.

  • Tandoori food. Another healthy option for Indian cuisine is the use of the tandoor, or clay oven. Tandoori food is grilled, but not doused in heavy sauces. Meats are traditionally marinated with aromatic spices and yoghurt, then grilled at high temperatures to retain the moisture, flavour and nutrients of the food.

  • Saag. Saag usually refers to a variety of seasonal leafy green vegetables like spinach, fenugreek greens and mustard greens. Dig out those tasty, long-forgotten saag recipes to add some extra fibre and dietary bulk to your meals.

  • Green chillies. Use fresh green chillies more than dried red chilli powder - the capsaicin (the volatile oil that creates the sensation of spiciness) in fresh green chillies is more readily absorbed by the food, giving that pleasurable tickle to the tongue instead of the uncomfortable burning feeling in the stomach.

  • Extra-virgin mustard oil. Try cooking with extra-virgin mustard oil - like olive oil, it has monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and a high density of lipoproteins (HDL) or the "good cholesterol", and offers similar health benefits with a flavour that's better suited to Indian food. Mustard oil is good for tempering Indian spices, stir-frys, stews and sautéing.

  • Unrefined sugar, honey and jaggery. Complex/refined sugars hit the liver faster and harder, and their excessive consumption is linked to obesity, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Unrefined sugar, honey and jaggery (unrefined whole cane sugar), in limited amounts, are healthier sweeteners - they have a lower sucrose content and are absorbed more slowly and steadily by the body. Choose these sweeteners to make Indian desserts like kheer.

  • Roti over naan. Opt for roti (unleavened whole wheat flatbread) instead of naan (leavened, refined wheat flour bread) as it's easier to digest.

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  • Spices. Most spices used in Indian cuisine have certain medicinal properties attached to them, and are included in traditional recipes for both taste and health reasons. For example, both ajwain (thymol seeds or bishop's weed) and cumin seeds aid digestion; turmeric and ginger are known antiseptics.

  • Fresher is better. Choose fresh seasonal ingredients wherever possible. As with any cuisine, fresher is always better for Indian food.

  • Skimmed milk. Substitute skimmed or low-fat milk for whole milk in recipes.

  • Tofu. Many Indian recipes call for paneer (homemade whole-milk cottage cheese). Try substituting low-fat tofu as a healthier alternative.

  • Less oil. Tempering spices actually requires quite a small amount of oil, but many restaurants load food with oil because it speeds up cooking time. Try using less oil (and a little bit of patience) for Indian food that's lighter on the arteries.

It just takes a few minor modifications and thoughtful choices to be well on your way from heartburn to good health. Happy eating!

Do you have ideas for healthy Indian food? Share them with us here.