The combination of fresh ingredients, flavorful spices and colorful fruits and vegetables in Indian cuisine make it a natural fit for healthy dining.
The combination of fresh ingredients, flavorful spices and colorful fruits and vegetables in Indian cuisine make it a natural fit for healthy dining. Vegetables often take center stage (Saag Aloo, for example, is nothing more than spinach, potatoes and spices). And meat is either cooked in a wok or in a special Tandoori oven, making it lighter, more flavorful and tender to boot.
Aromatic herbs and spices transform simple ingredients into flavorful taste adventures. They also impart unique health benefits. Indeed, experts say a diet rich in spices (like turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and other Indian staples) may protect against chronic diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's. Another healthy coup: Instead of dense cakes and rich soufflés, Indian desserts are often lighter and fruit-based.
While many ingredients in Indian food are chock full of health benefits, here are a few standouts:
Turmeric: One of the key spices used in Indian cuisine, turmeric gives curry and rice its familiar yellow color and a fragrant flavor. It has been used medicinally for more than 5,000 years because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties. What's more, turmeric helps combat inflammation deep within the brain’s tissue and thwart the development of plaques in the brain, which contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
Lentils and beans: Lentils and beans are excellent sources of iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Concerned about getting rid of those extra pounds? Beans are low in calories but high in fiber, which helps prevent blood sugar levels from spiking too rapidly after a meal. This makes them an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. A bonus: beans are loaded with powerful disease-fighting chemicals. In fact, studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture rate small red kidney beans higher in antioxidants than almost any other food.
Yogurt: Yogurt provides a cooling contrast to the spice of a curry and it makes a perfect dip to accompany Naan (Indian bread). It's more nutrient-dense than milk, boasting higher concentrations of protein, calcium and vitamin D (calcium helps promote fat loss while retaining lean muscle mass). Yogurt also has live active cultures, which help boost the immune system, enhance digestion and help treat and prevent GI distress. And, it’s a good source of zinc, a powerful healing nutrient.
Leafy Greens: Green leafy vegetables are often touted as the most beneficial vegetables because of their stellar nutrient profiles – and Indian cuisine is chock full of them. Spiced purees of spinach or other greens are common, and they're often combined with ingredients like cheese, potatoes, chicken or chickpeas, transforming a side dish into an entrée. Spinach, kale, collard greens and other leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants including vitamins C, E and A. Researchers have identified at least 13 compounds in spinach alone that function as both antioxidants and anticancer agents. Plus, calorie for calorie, green leafy vegetables provide more nutrients than almost any food on the planet. You'd have to eat barrels of the stuff to equal the calories in one small serving of French fries.
With all of these health benefits, it's no wonder Indian cuisine is growing in popularity. The unmistakable zing of a curry; the creamy coolness of raita; the savory seasonings of Tikka – all are hallmarks of Indian cuisine, and each one boasts unique health benefits not available in the typical American diet. So, what are you waiting for? Visit a Healthy Dining Indian restaurant, order some Kingfisher (India's most popular beer) and toast to your health.
Red chilies: Red ground chilies are used to add spice, warmth and intensity to many Indian curries and vegetable and meat dishes. They're also used to make Indian hot chutneys and hot pickles. The active ingredient in chili peppers is capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory compound that helps protect against cancer and heart disease, to say nothing of its silencing effects on pain. Chili peppers are also known to help clear congestion, enhance immunity, boost metabolism and prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.
For more Indian Healthy Dining choices, check out these restaurants: The Dhaba at Indian Plaza, Pradeep's Indian Cuisine and World Curry.
About the Author
Amy Paturel, M.S., M.P.H
Amy Paturel writes about health, fitness, food, wine and travel for a variety of clients from general interest magazines to medical e-zines. Her work frequently appears in such publications as Glamour, Health, Eating Well, Women's Health
and Marie Claire
. Amy is an award winning essayist and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). She has contributed essays to national and international magazines, newspapers and niche publications, and she has been featured twice in Newsweek's
"My Turn" column.
Prior to devoting herself to writing, Amy researched and analyzed health behaviors for top governmental agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health Services. She earned a Master of Science in Nutrition and a Master of Public Health at Tufts University in Boston.
Amy's background in nutrition and affinity for cooking (and eating) has led to dozens of restaurant reviews for outlets such as CitySearch.com and Wine & Dine. She has a passion for food, adventure and travel and loves to share insider tips about various destinations.