Ahh, India. The colourful land of spice, a place of religion, spiritualism, tradition and culture. Often quoted to be a land of “Unity in Diversity”. From the Hindi-speaking sub-urbanists of the great New Delhi, to the Marathi of Mumbai and the Tamil of the South, India truly is a country of many cultures.
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder that many famous influences on modern culture as a whole come from India. Ayurveda, Bollywood, yoga, and of course cuisine are all such examples. As a place known for its wisdom and knowledge on the topic of health, it is not surprising that many of their traditional dishes are rather healthy and may have their own health benefits.
Today I will be speaking to you about some of the healthy food from India. I have listed 6 of the best dishes to try when exploring this unique cuisine. Let’s dig in…
Cooked in a traditional Tandoor, a type of clay or stone oven, this well-known and popular dish holds a unique flavour and often a distinct orange or reddish colour (due to spices like turmeric and chillies).
The cooking method involves charring the chicken over hot flames and allowing the juices from the meat to develop complex flavours from within. It is worth noting that other meats and even fish and vegetables may be cooked this way, but chicken is most common.
Apart from the benefits of chicken which include a high protein and vitamin B12 content, as well as some minerals, the traditional spices that this dish is prepared with are very healthy too. Tandoori foods are best served with yoghurt, complimenting the already rich flavours.
Our next healthy food from India is Aloo Gobi: a vegan dish literally meaning “potato (and) cauliflower”. It is eaten in northern India but also in surrounding countries.
Vitamin-packed and made with traditional herbs and spices such as coriander, cumin, curry leaves, mustard, and turmeric, this dish is a no-brainer for those seeking a healthier diet.
Do, however, try to avoid vegetable oil to be on the healthier side when making or ordering Aloo Gobi. The same follows for many Indian curry-like dishes, especially when ordering, so watch out for that and seek alternatives if you find that it is used in dishes before you order.
Nutritionally, Aloo Gobi is low in fat and is a good source of protein, vitamins C and K, potassium, and magnesium.
We can’t talk about the dishes of Indian cuisine without mentioning an all-time classic: Tikka Masala. It is the United Kingdom’s best-liked meal and whilst its origin is debated, it is undoubtedly of Indian inspiration.
Now this is a dish whose recipe has changed over time. Traditionally being low in fat, nowadays it is prepared mostly with ghee. Ghee is an ancient type of clarified butter with multiple health benefits and is high in saturated fat (which is vital for many functions and a healthy lipid cycle – we will talk about this in the future).
Tikka Masala is almost always made with roasted chicken as the main ingredient, and the marinade is flavoured with many herbs and spices such as chilli, cumin, garam masala, garlic, and ginger. Tomato is also a welcomed addition to the recipe, boosting the vitamin C and antioxidant content even further.
This lesser-known vegetarian dish originates from the southern Indian region of Tamil Nadu, and is often made with onions and tur dal (pigeon peas) – a highly nutritious legume rich in many minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium amongst others.
Its recipe often incorporates turmeric, giving it a vibrant yellow colour. Turmeric is famed for its many impressive health benefits, due mostly to its active ingredient curcumin – an immensely powerful antioxidant with anti-ageing, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. There is so much to say about turmeric that it will likely take an entire article to explore it in depth (note to self).
Aside from this also often makes use of curry leaves, red chilli, coriander, and cumin. All of which are great for a host of reasons.
Pilau Basmati Rice
A classic accompaniment to many dishes of Indian origin, pilau rice is simple and yet highly flavourful. And when made with a healthy variant of rice such as basmati it can become a beneficial side serving.
Pilau rice is distinctively yellow due do it being cooked with turmeric, and inherits a very familiar Indian flavour – courtesy of the cumin seeds! We’ve spoken about the benefits of turmeric, but not yet of cumin.
Cumin promotes healthy digestion by increasing enzyme activity and stimulating the release of bile, and has been used for indigestion and to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It is also a good source of antioxidants including alkaloids and flavonoids. Furthermore, it contains a healthy amount of iron and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, and prevent diabetes.
Because is often made with basmati we’ll talk about that a little here too. Having a lower glycemic index than most other common grains of rice makes it a valid substitute. Its benefits include promoting digestion, being cancer preventative, and heart-healthy, all of which are in large part thanks to its high fibre content.
Vindaloo is an Indian curry notorious for its spiciness, eaten regularly in Goa but also globally, and prawn is a common variant. This is the final healthy food from India we will cover here for now.
Prawn, alike many kinds of seafood, is a great source of zinc – an essential trace mineral which I spoke in more detail about the benefits of in this post. It has many vital functions and is a powerful antioxidant. Not only this, but as a type of seafood it is also rich in selenium which is amazing for the immune system, and omega-3 fatty acids which anti-inflammatory and boost brain health.
As expected, vindaloo uses many spices to give it a spicy character and strong taste. Red chilli is the most common spice used and packs a punch of vitamin C (although not so much if dried) – with over 100% of the average RDA per raw chilli according to nutritiondata.self.com! Cooking the chillies will reduce this percentage, but depending on the method used this shouldn’t be by too much.
Red chilli also contains capsaicin – the chemical compound which gives chilli its spicy flavour, and this is a potent alkaloid shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Making The Healthier Choices…
Although many traditional Indian recipes have come to change over time and in many cases now have unhealthy ingredients added to them, I hope to have convinced you that enjoying Indian food – be that as a takeaway or not – can be done healthily.
The main things to look out for are high vegetable oil and high sugar dishes. They should be avoided. Rather, try to opt for more colourful dishes containing high amounts of spices, vegetables, and properly prepared meat, as well as those cooked using traditional methods. And if you aren’t cooking your own, please try to find out the ingredients to avoid anything unhealthy!
Thank you for reading everyone! I hope you learned something new from this article. If you enjoyed this I’m sure you will like my post on the Healthy Foods From Italy!
What are your favourite healthy Indian foods? If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions I’d love to hear them in the comments below! 🙂
Until the next one, stay healthy