Even after building and launching our own rockets, we look to the West when it comes to nutrition. For whatever reason, when health, fitness or fat loss is on the cards, we can’t help but think foreign. We seem to be convinced that bread is better than dosa, idli or upma. ‘They’ have told us that kale and broccoli promote health and fat loss more than Indian greens (keerai, palak) and cauliflower. And somehow, we’re ready to pay four times the money for quinoa than we would for amaranth, though the latter is rich in protein, potassium and magnesium. Here are five facts about Indian food that I hope will convince you to eat more of ‘our’ food.
Indian food is local, safer and more sustainable
Why? Because we’re in India! Indian food is cooked with ingredients that are locally available. That means the vegetables, meat, oils and everything else we need for our food can be procured in good quality without too much pesticide use, storage or transportation. This, in turn, makes the food more nutrient-rich and less expensive than a foreign food, which either needs a special soil or climate to grow in or needs to be cultivated across the globe, stored and transported all the way here. So, even if a foreign food is more nutrient-rich on paper, the version of it we get here just isn’t. Indian foods made with local organic ingredients are optimal for health when in India.
It comes loaded with micronutrients
Indian food, North, South, East or West, has ample amounts of vitamins and minerals. As a culture, we go back a long way. At every step along this way, our ancestors have learnt things about which foods contain which micronutrients, and have incorporated them into our dishes. Sure, we don’t have clear published information about what nutrients are present in what foods like the West, but over the centuries, our foods has included spices, vegetables and fats that nourish and protect us with their properties. Turmeric is an example. So are onions, tomatoes, amla, millets, greens and spices, which are regulars in most Indian cuisines.
It is low on protein
The one thing our cuisine doesn’t contain enough of is protein, and because of that, our foods become dominant in carbohydrates and fat. But here is the thing — all cuisines are like this! Be it Mexican, Italian, Chinese or Ethiopian, every cuisine contains more fat and carbohydrates than protein, and that’s because it’s the only way more people can be fed. But when activity levels are low and health and fitness need to be improved, we need to increase protein and decrease fat and carbohydrates, irrespective of the cuisine. So do just that. Simply pull out some rice, roti, dosa, idli and other carbohydrate-rich foods from your diet, and eat a little more meat, eggs, milk, curd and other protein-rich foods to balance things out.
It’s delicious, and that might be a problem
Overeating is the single greatest hurdle when it comes to fitness or fat loss. A close second would be lack of activity, but even those who are active tend to undo their efforts by overeating. Why does this happen? Because tasty food is hard not to overeat, as it activates reward centres in our brains. Being dominant in starch and fat, a lot of our traditional foods fall under comfort foods and make us overeat a little at every meal. So as healthful as our food is, portion control is paramount.
It has everything we need
From variety to nutrients to taste to portability, it does have everything. It is just about what we choose. In other words, Indian food can be simple, healthful, delicious and therapeutic, or it can be rich, junky and disease-promoting. It is simply about the choices we make. So choose simple traditional foods that are abundant in protein and vegetables and low on starch, sugar and fat. Most of our health, fitness and fat loss problems will be long gone if we do this.
Raj Ganpath is an NCCA-accredited personal fitness trainer; a certified coach in fitness, nutrition, barbell and kettlebell training and a Functional Training and Senior Fitness Specialist, with over 5,000 hours of coaching experience