It’s ironic that the national British dish is now accepted to be a good old Indian curry and a recent statistic posted in national press stated that the average British male can not go two weeks without getting their curry fix.
The curry gets a lot of bad press for being responsible for the ever expanding waist line of the nation and Indian food in general is met with a certain amount of disdain when someone who is trying to maintain optimum health but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Firstly, we’ll take a few pros and a few cons of Indian food to put it into perspective and then share some tips to ensure you’re healthy and still able to enjoy Indian food.
Firstly the cons.
When I work with Asian clients in particular who have consume Indian food regularly, I find that one of the biggest dietary mistakes is the easy overconsumption of carbohydrates. Rice, Naan breads, Roti/chapattis with potato curry or daal have an almost carb coma inducing effect and as we know, the obesity epidemic taking the world by the short and curly’s has more to do with an over consumption of carbohydrates causing excess insulin levels in our bodies than dietary fat but with that being said…
Excess Dietary fats
I’m going to tell you a secret my mum didn’t want you to know. The secret of Indian food is something called vagar. This is sautéing onions in oil and spices before adding meat or vegetables. This process tends to require a lot of oil and the onions absorb both the fat and spices for taste. This adds massively to the calorie content
Portion control is non existent
Of course this one’s a bit subjective to the person eating the food but from my experience with Asian food is that most people do not eat according to their ideal portion size (see here for portion guide)
Now the pros.
The major pro for Indian food is the use of fresh herbs and spices. Most of the heat in Indian food comes from chilli. Chilli contains fat burning properties due to the capsacin that gives the chilli pepper its heat. Spices and herbs have many health properties including cinnamon which is shown to improve insulin sensitivity (which will help you in your quest to burn body fat). Indian food also tends to use ingredients such as turmeric which is an insanely good natural anti inflammatory as well as ginger which is excellent for digestive health.
A tasty way to get variety.
Indian food is popular because it is full of flavour and taste whilst being versatile. Proteins can easily be interchanged as can vegetables. It’s a great way of getting your spinach and proteins in including fish, chicken, turkey and even lean red meat or eggs.
So, how do you make Indian food more healthy?
The key to making Indian food healthier is to simply cut back on the amount of fat being used. One of my favourite techniques (as you’ll see from my chicken curry recipe video below) is to use coconut oil to sauté your onions. I don’t know why but coconut oil seems to be better for sautéing onions whilst using less oil and it also gives it a nice south Indian flavour to boot.
Make sure you use lean proteins such as lean grass fed chicken, turkey beef or fresh line caught fish etc instead of fatty parts of meat such as lamb or chicken thighs. You can swap paneer which is a fatty cheese used in vegetarian dishes for tofu too.
Instead of rice, opt for cauliflower rice which makes an excellent low carbohydrate and low calorie alternative to rice. There are also good brown rice and quinoa blends available which also makes a good alternative to white rice.
If you’re going to make chapatti/roti , you can use a coconut flour instead of regular flour or use wholemeal flour if you can’t get coconut though coconut would be better.
and remember, Indian food doesn’t have to be complicated, check out my quick and easy (and insanely healthy) recipe for a chicken based Indian curry!
If you’re eating out at an Indian restaurant, things get slightly more challenging as you’re not in control on the cooking process. Eating out has its challenges but there are some safe bets you can make when you’re dining at your local Tandoori.
Firstly, I always advocate to my clients that if they’re going out for a meal that may end up being bad for them to never go too hungry. Having a green smoothie with some protein an hour or so before you go out for a meal will ensure that you’ve got adequate amounts of nutrients in your system with managed blood sugar levels so you’re not too hungry and don’t over indulge.
Secondly, your best bet on the menu is the Tandoori section. Tandoori foods are usually grilled in the clay oven (Tandoor) which usually mean they’re lower in fat than oil and cream laden curry dishes. Unfortunately, Indian restaurants are not well known for their salads other than a mix of lettuce, cucumber and a wedge of lemon if you’re lucky so sides are usually carbohydrates such as rice, naan or roti (chapatti) – Portion control is urged when picking sides and remember, naan breads and many of the speciality rice dishes have a lot of extra fat. Fat is not generally a problem but with refined carbohydrates, the combination is not a pleasant one.
Desserts get tricky too at Indian restaurants with fried sweets such as Gulab Jamun as a favourite, it’s best to stick to just the coffee at an Indian restaurant if you can resist the temptation 🙂