The food of India is a festival for the senses. It has brilliant herbs, spices and vegetables for the eyes, deeply fragrant aromas for the nose, subtle to fiery flavors for the tongue, even tactile pleasure from the custom of eating with your fingers.
We can also learn a lot from the nutritional benefits an Indian diet has to offer. The staples of Indian cuisine include foods that are recommended by health professionals to prevent heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes and stroke. And common dishes are not only nutrient packed, they are also inexpensive.
Vegetarian cuisine is widespread in India for religious reasons, and most dishes, particularly in southern India, rely heavily on grains, legumes and vegetables. These foods make up the base of our own Food Pyramid, and are ones we should include more of in our diets. Enhance those foods with the exotic spices and flavorings of Indian cuisine, and you have one of the most nutritious and delicious diets imaginable!
Some common dishes and foods of India and their nutritional merits include:
- Lentils and dals: Dal is a dish that can include lentils and other legumes as well, such as peas and beans. Lentils provide a good source of protein, are very low-fat, and supply loads of fiber.
- Dairy products: Yogurt, milk and cream are used in various dishes. When you prepare Indian dishes, substitute low-fat milk for cream when making your curry sauces. Yogurt provides immune system benefits and, together with other dairy products, is a good source of protein and calcium.
- Nuts: Used instead of meat, nuts provide good protein and a healthier form of fat. Recent studies have found a link between moderate nut consumption and a reduced risk of heart disease. Nuts also contain folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, and the minerals iron, zinc, potassium and copper.
- Rice and wheat: Indian cuisine uses aromatic rices, such as Basmati white rice. Use them as a base along with vegetables, nuts, fruits and fragrant spices to create mouth watering, low-fat dishes.
- Fresh ginger and other herbs and spices: The medicinal benefits of fresh ginger, garlic, onion and turmeric are an added bonus.
- An abundance of fruit: Tropical fruits, like mango, pomegranate and melons, as well as apples, apricots and strawberries are used. Include plenty to gain the most from their anti-cancer-causing benefits.
- Plenty of vegetables: Vegetables used in abundance in India include cauliflower, eggplant, spinach, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers and mustard greens. These vegetables are packed with vitamin C, beta-carotene and phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds, abundant in fruits and vegetables, that our bodies may use as part of their disease-fighting arsenal).
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