There is no doubt us British have a long-standing love affair with Indian food. So much so that there are a wide range of dishes people think come from India that are in fact invented in the UK for the British palate…Tikka Massala being the most famous.
But just because we all like something doesn’t mean it is good for us!
When it comes to curry and healthy eating it can be a tad confusing. The idea of going for a curry after a night on the beers really isn’t something people would think of as healthy and they may well be right (more on that later) but there are a lot of reasons why we should be looking at Indian food as a healthy option.
Almara Miah from the award-winning Indian restaurant Zari has long espoused the health virtues of Indian food saying “traditional Indian food cooked correctly can offer so much for so little health cost, all the flavour, fun and enjoyment but with added health benefits”.
Who are we to argue, so here is why we should all be cooking and eating more Indian foods and curry:
Veg and Pulses
Before we even get to the magical properties of the spices it is really worth thinking about the fact that a lot of Indian food has a range of veggies and pulses in as part of the original recipes. These dishes are not adapted to be healthy – they already are! There are so many dishes made with lentils, chickpeas and veg in that the health benefits are plain to see. Many regions of Indian actually have vegetarian food as a staple simply because meat is expensive but also because that is what is popular.
Dairy and meat are not as common as people may think in curry. The British consumer has often been the driver for the creation of more meat curry dishes. So at its heart, Indian food is full of fresh veg and pulses that are always going to be good for you.
On of the key points about Indian food and why it’s healthy is that it tends to be cooked from scratch. Of course, you can go and buy high fat and sugar sauces in a jar but that’s not really what Indian cooking is about at its core. If you try and make a real curry it will be full of raw and fresh ingredients. The use of processed food stuff isn’t very common. Of course, many of the species have been processed but that is not the same as the processing that goes into bacon or a sausage for example. So a real curry is not going to be filled with unwanted salts and sugars, trans fats and other nasties we don’t even know about.
This section could be an article in it’s own right as there are a wide range of health benefits related to a number of spices commonly used in Indian cooking. But here are a few highlights:
- Turmeric. This lovely yellow spice is a wonder in it’s own right. It has been associated with a range of health benefits from easing bloating and stomach upsets to treating arthritis, skin inflammation and even ring worm. It is also associated with preventing Alzheimer’s and it’s a powerful antioxidant. It also adds an important depth of flavour to a curry but be careful not to use too much. The saying goes, if you can taste it on its own then it’s too much. It’s subtle flavour is there as part of the orchestra not a solo artist.
- Cardamom. This normally comes in dried husks which need to be broken open to release the small pods inside. Again, this spice has been cited as helping stomach problems but also heartburn and even bad breath. There is also some research going on about how it may help combat skin cancer, but the evidence is still being gathered.
- Cumin. Also known as Jeera cumin in its seed form is a very common spice in Indian cooking. It is thought to help boost the immune system as well as have some pain reliving effects. Once again it is also thought to help stomach pains and upsets so a good all-rounder!
- Mustard Seeds. Not as well know unless you make a lot of curry but this little seed packs a big punch. It can help with Asthma and well as arthritic and muscle pain relieve.
These are just a few, and there are many more! As many of these spices are commonly used together it is easy to see how these benefits can add up. A good curry every week can help with a wide range of things as well as just being good for you and full of antioxidants among other things.
The Unhealthy Side of Curry
There is, as with most things, a darker side to Indian food though. Most Indian food is cooked using Ghee which is a clarified butter and not particularly good in terms of fat. However, used in moderation a bit of fat is fine and it isn’t going to ruin all the other benefits.
Where curry can become less healthy is the fast food/take away side of things. A lot of take always have altered the recipes to meet the fatty tastes of the UK palate and added more meat than would be normal in India. They often add sugar and more salt as well. This is not a fault, it is simply catering to the consumer.
That being said a lot of great restaurants are moving back from this now and really pushing authentic Indian food which doesn’t have a lot of the bad stuff in it. It is common sense really, going for a huge curry twice a week that is full of meat and fat isn’t going to be great. But going to a real Indian restaurant and learning to cook real dishes from scratch at home is always going to be better for you. Oh, and having a massive naan bread with everything may also not be ideal but wholemeal flatbreads like chapatti can be a good source of fibre.
Go Fourth and Eat Curry
The key to getting the most out of Indian food is to learn to cook it yourself. Get those spices ordered and start exploring the massive range of dishes that really aren’t that hard to create. Getting the family eating, yes, the kids too, is not that hard. Not all curry is hot, but all mild curry is yummy! Even for young ones. It’s fun to cook, it freezes well, it last well in the fridge and it makes just as a good a lunch as it does dinner.