Much is said and written about the need to eat nutritious and healthy food. Ingredients are classified as " to be avoided" and "to be included". Some of the ingredients shift from one section to the other as study and research offer new theories . Potatoes, once shunned as "bad" are now considered " acceptable in moderate quantities" Rice, wheat and beans, though high in carbohydrates, can be included in moderation in healthy diets. Meat which was considered nutritious is now restricted to minimum consumption.
Almonds were a taboo a couple of decades ago but now have a place in health food sections. Choosing the most suitable cooking oil for the family requires much thought about each members needs. All these may give a general information about what to eat and what to avoid. But, when it comes to translating these theories into dishes, an average Indian may feel baffled as most of our traditional dishes appear to be not so healthy. The cook books and television shows on healthy cooking offer unfamiliar dishes and it may be difficult to drastically change the way we eat. Why on earth what was good for our ancestors for centuries is bad for us? Perhaps the changing life style, methods of agriculture, and the lack of discipline are the culprits. So, what can we do about this?
Let us take a step at a time in the right direction. Take a look at some of the most popular Indian menus , benefits and defects in terms of health for family. Most of these can be modified to make them a little better for health and slowly one can evolve an entire new way of cooking without anyone noticing the slow and steady change.
To start with, let us consider the most popular breakfast dish all over South India : The Idly. Until recently it was considered one of the healthiest options. Though it still finds favor with many doctors and dieticians, few drawbacks of this versatile steamed cake, with which South Indian life style is synonymous are brought to light. While it is considered healthy as it is steamed and almost fat free, it is mostly carbohydrate with only traces of protein from the dal . So in order to limit the carbohydrate intake one should limit the number of idlis to two or three. The GI (glycemic index) of Idly is high, and may make you feel hungry much before your next meal. So how can we eat idlis and stay healthy too?
Let us consider this standard breakfast and see how we can make it healthier.
Do not eat idlis with " Idly chilli powder", (a fiery powder made with red chillies, dals and spices) soaked in gingily oil. Gingily oil is a mono unsaturated fat, devoid of cholesterol but still has calories and adds to the total fat consumption. Also, the high spice level of the powder will trigger your appetite and make you eat more. Its high salt content is also to be avoided. If you miss this potent powder, have a little occasionally mixed with skimmed milk curds, rather than with oil.
Forget about the traditional drizzling of hot ghee on idlis.
Use very little coconut and more roasted gram in the chutney.
Better still, do away with chutney and have your idlis with plenty of Sambar, made with generous quantities of vegetables. The vegetables will add fiber and vitamins and lower the average GI of your meal. They will add safe volume to the meal and make you feel satiated.
To make up for lesser number of idlis, add a fruit to the menu.
If you are a non. vegetarian, have your idlis with a fish curry (not too oily) instead of chutney or sambar.
Use low fat or skimmed milk in the coffee and avoid or at least reduce the sugar.
Try these variations of idlis which make them better for health
Add about 1/2 cup of Soya flour to 1 litre of idly batter to increase the proteins.
Grind 1 cup of black gram dal (urad) as usual, add salt and ferment over night. Add 2 cups of fine whole wheat rava, and water if necessary and steam idlis. These will have more fibre and lower GI than rice idlis.
Place some grated carrots, few cooked green peas and chopped tomatoes in each idly mould, top with the usual idly batter and steam.
In 2 tsp oil, fry 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 tsp chopped garlic, 1 tsp chopped ginger. Add 1 tsp chilli powder and 1 cup tomato puree. Add 1 cup soya granules (prepared as instructed on the pack) , a tablespoon each of mint and corriander leaves. Add salt to taste. Simmer till thick. Half fill the Idly mould with batter, top with some Soya mixture. Cover with more batter and steam as usual.