One of the questions I seemed to get asked a lot from friends and family about fitness and dieting is “Do I have to give up Indian food”?
Indian food is renowned throughout the world for its rich, spicy flavours but also for being high in fat and calories. But do you have to give up Indian food in order to be lean and healthy? let’s take a look at it in more detail.
Firstly, let’s cover a bit of science.
Weight gain is fundamentally governed by the fact that you eat more calories than you burn. Weight Loss on the other hand is governed by eating less calories than you burn. An pound of fat equates to 3500 calories therefore to burn 1lbs of bodyfat, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3500 over a period of x amount of days (Safe weight loss is roughly 2-3lbs of weight loss per week). Got all that? Good!
Now, back to Indian Food. There are two main components to Indian food that give it its taste and flavour. The first are the spices. The spices in Indian food are actually very good for you! Turmeric for example has many health inducing properties as does cumin, coriander, ginger etc. The second component however is fat, mostly saturated fats in the form of clarified butter (Ghee) and the secret to good Indian cuisine is the base of sauteed onions (usually sauteed or fried in copious amounts of fat).
All that fat adds to the taste as well as the caloric content of the meal. Add fatty cuts of meat such as lamb and other ingredients such as cream to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster!
The second problem with Indian food is the combination of high fat and high carbohydrate meals. High fat curries are usually served with flat breads (Naan, Chapaati) or with Rice. According to Sports nutrition expert Professor John Berardi (A gentlemen whom I have a lot of time for), the combination of fats and carbohydrates in a meal are not good if one is looking at fat loss. The reasoning behind this is due to the body releasing insulin to cope with the raise in blood sugar thanks to the carbohydrates. When insulin levels are high in the body, the body is restricted to using fat as an energy source and stores it instead. Whilst fats ad carbohydrates are both important to the body, Professor Berardi suggests they do not be consumed in high quantities together.
The third problem isn’t so much with the food but the eating habits I’ve noticed in so many Asian people and that is to eat fewer but larger meals and often, the main meal is eaten far too late at night. Whilst we’ve said that fundamentally, it’s calories in vs calories out that is the most important thing (and this is true), some research suggests that eating heavy meals late at night is not conducive to fat loss since our bodies tend to slow down at that time and our metabolic rate drop especially during sleep and rest periods.
That being said, Indian food can actually be very good for you. We’ve already said that the spices are great!
Cinnamon is great for the heart as well as for insulin control and is seen as a mild thermogenic
Cloves have antibacterial properties
Cardamom is great for digestion
Turmeric is a great anti inflammatory and is full of anti oxidants
Chilli peppers which again act as a thermogenic and can aid in fat loss as well as being a good anelgesic
So how can you enjoy Indian food and make sure you’re eating healthy at the same time?
Firstly, Indian food’s flavour predominantly comes from the spices and as we’ve said, they’re all good! Continue using them in your cooking and preperation of food. Try to restrict salt intake though, Some Indian recipes are too heavy on the salt.
Cut out excess fats from your foods. Restrict fatty cuts of meat or paneer (Indian cheese) and replace them with leaner cuts such as chicken breast or leaner cuts of lamb or beef or fish. For vegetarians who rely on paneer, Try switching over to tofu or adding soy to your meals. Avoid adding cream in recipes and use low fat yogurt instead.
Daals made with blended lentils and spices taste just as good without having the fried onion base and try to moderate your carbohydrate intake with your meals too. Try to prepare the food yourself, store bought or restaurant bought Indian Food is usually laden with fats and some times with sugars. If you are eating out at an Indian restaurant, stick to foods that are grilled in the Tandoor oven, Tandoori Chicken tikka (on the skewer, not the Masala variety) is a favourite of mine!.
Switching from biryani and pilau rice which have added fat to plain boiled rice . This will save you on calories as will switching to plain naan from garlic naan or stuffed varieties.
And as always make sure that you’re eating smaller more regular meals and are watching your portions. A varied diet is important and exercise is just as important as watching what you eat.
In conclusion, Indian foods and curries can be good food choices depending on the way they’re prepared and how they are eaten. It is my belief that with the correct knowledge on nutrition and understanding of the fundamentals, you will be more able to understand how to make the right food and nutritional choices.
Stay tuned to my blog for more information on health and fitness!