By Richard Burton, Director of Irish Institute of Nutrition & Health (www.iinh.net).
Despite its huge popularity, Indian food often – and unfairly – gets the thumbs down for health.
Be honest! What are the first things that come to mind when you think of Indian food? Hot, spicy, oily, rich, fatty, high calorie, bad for you, difficult and time-consuming to cook…?
Of course, it can be all these things, especially if made with poor ingredients and cooked badly. But that’s also true of any other cuisine!
The fact is that when Indian food is prepared with fresh ingredients, minimal amounts of good quality oil and careful cooking, it can be considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
As with any dish or cuisine, the key is the ingredients and how they are prepared and cooked. Indian meals are made from a vast and colourful array of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat, fish and spices, each with its own health-giving and even medicinal properties.
Full of Fat and Calories?
Oil can indeed be a problem – refined cooking oils, overused and often overheated, can spoil a dish and even leave us feeling queasy. We can remedy this by first choosing good quality oil (e.g. unrefined sesame) and then limiting how much we cook with. You can cook a dish with 6 tablespoons of oil – or with 2 if you prefer. There’s also a host of Indian dishes prepared by roasting, steaming, grilling and boiling that don’t need any oil at all!
How to make a healthier, low fat curry dish
Most curry recipes call for plenty of oil, which immediately puts off those trying to limit their fat intake. The curry’s spice base is crucial. But the oil isn’t. Ideally, find the freshest whole spices for the best possible flavour. Use only unrefined oil (or the traditional Indian ghee – clarified butter) and just half, or less, of the amount called for in the recipe. Don’t overheat the pan when sautéing the spices, as this damages both oil and spices. If cream is called for, choose yogurt or natural coconut milk instead. Your ‘slimline’ curry is now good to go!