We may not see eye to eye -- for example she claims ghee is not as healthy -- but for the most part we do, for example on the emphasis of spices and lentils. I hope you the reader get yet another perspective (see the ones I did with Dr. Bharat Aggarwal and Raj Ganpath) on healthy Indian diets and can decide for yourself.
Ms. Vairavan, first question: what influences led you to seeing Indian food as being potentially healthy?
• South Indian cooking uses a minimum amount of light cooking oil, not the clarified butter (ghee) and heavy cream used in the kitchen of many Indian restaurants.
• Vegetables are not boiled or steamed. Vegetables are cooked fresh and are enhanced with spices. Spices have intrinsic health benefits as Dr. Aggarwal’s book, “Healing Spices” suggests. Spices aid digestion and make the food aromatic and flavorful. So, one can consume more vegetables and cut down on red meats.
• Salt can be reduced or eliminated entirely, substituting cumin, ginger, garlic, and other spices.
• Indian cooking especially South Indian cooking uses a lot of legumes (lentils, beans and peas) which are high in protein and fiber. Lentils are easily digested and are lower in fat.
• South Indian diet can also be a vegetarian diet and also a gluten-free diet because wheat, oats and barley are not used as much. One can also adapt South Indian diet to a vegan diet by simply omitting animal protein like milk, cream, yogurt, butter etc.
• South Indian cooking is light, making vegetables more appealing and vegetables play a dominant role in every meal.
• The foods cooked and served with different flavors help you feel satisfied with even with a small consumption of food.
• A small amount of rice along with the abundant variety of vegetable dishes and 2 to 4 oz. lean meat will give you a hearty satisfying, healthful meal.
Curry on Wheels is the name of my website, which is at www.curryonwheels.com. I wanted to have a website name that fits my activity. I am not restaurant owner or a caterer. I am a culinary educator doing community wellness programs, cooking classes in hospital and university outreach programs, team building events for corporations. I travel to promote my passion: Healthy cooking and eating using spices and legumes. Hence the name “curry on wheels.”
You mention that supplements should not replace fresh foods in a recent blog post. Why do you feel this way?
When we get natural wholesome ingredients, we should learn to eat fresh foods that will nourish our body, mind and spirit. If people are deficient in one or more nutrients, then they should follow their doctor’s advice and should use supplements accordingly.
But, we must note that, as a nation, we have become a “pill popping society”. Why gulp more pills, unless they are really needed? Why not learn to cook and enjoy fresh vegetables, eat 3 to 5 servings of fresh fruits and include lean protein like eggs, cheese and milk in our everyday diet. Pills have so many side effects. I would rather consume the real wholesome foods every day than swallow pills unless there are really sound reasons to take supplements.
What is your favorite dish(es) today?
Brussels sprouts with coconut stir-fry, butternut squash masala, lemon rice with peanuts, and spice rubbed oven roasted chicken (4 oz.), Cucumber, tomato yogurt salad!...uhm so heavenly. All of these recipes are in the “Healthy South Indian Cooking” cookbook by Alamelu Vairavan & Patricia Marquardt.
When I fix my dinner plate, I like the foods to look like a rainbow of colors with different tastes and texture and appealing to the eyes and the palate: brussels sprouts are green in color; butternut squash is orange in color; lemon rice (aromatic rice cooked with fresh lemon, ginger seasonings and turmeric) yellow in color. Spice rubbed oven roasted chicken is golden brown; yogurt salad is white color with green cucumber, red tomatoes and onions!
All the above dishes are so easy to prepare and are loaded with flavors. You will also see that even children will enjoy eating them.
What book or person or event first opened your eyes to seeing Indian food as being healthy?
It is not a single book or an event that opened my eyes to see Indian food as being healthy. It is a gradual process of discovery and really feeling good and fit physically and mentally after eating Indian food. From my own experience when I see what I cook at home and what is being served in an institutional setting, I can really see the difference in quality and taste of foods.
Many readers have asked me about weight loss. Do you know of any anecdotal or scientific evidence that suggests what in Indian food can help with weight loss?
Although I don’t like to talk about the word ”diet” or losing weight, my American students have told me repeatedly how great they felt, and even had lost weight after using our cookbook. Eating right, exercising every day, meditating for 20-30 minutes, getting a good night sleep…all helps maintain balance and helps achieve whatever our goals may be.