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Take heart
by Savia Rajagopal
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 12:26 AM
South Asians around the world are waking up to the reality of an unhealthy lifestyle and diet. Thinking about switching to a healthier lifestyle? Why not start in the comfort of your own kitchen?

South Asians around the world are waking up the reality of unhealthy lifestyles and diet. The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website states that “people of South Asian descent are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes and therefore, are at greater risk of heart disease than the general population.”

Every day, innumerable South Asians are grappling with obesity and diet-related problems every day. Thinking about switching to a healthier lifestyle? Why not start in the comfort of your own kitchen? Desi food is often prepared using generous amounts of oil, butter or ghee and is laden with unhealthy calories. We look at some practical, healthier options in food preparation that will help towards your well-being.

Hold the oil, please.

Avoid using oil when you can. Instead, use vegetable oil sprays which limit the amount of oil used in desi cooking. Almost all grocery stores have these sprays available in low-fat or non-fat varieties.

If you must use oil, choose healthier options recommended by cardiologists the world over like olive oil. Famous Indian chef Tarla Dalal, on her website, suggests using olive oil, groundnut oil, canola oil, mustard oil and sesame oil as they are monounsaturated fats which protect good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol.

Another smart way of reducing the amount of oil in your food is to use non-stick pans that can recreate the same flavours and aromas, without a greasy aftertaste. Roasting spices on a grill or non stick fan helps to bring out their flavours, without having to fry them in oil.

Bake. Broil. Steam. Just don’t fry it.

Almost desi food items can be cooked in alternative ways. Thinking of dunking that oil-soaked poori into your luxurious curry? While your taste buds say yes, your heart is begging you to say no!

You can grill pooris and rotis, without using oil. Use a pancake maker or a regular flat toaster-grill to cook your rotis. And avoid the urge to slap on some butter or ghee before serving.

Vegetarian dishes are often overcooked and lose all their nutrition due to this. Avoid oil and steam or bake your veggies slightly, using olive oil and seasonings for flavour. When preparing a traditional sabji, use olive oil and don’t overcook the vegetables on high heat. Often, heating and reheating food reduces the nutritive value of the meal.

For meats, you can avoid oil altogether by using your grill or oven. Chicken can be cooked to perfection on a grill or in a convection oven without much of a fuss. Should you be making a yoghurt-based marinade, ensure that the yoghurt is low in fat or contains no fat.

If you intend to make a non-vegetarian curry, you can grill the meat separately and then add it to your curry for a healthier option instead of frying the meat in a lot of oil.

Fish can be baked or broiled to suit individual tastes by adding appropriate seasonings and flavour.

Cut the salt.

High amounts of sodium are bad for your body leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure levels have been linked to serious health issues like cardiac problems, among others. How can you lower your intake of salt? Read the nutritional information on all packaging. Avoid items that have high amounts of sodium.

As far as possible, eat fresh food as processed food products have more sodium and other preservatives. If you’re selecting canned items, look for items marked with “no salt added” or “reduced/ less salt.”

A practical way to reduce salt intake is to lower your dependence on processed food. When buying frozen food items, check to see the content of preservatives and sodium it contains. Buy fresh vegetables as much as possible to create different meal options.

Choose fruits and nuts over pre-packed cookies and other packaged snacks that usually contain high amounts of salt. And if your taste buds get the better of you, select chips and other snacks that are clearly marked as “with less or reduced salt.”

Such a pickle!

Many South Asians are used to eating accompaniments along with their main course. These could be pickles, spiced and preserved in oil or other similar home-made items that use a lot of oil, spice and salt. If you absolutely must have a side dish, choose healthier options like a small salad, seasoned with lemon and tangy chaat Masala. Alternatively, roast lightly spiced papads to eat with your meals.

A wise selection

There are various healthier options when it comes to everyday eating. Almost all items of desi cooking can be substituted with food items that are gentle to your heart. For example, avoid white rice and choose brown rice instead. Use whole-wheat flour or other ethnic options like barley, oats for rotis and parathas and avoid maida and semolina.

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