Indian cuisine has become widely popular in North American society. With all the unique and flavourful dishes, such as chicken tikka, saag paneer and butter chicken, it’s no wonder why so many Canadian’s have embraced the distinct flavours of this Asian cuisine. However, unbeknownst to some is the numerous health benefits Indian food can provide. After all, how can something that tastes so good also be healthy? Well, Indian food is host to some of the most flavourful and aromatic dishes, due in part to the plethora of spices and combinations used. As such, Indian dishes actually derive much of their flavour from spices rather than from excess salt, fat and/or sugar. Below are some of the most common spices used to flavour Indian food and the health benefits they provide.
Turmeric: First used as a dye over 2,500 years ago, turmeric is widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties; studies have even shown the spice to work almost as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which also makes the spice a natural antiseptic, painkiller and metabolism booster. In addition, turmeric can reduce the risk of certain cancers, fight Alzheimer’s disease and has been used in Chinese medicine to treat depression.
Ginger: As a child you might have been told to drink stale ginger ale when ailed with the flu – that’s because ginger has been widely known to ease nausea and improve the health of the digestive tract. Less widely known, however, is that ginger is also a natural pain killer and anti-inflammatory which has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Garlic: Garlic is widely known for its immune boosting, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. However it’s also been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which makes it a powerful preventative against heart disease.
Bay Leaves: Bay leaves have an ancient history, first being used by the Greeks and Romans to make crowns for celebrated persons. However, it also provides many health benefits to us today. Bay leaves contain essential oils and a compound called Eucalyptol. Aside from its anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties, bay leaves can also help fight cough and colds and are a known sleep-aid.
Green Chilies: Green chilies are rich in antioxidants, which help prevent against free radicals; this helps slow the aging process and reduces the risk against certain cancers. Green chilies are also known for their immune boosting and anti-bacterial properties. They can also balance out blood sugar levels, which can help with weight loss. As with other spicy foods, green chilies can combat depression through the release of endorphins. Rich in Vitamin E and iron, they also promote healthy skin and hair!
In addition to the aforementioned benefits derivative of the several Indian spices, Indian food also provides a plethora of vegetarian options. For those seeking vegetarian alternatives to dishes like chicken tikka and butter chicken, you’ll be happy to find many dishes which contain handfuls of different vegetables.
As with all cuisines, Indian food also has richer and more decadent dishes. For healthy alternatives opt for dishes like chicken tikka and avoid dishes with fried or creamy components.