How to Make Everyday Indian Food Healthier


Although Amma made all of the delicious recipes featured in this blog-she never got to taste many of them- she was Diabetic.  Amma was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes since the birth of my older sister -later transforming into Diabetes Type 2 for the next 26 years of her life until her death. With Diwali around the corner and many looking for Diwali Recipes-it may be the best time to honour Amma- not just by sharing her Diwali recipes but also some of her strength and commitment to keeping her health for the sake of her children- despite her illness.
Dhal Curry l © 2011 l
During Amma’s lifetime there was not much awareness on healthy eating for diabetics -she had to rely on the information gained from the local GP and from library books—there was not a wealth of information as there is today-still Amma was one of the strictest diabetic persons I’ve ever known-she was committed to staying healthy and alive. She never ate anything considered sweet (unless her blood sugar level was low and her life depended on it); she took her tablets (and later insulin shots) on time and controlled her blood sugar levels.

Despite Amma’s abstinence from sweet food’ it was not enough to control her diabetes—since Diabetes is a disease caused by malfunction of the body’s ability to absorb or break down sugars -either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced by the body. Reducing the amount of sweet food alone won’t regulate this metabolic function when consuming Indian Cuisine. Reason of this- is that most food contained in Indian Cuisine are predominately Sugars in the form of Carbohydrates these include starches like Potatoes, rice and white flour. Regulating your blood sugar levels hence also requires an overall healthy lifestyle plan of healthy eating and exercise. This does not mean depriving yourself of certain foods but rather exercising caution and moderation in the choices of food you eat.(For further reading refer to

How to Make Everyday Indian Food Healthier

A healthy Diet is defined as a diet that ‘helps maintain or improve general health. ‘Although Indian Food may be one of the most delicious cuisines it is also one which can be considered the most unhealthy- depending on the ingredients and cooking techniques. The High fat, complex carbohydrates   found in Indian cuisine results in increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Despite the gloom- Indian cuisine, also contains some dishes which are some of the most nutritious food. These include vegetables and lentils which when cooked with the correct proportions of oil and salt could contribute to a healthy diet and assist in maintaining a healthy body.

Cake flour, vegetable oil and sugar accounts for nearly one third of the total cost of groceries for the average Indian household (not based published statistical figures but by the Authors observation of Amma’s shopping list as well as family members). Apart from the rising cost of food-the high percentage is also as a result of the large quantities of these items needed for preparation of daily meals in the Indian Kitchen. Although curries do require oil as an essential ingredient –it does not require 5 litres of it.

1. Reducing The Amount Of Oil Used In Cooking
P10302621.    It is understandable that a bottle  of vegetable cooking oil is cheaper than most other ‘labelled healthy  oils’  but one can reduce the amount of vegetable oil used in the preparation of foods. Not only will a smaller quantity of oil last longer but will also be beneficial to your health.

2.    Use heavy based Cookware. This heats up slower than Aluminium pots. Alternatively use  non stick cookware with    a cooking spray rather than oil.
3.  Whenever possible bake, broil or steam instead of frying foods e.g.  Chicken or fish cakes are healthier when baked rather than pan fried.
2. Reducing The Amount Of Fat Used In Cooking.

1.    Trim off all excess fat from meat-this includes the skin from chicken.

2.    Opt for ‘lean’ mince- this should be minced meat made from meat trimmed of excess fat.

3.  Margarine is often a popular substitute for butter as a result of its price but the long terms effects on the health are far greater. Most margarines are trans fats (unssaturated fat) which increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Healthier alternatives to regular margarine include those low in saturated fast-such as Flora.

3. Reducing  Carbohydrate Content

1. Tea and Bread is a common South African Indian form of high tea. Instead of consuming 2 or three slices of white bread and margarine-instead have 1 slice of brown or whole-wheat bread.

2.    Although most healthy vegetables and grains are considered complex carbohydrates- you need to reduce (or consume in moderation) the intake of starchy foods like potatoes, rice, maize. Potatoes are commonly used in most meat and vegetable curries-try to omit the use of potatoes in curries or use in moderation e.g. once a week or if you add potatoes then eat with a salad instead of rice or bread.

3.    Complex Carbohydrates also includes processed food and those with high sugar content these include pasta, biscuits and pastries. If you make your own biscuits then you can also reduce the sugar content and you have greater control over the type and amount of fats and flour used.

4. Add Fiber To Your Diet
1.    Fiber can found in most vegetables but also in legumes and lentils (dhal, beans) which are both a source of fiber and protein if you are reducing your meat consumption.
2.    Fruits like apples also contribute to increasing your daily fiber intake.

5. Maintain a Healthy  Body Weight

Just because you are the same age as someone else does not mean that you should weigh the same. Nor is a healthy body weight determined by dress sizes –a healthy body weight is derived from the BMI (Body Mass Index) calculation- one of the true measurements for measuring optimum body weights. To calculate this you will need to know your weight divided by your height. The result is then measured on a scale ranging from 16.0-40.0. A healthy body weight is a BMI between 18.50 and 24.99. (as shown in the table below). E.g. BMI = Mass (kg) / [height ( meters)]².

Source: World Heath Organisation (Accessed 15.10.2011).


1.    Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential for maintaining a healthy body! Apart from eating correctly you also need to keep fit by engaging in some form of physical activity. The average adult requires: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups. If you don’t have access to a gym or sport centre one of the  best ways to get moving is to walk. Though this may not be the ‘safest ‘ option in some parts of the world- you could also walk around your neighborhood or in your backyard.  If you are reading this article then you have access to the internet which means that you also have access to thousands of free exercise videos online which can be used to contribute to the 150 minutes exercise per week.

3.    Carrying out household chores like ironing, dusting or vacuuming also helps burn calories.

Having the Will to Live Healthier

Although I have shared several of the treats Amma used to make-she always made them in moderation and always warned us that we should eat them in moderation to avoid her fate. Some of the measures which Amma took to ensure we ate healthier was that we ate brown or whole-wheat bread instead of white bread- did not have any sugar in our daily tea- (Amma always warned not more than two teaspoons if we did want to have sugar) and Amma always cooked with minimal oil.

Food is one of the pivotal aspects of Indian Culture-changing to a healthier way of cooking does not mean that you have to lose this cooking heritage. It simply means making a few minor changes which could prolong your life. What better reason to change the way you prepare food than to do it for the sake of your children-just like Amma did.

N.B. The Author is not a Medical Practitioner –these are simply tips used by the author in facilitate a healthier lifestyle for herself. If you are a chronic sufferer of Diabetes, Heart Disease or Hypertension…then follow only if approved by your Medical Practitioner.


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