While curries and breads have earned a reputation for being notoriously calorific, the individual components used to make them aren't. Authentic Indian food is all about fresh produce cooked alongside lots of herbs and spices unlike the mass-produced stereotypes plied with unhealthy extras.
In my experience, Indian food can actually aid a healthy weight loss programme. Thanks to the flavourings used there isn't the need to overcomplicate dishes with rich creams and butters. Plus curries by their very nature provide a slow release of energy, perfect for anyone undergoing an intensive training regime.
Two staple ingredients in many of my dishes are ginger and garlic - high in vitamins; they are also great for aiding digestion. Studies also tell us that chillies, another of my favourites and again a base flavour in the majority of Indian cuisine, contain a key chemical which boosts the body's ability to burn fat all while curbing appetite!
In most instances it is the overuse of oils, ghee and butter in Indian cooking which can transform a dish from healthy to fattening. I am very mindful of this as are many of the budding chefs I train at my cookery school, which is why I use rapeseed oil for cooking. It has a higher heat tolerance which is ideal for slow cooking with the heat turned up and is well balanced with good and bad fats. It is the healthiest of all saturated fats - up to 50% healthier than olive oil and high in vitamin E meaning it is a natural antioxidant.
I steer clear of cream in my dishes, if I am creating a milder dish I tend to use low fat natural yoghurt (be careful not to choose one that has hidden sugars!) as a substitute and tinned tomatoes or passata are perfect bases too. The most spectacular thing about Indian cuisine is what the spice shelf has to offer. These little gems are packed full of flavour and can turn the simplest of tea time recipes into a magical feast. Obviously spices are fat free and for the health-conscious eater are godsend for flavouring meat, fish and vegetables when sauces, oils and butters just can't be used.
Each spice comes with its own health benefits too! Cinnamon is said to help lower cholesterol and increases sensitivity to insulin as an aid in fat burning. Fennel seeds are high in vitamin C and are a great source of dietary fibre and iron, which helps keep the metabolism and digestive tract running smoothly. Incredibly popular in Indian as a spice to cure all ailments, turmeric is a powerful antioxidant which contains anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities all while being an aid to digesting fats quickly.
Herbs too not only add instant freshness and flavour to food, but have great healing qualities. Both basil and oregano are known to be good antioxidants, while coriander which I use in large quantities both fresh and via seeds, is very effective in reducing the cholesterol levels in the blood. The acids in coriander are known to also reduce the level of bad cholesterol deposition along the inner walls of the arteries and veins, which can lead to serious cardiovascular issues like heart attacks, and strokes. It helps to raise the levels of healthy cholesterol, which works as a preventative line of defence against a number of dangerous conditions.
So, my advice to anyone avoiding Indian food because they are trying to keep healthy is to think again. Making Indian food at home means you can manage what goes into the pot, so opt to replace the unhealthy elements with healthy ones. Dishes like curry and rice will keep you fuller for longer while allowing a slow release of energy, so rather than being neglected, I think they should be celebrated!