It is difficult to design the perfect healthy Indian diet. There is so much variation in climate and availability that no one diet plan can suit everyone. This problem is compounded by the fact that health conditions may mean that you are not able to eat some foods. Furthermore, a lot of options are not available to vegetarians.
In light of these factors, we have prepared a list of 12 common Indian foods that must be a part of every diet. Note that if you suffer from any health condition, always ask your doctor about what you can and cannot include from this list.
12 Essential Indian Foods In Your Diet
Yoghurt, Curd or “Dahi,” as it is commonly known in most parts of India, is one of the most commonly available food items. It also has a remarkable tendency to change its quality in response to climate. What we mean is that yoghurt tends to be watery in more humid climates, but creamier in drier regions. This goes well with what people in each of these areas need. Further, yoghurt contains good bacteria that help us digest food and keep us healthy. It also contains large amounts of calcium, potassium and vitamin B.
Health benefits of Yoghurt:
- It’s known for containing a lot of calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy teeth and bones. Just one cup provides 49% of your daily calcium needs.
- Yogurt provides an impressive amount of proteins.
- Some types of yogurt contain live bacteria, or probiotics, that were either a part of the starter culture or added after pasteurisation.
- Consuming yogurt — especially if it contains probiotics — on a regular basis may strengthen your immune system and reduce your likelihood of contracting an illness.
2. Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are already popular in the Indian diet. But they ought to be used more. Spinach (Palak) is found all over the country throughout the year. Cabbages are also found around the year in most places now. Further, depending on where in the country you live, there are hundreds of local varieties of leafy greens just waiting to be included in your diet. These vegetables are loaded with iron, vitamin K, and other essential minerals and nutrients that help prevent a load of diseases, including cancer.
Health benefits of Leafy Vegetables:
- Mustard greens and kale help lower cholesterol.
- Leafy vegetables preserve vision health and decreases the risk of cataracts and increase how far you can see.
- Leafy vegetables help fuel your body to produce energy.
- The slightly bitter taste of many leafy greens is a good sign: It reflects their high levels of calcium.
While they are not always an option for vegetarians, eggs are excellent sources of protein. The yolk does contain cholesterol – so, if you are wary of consuming the entire thing, the egg-white can help provide the essential minerals and nutrients to your body. They have less than 100 calories each. You can add eggs to almost any dish and make it delicious.
Health benefits of Eggs:
- Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high quality protein.
- Giving young children just one egg a day for six months, alongside a diet with reduced sugar-sweetened foods, may help them achieve a healthy height and prevent stunting.
- Eggs Are high in cholesterol, but they don’t adversely affect blood cholesterol.
- Eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health such as betaine and choline.
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The Indian diet, whether you are a vegetarian or not, is extremely rich in grains. Rice and flour are the obvious examples, but remember that pulses are an equal part of our staple. Thankfully, there are so many types of pulses available that you can still maintain variety in your diet. Pulses are rich in dietary fibre and vitamins A, B, C and E. They also contain minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. Most importantly, they are the major source of protein in a vegetarian diet.
Health benefits of Pulses:
- Including more pulses in your diet may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Pulses are a low-glycemic index food. The glycemic index ranks food on how it affects your blood sugar.
- Pulses also make a healthy and inexpensive source of protein.
5. Rice and Flour
We spoke about grains earlier. So it is only fair that we address the most popular ones. White rice is still the most common grain consumed in India. However, you should try to switch to brown rice since it contains more fibre, making it a better alternative. The move to whole wheat flour has been more successful and it is rare to find white atta rotis and chappatis these days. You should also consider doing the same for other wheat products like bread.
Health benefits of Rice & Flour:
- Our bodies need insoluble fiber to help rid themselves of waste, so if constipation is a problem, rice and flour — in particular brown rice flour — may help along with nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower and potatoes — all foods that provide plenty of fiber.
- Rice and flour is high in protein, and contains a higher level of B vitamins.
- Dietary fiber is an essential part of any eating plan. Rice contains insoluble fiber, the substance that helps waste material move through the intestines.
Cottage cheese or paneer is a mainstay of the vegetarian diet, but even non-vegetarians consume it on a regular basis. Paneer is a versatile food, lending itself well to many different kinds of dishes. However, you should avoid the fat-heavy variety that is made from whole milk. Homemade paneer made from toned (or skimmed) milk contains less fats and cholesterol and is much healthier for you. It will still retain high quantities of protein and calcium.
Health benefits of Paneer:
- Perhaps common knowledge by now, but paneer is a good source of protein especially for vegetarians who do not get their intake from meat products.
- Since paneer is made of protein, it releases energy slowly in the body which means, it does not cause a spike in one’s blood sugar levels, nor does it give an instant boost which drops soon.
- Apart from being rich in protein and calcium, paneer is a great source of conjugated linoleic acid — a fatty acid which helps lose weight by increasing the fat burning process in the body.
- It prevents from various bones diseases like osteoporosis, joints pain and tooth problems like tooth decay and gums problems.
Indian spices have been world-famous since ancient times. Aside from their incredible taste and flavours, many spices are also healthy for you. Haldi or turmeric contains healing properties, helps reduce cholesterol and prevents blood clots that can lead to heart attacks. Cardamom boosts metabolism, while the components of garam masala contain varying degrees of minerals while also promoting digestion.
Health benefits of Spices:
- Most herbs and spices also contain more disease-fighting antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.
- Cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels and has a powerful anti-diabetic effect.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory effect
- Ginger can treat nausea and has anti-inflammatory properties
Garlic is not only flavourful, but is also renowned for its many healing properties. It is a primary source of natural anti-bacterial agents.
Health benefits of Garlic:
- Garlic contains a compound Called Allicin, which has potent medicinal properties
- Consuming garlic on a daily basis (in food or raw) helps to lower cholesterol levels because of the anti-oxidant properties of Allicin.
- The invigorating properties of garlic protect the skin from the effect of free radicals and slow down the depletion of collagen which leads to loss of elasticity in ageing skin.
Beans and other legumes are a great source of proteins, calcium, iron and folic acid. They are also versatile, allowing you to cook many Indian dishes. They also go well with cuisines of other cultures – from Asian to European.
Health benefits of Beans:
- Beans are “heart healthy” because they contain an abundance of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol levels.
- Most beans are about 2 to 3 percent fat, and contain no cholesterol, unless they’re processed or prepared with other ingredients.
- Filled with fiber, beans can promote regularity by preventing constipation.
- Eating beans regularly may lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Fresh chillies are an excellent source of vitamin C, much more than most fruits. If you like spicy food, you are in luck here. For those averse to hot spicy recipes, there are plenty of less “hot” chillies available that can provide the same benefits without the burning sensation. Fresh chillies also boost metabolism.
Health benefits of Chillies:
- Chilli contains up to seven times the vitamin C level of an orange and has a range of health benefits, including fighting sinus congestion, aiding digestion and helping to relieve migraines and muscle, joint and nerve pain.
- Chilli has long been used to reduce food micro-contamination and is also considered a potential metabolism booster for weight loss.
- It may also play a role in treating lung and prostate cancer and leukaemia.
Many traditional Indian fruits are great for you. They contain all kinds of minerals and vitamins that are essential for us. You should regularly eat seasonal and perennial (year-around) fruit like apples, oranges, blueberries, pomegranates, papayas, pineapples, etc. Some fruits need to be avoided by people with certain health conditions, but for the average person, they are the perfect snack food that can replace the pack of fried chips.
Health benefits of Fruits:
- Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients that are underconsumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid).
- Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol.
- When you eat fruits, your supply of energy increases in no time; this is one of the prime benefits of fruits that we can utilize in our busy schedules.
- The fiber content in fruit not only has a brilliant laxative effect but also makes you feel full by adding bulk nutrition to the diet.
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12. Dry Fruits
In moderation, dry fruits are excellent sources of essential fatty acids, minerals and even vitamins. You should regularly try and eat almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc in small quantities.
Health benefits of Dry Fruits:
- Dried fruits generally contains more fiber than the same-sized serving of their fresh counterparts. Fiber helps keep your digestive system running smoothly.
- A great way to prevent cardiovascular problems, dry fruits and nuts help reduce the risk of coronary heart problems.
- Dry fruits are a necessary portion in your daily diet – they help to maintain your cholesterol level.
- Because most of the water is extracted from dried fruits, their nutrients are condensed into a small package. Dried fruits like apricots, raisins, prunes and figs contain high amounts of beta carotene, vitamin E, niacin, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
It is not a completely impossible task to eat healthy. The key here is to balance. You need to balance your food intake and maintain your diet whenever you can. Also try to get in some exercise in the day. Exercising will help burn away the excess fat and calories that go into your body. So, keep next time you plan your diet remember these 12 must-have food items to help you maintain a healthy diet. You could also book a dietician with Urban Company to assist you better.