Diwali, the festival of lights, is a celebration of light over darkness, wealth and generosity, and of course, an opulence of festive foods! Even the most disciplined eater can be tempted to let down their guard as the array of delicacies become too much to resist.
Besides, there are parties and melas to attend, and how can one not sample the varieties of regional cuisine on offer? Any talk about diet and health during this time is a recipe for instant unpopularity. So how do you navigate through this food maze? Well, start off by choosing healthier sweet options, which are not too difficult to prepare, for example, gajar ka halwa without the excess of ghee. In reality, authentic Diwali food has seen a rapid decline as most of the ingredients used to create traditional food are no longer homemade, and are more often than not, heavily processed and filled with preservatives. Stay away from store bought sweets that use food colours, preservatives and trans fats such as margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Avoid sweets that have ‘silver’ coating, such foils are often adulterated by aluminium, a hazardous metal that can accumulate in body tissues and even travel to the brain with disastrous consequences. So the first order of action would be take time out and prepare your own sweets and savouries at home.
Indians are genetically prone to diabetes, so it is important to choose foods that do not cause an insulin surge in the body – starches and sugar should be kept at a minimum. But on the brighter side, many of the ingredients in Indian sweets that are commonly considered unhealthy; for example, coconut and ghee are actually highly nutritious and don’t stimulate insulin production. The key is to replace sugar with smaller amounts of nutritious sweeteners like organic honey and coconut sugar. These are still high in generating of insulin, so use the smallest amount possible.
Enjoy Diwali celebrations with a sensible attitude towards food and eating. Here are some simple rules to bear in mind:
1. Keep realistic goals. There is definitely going to be some extra eating during this week. Do not make a meal out of the special foods prepared for the occasion. Consume in this order – fibrous colourful vegetables, a good portion of protein, whole food fats (good fats, not trans fats), and then everything else.
2. Disassociate eating with celebration. Socialise, mingle, visit your friends and relatives, but separate the eating from the visiting! Stick to your usual meal routine and eat the same quantities. A polite bite of a sweet occasionally is fine, but definitely try not to gorge.
3. Fasting before feasting. Plan a day for fasting before and after the feasting days, known as intermittent fasting. Most of us are familiar with the practice of fasting as culturally, we fast for many reasons – in devotion to a deity or perhaps to honour a departed family member. Modern research has shown that mimicking the periods of feast and famine cycle by intermittent fasting produces a number of biochemical benefits such as fat burning, cell repair, reducing inflammation and improved appetite control. In fact, intermittent fasting should be a lifestyle not just an occasional indulgence.
4. Exercise! Last but not the least, exercise. If you are not doing so now, this is the time to start. If you are already on an exercise regimen, do not stop it. Nothing can be as harmful to your body, than stopping your exercise during the festive season. These are simple rules to follow that will help tremendously in keeping your weight under control. Happy Diwali.
Guilt-free Gajar ka Halwa
Traditionally, this festive delicacy is rich and sweet, a rare treat for the health-conscious. But with this reinvented recipe, you can enjoy your favourite sweet without guilt
•2 cups grated carrots •1 can coconut milk •1 tsp cinnamon •1 tsp nutmeg
•1 tsp cardamom powder •2 tbsp ghee •1 handful sliced almonds •1 handful raisins
Heat the ghee in a non-stick pan. Add grated carrots, cook gently for 3-4 minutes. Add coconut milk, stir well and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Add cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes. Garnish with almonds and raisins and serve.