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Spice Up Your Health with Indian Food

traditional indian food

Traditional Indian food is filled with amazing spices and ingredients that are not only delicious, but may also carry health benefits as well! A little while ago, my colleagues and I did a project where we researched how common spices used in South Indian cooking may be beneficial to your health. Here’s a quick synopsis of common spices using in cooking Indian food.

 

Fenugreek is commonly used to flavor chutneys. It is thought by some to aid in digestion and hyperlipidemia as well as diabetes management. Some studies have shown that fenugreek may decrease blood glucose levels. It has also been shown in some studies to decrease triglycerides and increase HDL (healthy cholesterol). More studies are needed to be done to come to a conclusion about fenugreek and its health benefits.

 

The Bottom Line: There’s no harm in taking fenugreek, but there’s no hard science saying its beneficial. Flavor-wise though? Awesome.

 

Cinnamon is a spice that is often used in South Indian cuisine to flavor curries, not just Indian desserts! Traditionally cinnamon has been used to tackle gastrointestinal complaints. More recently, cinnamon’s claim to fame was in helping to manage type 2 diabetes by improving glucose and insulin metabolism. It has been shown that cinnamon may improve blood pressure, but this is more consistent in poorly controlled type 2 diabetics.

 

The Bottom Line: No harm in taking cinnamon, whether that’s in curry, baking, or beverages. As for how much to take daily, more research needs to be done to decide on an optimal dosage. Never take cinnamon in place of your usual diabetes and heart medications.

 

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Garlic is used in the many traditional South Indian recipes to add flavor to dishes (i.e. rice dishes). Garlic is known for its heart healthy benefits. However, studies show that garlic may reduce total cholesterol only modestly and it cannot be recommended for management of hypertension (high blood pressure). Overall garlic is unlikely to prevent cardiovascular disease on its own. But adding garlic to your meals will help flavor your meals and result in lower salt intake, which WILL lower your blood pressure.

 

The Bottom Line: It is important to be aware that there are drug interactions (for example, with warfarin) when taking large doses of garlic. Ask your doctor if you’re a garlic lover or if you’re taking garlic supplements.

 

Not all Indian food menus or buffets will list the ingredients of each dish. So if you’re interested in what’s in the food and to get another perspective of spices that make up a huge part of Indian food history, ask a friendly server who is knowledgeable or at least willing to ask the chef for you.