YOUR HEALTHY FESTIVE PALATE
Festive season binging and unplanned fasting can both be devastating for your system – but don’t run from eating well, just eat smart
Festivities are around the corner and for many this spells trouble with weight loss goals. But a diet should be sustainable and festivals are the best time to put them through a sustainability test. A sustainable diet plan allows you to participate in festive feasts without guilt and does not test your willpower to abstain from a traditional meal. Meal plans that generate guilt are deeply rooted in profit-making by the food industry that aims towards selling detox plans later.
Navratras and Durga Puja are about to begin and the festive season will end with a bang on Diwali. Ever wondered why we have these cultural practices and the rituals around this time (of weather changes around September-October)? Unknown to us, there is sufficient correlation between traditional meals, rituals, and seasonal changes.
Art & science of festivals
Monsoons are over and it's the onset of autumn. The two Hindu months of Ashwin and Kartik fall during this season of festivity that witnesses Navaratri, Durga Puja, Vijayadashami, and Sharad Purnima. These festivals share a common thread of the triumph of good over evil, be it of the vadh of Mahishasur or the defeat of Ravana. Navratri urges us to conquer the demons inside us, encouraging introspection, growth and thereby, addressing the very fundamentals of mental health. This is also the period of season change, from hot and humid to cold and dry. The onset of winters causes dryness, which leads to imbalance in water within the body. These physiological changes can be prevented and healed by adjusting and modifying our eating practices and thus, the festive rituals and treats!
But festivals today are a commercial exercise and this commercialisation has ruptured the very essence of celebration. Indian culture is amongst the oldest in the world and our traditions and rituals are rooted in the wisdom of well-being at an individual level, towards the local economy and ecology at large.
Fasting helps the body adapt to changes in weather and seasonal foods. Because immunity is low, eating light enables the digestive system to rest and heal. Our gut houses 80 per cent of our immunity. So, a stronger digestive system means a healthier you!
Modern outlook: Navratri, for weight watchers, is an easy solution for quick weight loss. While some people take to it to detox by consuming only fruits/juices through the day, many others binge on the vrat snacks or fried aloo chaat. Usually, dinner ends up being the heaviest meal after a day's fast. Restaurant-based Navratri thalis find many takers and tea/coffee become easy appetite suppressants.
Correct your approach: If you wish to observe the fasting tradition, keep the larger picture in mind. Eat in a way that helps you feel light, active and not bloated, constipated, heavy or acidic.
Eat to energise your body – a freshly-prepared meal has high pranic value and nourishes the body.
Choose flours like buckwheat, water chestnut or tapioca pearls as these are rich in Vitamin B, Magnesium, Phosphorus and light to digest.
Cook your meals at home, in ghee or regional oils, and do not reuse the oil.
As for snacks, stay well-hydrated with drinks like chaas, nariyal paani, etc. Snack on nuts and dry fruits.
Don't overdo fruits and don't consume fruit juices.
If you wish to break your fast in the evening, eat early or regularise the portion if eating late at night.
Stay within two or three cups of tea or coffee in a day. This goes for green tea too.
Durga Puja & Dandiya nights
Durga Puja and Navratri are times when everyone is outdoors – from morning pushpanjali to garba nights, the days really stretch long.
Modern outlook: Because everyone is outdoors and home staff is on leave, packaged food, breakfast cereals, bread become popular choices. Another common concern is the long gaps between meals when people visit Puja pandals or play garba until the wee hours of the morning.
Correct your approach: Failing to plan is planning to fail. This proverb summarises the essence of how you can refrain from acidity, bloating, hunger pangs, migraines, dehydration and fatigue. Just plan in advance.
Start your day with a fruit, ideally a banana. This will energise you and strengthen your gut.
Eat a homemade traditional breakfast. If nothing, just have the previous night's roti with vegetables or a glass of milk/sattu with a handful of nuts. If you want to fast till pushpanjali, have coconut water instead.
During pandal-hopping, stay well hydrated. You could choose natural drinks like daab or lemon water. Ideally, you should carry a bottle of water with you too.
Carry seasonal fruits as mid-meal options.
For lunch, have the traditional bhog. If at home, eat a home-cooked meal.
In case you are stepping out in the evening, make sure you eat something from home. It could be a vegetable and cheese sandwich, besan cheela, poha, upma, roti sabzi, dhokla, jhaal moodi, thepla.
All those who will play dandiya should eat a rice-based dinner meal. This will be light yet energising. Make sure you carry power-packed snacks like dry fruits, nuts, shikanji, sattu, coconut jaggery laddoos or peanut chikkis to keep your gusto high whole night.
Keep dinners light and eat early.
Before you retire for the day, drink a glass of lemon water. This will help you wake up fresh the next morning
During the day, use herbs and spices like cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, turmeric. These will keep your metabolism high, insulin sensitised and provide a boost of antioxidants.
Traditionally, the entire family would come together to make sweets like barfis, laddoos, halwa. There would be regional variations too, like the coconut laddoo of Bengal would have gud (jaggery) while the North Indian recipe would use sugar instead. Similarly, a Konkani nevri is different from a Maharashtrian karanji. It is this diversity that keeps us genetically resilient.
Modern outlook: We are all hard-pressed for time and making sweets at home is impossible! Also, sugar is bad; but prasad is vital to festivals, so we end up buying the 'sugar free' versions of the traditional mithai. To gift others, traditional sweets seem too down market, so we buy imported chocolates or fusion desserts like Kiwi barfi, Gulab Jamun Cheese Cake, Baked boondi Parfait!
Correct your approach: Traditional sweets are often made using local and seasonal ingredients. These are rare recipes that are passed across generations and must be preserved. Along with sugar or jaggery, these include some form of fat like coconut or ghee or gond. These not only add nutritive value but also reduce glycemic load of the dish. This means that when you eat this sweet, it doesn't spike your blood sugar levels because of the good fat present in it, unlike the 'low fat/no fat' variety that plays havoc with your insulin levels.
Also, we need essential fat for absorption of micronutrients. Remember that the cold weather causes dryness and ghee helps lubricate and protect bones, skin and immune function during this seasonal change.
Diwali is the most popular festival and though it is marked by five different occasions, beginning with Dhanteras and ending with Tulsi Vivaah, the Diwali mood long precedes the actual event.
Modern outlook: Diwali has become a show of great pomp. Food not only takes centre-stage but graduates to a display of affluence. The hosts attempt to offer not only the latest, most exotic, imported delicacies and drinks but also outdo their friends. This competition only profits the food industry, not your health.
Correct your approach: Along with the other mentioned health tips, some Diwali specific tips include:
For the hosts:
Focus on 'fresh' food rather than 'exotic'.
Fry the snacks in cold-pressed regional oils. Coconut oil if you belong to South India, Peanut oil for those in Western India, Til or Mustard oil for Eastern and North Indians. Ghee too can be used for frying.
Attempt to serve dinner early with a rice- based dish and home-set raita or a dip.
Keep one Indian dessert with coconut, ghee, nuts or dry fruits. These are any day better than cupcakes and chocolates.
Drink conscientiously, if you must. Remember alcohol not only contributes to weight gain but also reduces fat burning.
Don't drink on an empty stomach, eat a meal or nibble on peanuts or snacks with dips like hummus, hung curd or tahini. These ensure slower gastric emptying, thereby reducing load on the liver.
Always sip on a glass of water between drinks.
Wake up to coconut water the next morning, to keep the hangover at bay.
These health tips will not only help you prevent health concerns like acidity, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, headaches, tiredness and fatigue but will also help you stay energised, light and active through the festive season. Remember that festivals are occasions to spend time with loved ones, share joy and happiness and be grateful. Not to forget, the food on our plate is a vital part of this blessing.
(Madhavi K Sharma is a nutritionist & certified diabetes educator)