Craving dal, tofu tikka masala or vegetable curry? This may come up as a surprise, but you can switch to an Indian vegetarian diet for weight loss. Traditional Indian dishes pack a lot of nutrition and taste amazing.
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More than 135 million people in India are living with obesity. Yet, this country still has some of the lowest obesity rates worldwide. Compared to the Western diet, traditional Indian cuisine is healthier and more diverse — and it can benefit your waistline.
Explore a World of Flavors
Indian cuisine abounds in herbs and spices, fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. In addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes, traditional meals are often made with rice, poultry or pork. Popular recipes like purple rice porridge, aloo methi, amritsari kulcha, chana masala and dal have been around for centuries.
Halwakadoo, for example, is pumpkin cooked in spices. Gobhi matar is a vegetarian dish consisting of cauliflower cooked in tomato sauce. Stuffed lentil dumplings are known as fara. Another beloved food is dum aloo, or potatoes cooked in curry.
Obesity rates have increased dramatically in India over the past decades. According to a review published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in August 2015, 135 million individuals have obesity. Approximately 153 million people suffer from abdominal obesity, and 107 million have both generalized and abdominal obesity.
These numbers are largely due to the growing popularity of fast food. Indian sweet shops and fast food outlets are popping up all over the place. On top of that, popular brands like Pizza Hut and KFC are making their way into the Indian market, contributing to the rising obesity epidemic.
Traditional Indian food, on the other hand, provides both flavor and nutrition. Most dishes are vegan or vegetarian, with warm, fragrant spices like ginger, curry and turmeric. Depending on your goals, you can switch to an Indian vegetarian diet for muscle building, weight loss or better health. Be prepared to spend more time in the kitchen, try new ingredients and experiment with different flavors.
Read more: 8 Curry Bowl Recipes That Will Warm Your Soul
Why a Vegetarian Diet?
An Indian vegetarian diet for weight loss will do a lot more than just shrink your waistline. A vegetarian diet can lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure, as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out. Furthermore, it may help prevent and treat obesity, according to a May 2017 review featured in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology.
In a large-scale study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in September 2015, the risk of having obesity dropped 7 percent for every year on a plant-based diet. Lacto-vegetarian diets, which allow the consumption of milk and dairy, decreased the risk of elevated blood pressure by 8 percent and high blood sugar by 7 percent a year. Additionally, plant-based diets have been shown to reduce body weight, especially in older adults.
Another study, which appeared in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in May 2013, found that office workers who went on a low-fat vegan diet with no calorie restrictions for 18 weeks lost about 9.4 pounds more compared to the control group. They also experienced improvements in glycemic control and blood lipids.
Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and other vegetable foods are rich in fiber, keeping you full longer and making it easier to reduce your energy intake. High fiber intakes also keep your blood sugar stable, which may aid in diabetes treatment.
Making the Switch
So, are you ready to explore new flavors and change your eating habits? An Indian vegetarian diet for weight loss is anything but boring. In fact, you'll discover a whole new world of foods and beverages to enjoy. The key is to keep an open mind and plan delicious, healthy menus that align with your weight loss goals.
Read more: 12 Tips to Getting a Vegetarian Diet Right
According to the above studies, you can get leaner on a vegetarian diet without counting calories. However, you'll get better results if you watch your portions and limit your calorie intake. Consider starting a food journal and record what you eat. Track your progress and adjust your energy intake accordingly.
First of all, determine how much weight you want to lose. Is it 10 pounds, 30 pounds or more? One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. This means that you must burn an extra 3,500 calories through exercise, cut out 3,500 calories from your diet or combine these strategies to lose one pound.
Indian Vegetarian Diet Shopping List
Most vegetable foods are significantly lower in calories than meat and processed foods. On top of that, they pack a hefty nutritional punch. An Indian vegetarian diet for weight loss may include food ingredients like:
- Peas: 64 calories, 5.2 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of fat, 10.3 grams of carbs, 4.5 grams of fiber and 6.3 grams of sugars per serving (one cup, cooked)
- Black beans: 114 calories, 7.6 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat, 20.3 grams of carbs,
7.5 grams of fiber and 0.2 gram of sugars per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)
- Raw carrots: 30 calories, 0.6 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, 6.9 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber and 3.4 grams of sugars per serving (1 large carrot)
- Paneer: 90 calories, 6 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs, 1 gram of sugars per serving (0.9 oz)
- Tamarind: 70 calories, 1 gram of protein, 18 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber and 16 grams of sugars per serving (0.9 oz)
Palak paneer, for example, is a popular Indian dish made with spinach, paneer (fresh white cheese), fenugreek leaves and traditional spices. One serving has around 240 calories, 10 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber, depending on the ingredients used.
Mung dal, another traditional dish, consists of mung beans, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, onions and other healthy ingredients. Each serving provides around 130 calories, 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber.
Need a quick boost of energy? Try whole wheat roti, a traditional Indian bread. You'll get around 129 calories, 3.3 grams of protein, 3.9 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbs and over 4 grams of fiber per serving (1.5 oz). It's also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.
What about a snack? Pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are a great choice.
As the researchers at Harvard Health Publishing note, nuts are chock-full of omega-3s and other heart-healthy fats. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, they may reduce bad cholesterol levels, increase good cholesterol levels, improve blood flow and lower the risk of premature death. The protein and fiber in nuts will fill you up quickly and suppress your appetite.
If your goal is to gain lean mass, try an Indian vegetarian diet for muscle building. Fill up on basmati rice, potatoes, steamed rice cakes, steamed vegetable wontons (momos) and pureed lentils. Just make sure you avoid fried and processed foods like sohan papdi (a traditional dessert), jalebi (a small, crispy cake) and vegetable-filled pastries. These dishes are high in fat and calories, leading to weight gain in the long run.
- ScienceDirect: "Prevalence of Obesity in India: A Systematic Review"
- OECD.org: "Obesity Update 2017"
- NCBI: Indian Journal of Medical Research: "Prevalence of Generalized & Abdominal Obesity in Urban & Rural India - the ICMR - INDIAB Study (Phase-I)"
- NCBI: BMC Public Health: "Association Between Full Service and Fast Food Restaurant Density, Dietary Intake and Overweight/Obesity Among Adults in Delhi, India"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets"
- NCBI: Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: "A Plant-Based Diet for Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Comparisons of Metabolic Profiles Between Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Subjects: A Matched Cohort Study"
- NCBI: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Changes in Body Weight in Clinical Trials of Vegetarian Diets"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of a Plant-Based Nutrition Program to Reduce Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk in the Corporate Setting: The GEICO Study"
- American Diabetes Association: "Meal Planning for Vegetarian Diets"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- USDA: "Cooked Peas"
- USDA: "Cooked Black Beans"
- USDA: "Raw Carrots"
- USDA: "Paneer"
- USDA: "Tamarind"
- USDA: "Palak Paneer"
- USDA: "Mung Dal"
- USDA: "Bread, Chapati or Roti, Whole Wheat, Commercially Prepared, Frozen"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Why Nutritionists Are Crazy About Nuts"