Think of a healthy meal and a curry might be the last thing that springs to mind, but recent research shows that many of the ingredients used within a typical curry can do you the power of good.
1. Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s
Turmeric, one of the spicy ingredients of almost every curry from korma to vindaloo may be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. According to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, a chemical found in the spice called curcumin can reduce the build up of knots in the brain that can cause Alzeihmer’s by as much as 50%. This may help to explain why Alzheimer’s affects just 1% of people over the age of 65 living in some Indian villages. Turmeric has also been found to improve memory, aid digestion, reduce inflammation, fight infection and guard against heart attacks.
2. Fewer colds
Paprika, chilli and many other spices commonly found in curries can ward off colds by triggering the body’s natural defences to produce extra mucus which traps viruses and soothes inflamed passages. Eating spicy dishes also clears the nostrils and gets rid of that ‘bunged-up’ feeling, enabling a speedier recovery for sufferers.
3. Better moods
Lean red meat in curries such as beef, pork and lamb not only provide a significant number of B vitamins which are essential for helping the body to release energy from food, but they can also enhance mood and promote a more positive state of mind.
4. Less risk of cancer
Tomato based curries are a great source of lycopene. This extremely powerful antioxidant is far more prevalent in cooked tomatoes than raw ones. Research shows that eating cooked tomatoes three or more times a week can lower the risk of prostate, lung, stomach, pancreas, bowel and breast cancers.
5. Reduced risk of heart disease
Regular consumption of cooked tomatoes also prevents the formation of blood clots, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes by as much as 48%. Many spices, such as curry powder, hot paprika and thyme may also help to cut the risk of heart disease as they contain salicylic acid, a compound that scientists believe may work to stem inflammation in the blood vessels that could otherwise lead to hardening of the arteries.
6. Improved circulation and reduced pain
Ginger, an ingredient commonly used in curries, contains an antioxidant that reacts with free radicals that can cause tissue damage and joint inflammation and so helps to reduce the pain of arthritis. Chilli has also been shown to be a powerful painkiller.
7. Increased metabolic rate
Several clinical research studies have found that an ingredient known as capsaicin found in spices, particularly chilli, can raise the metabolic rate for as long as three hours after a curry.
8. Reduced blood pressure
Coriander, another common ingredient of both Indian and Thai curries, contains high levels of antioxidants that help to lower high blood pressure and prevent the formation of cancer causing free radicals.
9. Increased energy
Lack of energy can be caused by an iron deficiency. This is particularly common in women, with research suggesting that one in four has well below the recommended iron intake. Curries containing red meat such as beef, pork or lamb can be an excellent way of boosting iron intake. A lamb curry can provide up to 50% of the iron a woman needs in a day. Baltis can be particularly high in iron as, during the cooking process, some of the iron from the pans they are cooked in transfers into the food. Other common ingredients of curries such as lentils and spinach are also good sources of iron.
10. A stronger immune system
No curry would be complete without a generous helping of garlic. Research shows that garlic contains allicin which is antibiotic, antifungal and may even be antiviral.
Despite all these wonderful health benefits many curries can contain extremely high fat levels. Here’s how to reduce the fat in your curry whether you’re eating in or out.
Use a non-stick pan or fry ingredients in a small amount of water instead of oil.
If you do use oil, measure it with a tablespoon and gradually cut down to half – or even less!
Use tomatoes as bases for sauces instead of cream or coconut. If you do want a creamy tasting curry try using natural or Greek yoghurt instead. To prevent the yoghurt from curdling simply mix in a tablespoon of cornflour.
When cooking meat-based curries, add all the ingredients together without oil, cover and cook slowly, stirring frequently to improve the flavour. The natural fat in the meat will provide enough moisture and fat for cooking – and for taste!
Use the leanest meat you can find. For a quick cooking curry trim off any visible fat and cut into thin strips or mini cubes (approx. 1.25cm(½”)
Add dahls (lentils) to as many dishes as you can. They are filling, rich in protein and fibre, and help keep your blood sugar and cholesterol low.
Increase your fibre intake and cut the fat by using boiled wholegrain rice instead of pilau rice or naan.
Boost your vitamin and mineral intake by using a wide variety of vegetables and fruits such as apple, pineapple and sultanas.
A curry always tastes better the next day so make a day in advance and then let it sit in the fridge.
Cut calories by up to 50% by asking for your poppadoms to be grilled or microwaved instead of deep fat fried.
Ask for naan breads to be served without butter on top or have a chapatti instead as they are usually lower in fat. A naan can have double the calories and up to 16 times more fat than a chapatti.
Opt for dahl and vegetable dishes whenever possible as they tend to be lower in fat and higher in fibre.
Choose boiled rice instead of pilau rice which is fried.
Go for tandoori (dry, oven cooked) curries or ones with tomato based sauces instead of high fat cream or coconut varieties such as massalas, passandas or kormas. A chicken tikka massala can have up to twice the number of calories and fat than a tandoori chicken curry.
Keep snack type foods such as bhajis and samosas to a minimum.
Avoid drinking alcohol before ordering. Even a small glass of wine or beer can lower inhibitions, increase appetite and result in over ordering and over eating.