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A seven-point guide to healthy Diwali feasting

Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar presents an alternative view to Diwali diets, praises ‘ghee’ and destroys the myths around ‘mithai’

Photo courtesy: Rujuta Diwekar
Photo courtesy: Rujuta Diwekar (Rujuta Diwekar)

The best kind of celebrations focus on a festival’s true essence—in the case of Diwali this is about giving and sharing. Excesses, unfortunately, are not limited to Diwali, Dussehra, Eid or Christmas—they are just more visible during festivals. And instead of focusing on the bingeing and guilt, these occasions have the potential to become opportunities for us to fine-tune our daily life and return to the traditional ways of eating and cooking like our grandmothers did. Festivals are a time to be grateful, not guilty, for what you have on your plate, and to feast with a conscience.

1. Dieting and Diwali

The whole idea of being on a diet is to become healthier, fitter and leaner. If one must achieve that, then the diet must be sustainable as well as culture-compliant. And in this case diets must account for the big Diwali nights, the card sessions, morning pujas and exchange of mithai and goodies. In fact, Diwali is a good time to figure out if you are on a sustainable diet; if eating a regular Diwali meal amounts to breaking your diet, then it means your weight-loss plans are not going to be successful.

Essentially, what this reveals is whether your diet fits into the game plan of the weight-loss industry. These unrealistic diets are not a culture fit, instead, they focus on the guilt around occasion-based feasting and take advantage of it to sell detox plans or packages that are often extreme and doomed to fail.

A wholesome diet will teach you to eat without guilt. There really is nothing wrong in enjoying your halwa and puri.

2. Preparing your body

Keep up your regular exercise routine but bring it down a notch if you are staying awake till the wee hours. About six rounds of Suryanamaskar help you save on travel time to the gym, take less than 15 minutes, leave you feeling fresh and can even help smoothen the digestive processes post bouts of overeating.

When it comes to food, it’s important to go back to grandma’s basics. Be thankful for the food on your plate; take only as much as you can finish and don’t forget to share with the less fortunate.

There is no societal rule or religious ritual that requires us to binge only at odd hours, it is just in keeping with the foolish belief that chaotic meal timings make us seem young, carefree and cool. Clearly, however, no one looks cool or young while sporting a paunch under a flowing dress, slouching on tables, burping during meals, or even waking up feeling bloated the morning after.

It is not your body but your entire lifestyle that needs to be prepared in the run-up to Diwali—and this should continue even after the festivities end. A fit and healthy body cannot be achieved in two weeks, fitness is the compound effect of small steps taken in the direction of health and harmony every single day.

3. ‘Mithai’, the mistaken villain

There is an alternative to the fear of mithai—learn about its goodness and educate yourself in the basics so that we don’t become a culture that is replacing its Diwali goodies of kaju katli (cashew barfi) with dark chocolate, red velvet cup cakes and brownies, while the West is experimenting with peanut bars and cashew crackles at high-end cafés and washing it down with turmeric lattes.

Ghee, one of the biggest components of mithai, helps keep the intestines in good shape and ready to take on the load of overeating during Diwali. It is an essential fat, helps assimilate fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and E and protects your bones, skin and immune function as the season changes. Sugar or jaggery is therapeutic when mixed with nuts, ghee, besan atta (chickpea flour) or gond (edible gum from the sap of the acacia tree) or semolina—all of which are nutrient-dense and delicious. Sweets made in ghee are a time-tested recipe that cause the least amount of disturbance to blood sugar levels. This fact is especially important to keep in mind for those who are diabetic or would like to lose weight.

Again, there are small things we can borrow from our collective wisdom that are even more relevant today. For example, try and buy the chickpea flour directly from farmers or organic stores, not malls, to make laddoos. Second, bring back the practice of making sweets at home. That is both a good workout and a lesson in equality as it involves children irrespective of their gender.

4. The right kind of dried fruit

Dried fruit is great when eaten first thing in the morning, as a snack, or turned into a mithai. Nuts are a good source of amino acids, minerals and phytonutrients and all dried fruit is good—almonds, pistachio, cashew (it is a myth that the cashew nut is full of cholesterol; it has zero cholesterol and actually helps regulate it). The problem often lies in the form in which we consume it. Dried fruits are often available as packaged and processed snacks that have preservatives and other low-grade ingredients. During Diwali, these are often eaten as nibbles with alcoholic drinks.

5. Choosing wisely

Avoid packaged foods, especially the low-grade variety picked up as a quick snack. Instead, have home-made sweets. Pick two days in the week when you will have sweets as part of your lunch. On the other days, have them as a snack between meals, a laddoo or a barfi at 4pm or a portion of moong dal halwa at 6pm when you are super hungry. Avoid the low-sugar or low-fat variety, instead go for full-fat mithai. Leave the brownies and dark chocolate for another time, dig into the jalebi, halwa and barfi.

Also, know that replacing sugar with stevia or any other sugar substitute, ghee with olive oil or fat-free cream, is not really a healthier alternative. A home-made mithai, eaten once a day over three-four days of the Diwali weekend, won’t land you in trouble. The actual game changer in blood sugar regulation is the late-night eating.

6. Surviving all-nighters

A few simple things can help you manage the Diwali parties better. It’s best to have a meal of dal chawal or khichdi before leaving home. Once at the party, identify the freshest home-cooked dishes, eat just those and only till you are half full. And if you have to, drink after dinner—and with each drink, have a glass of water. If you are up till late, help yourself to a handful of dry fruits, add them to a cup of milk, if you can have one, with a pinch of haldi and sonth (dried ginger)—call it something exotic like the immune booster or fat-buster shake—and gulp it down with pride. This drink will ensure you are not bloated or afflicted by some infection the next morning.

7. A healthy Diwali menu

The healthiest Diwali menu is one that sticks to the basics. It could be a simple spread comprising home-made mithai, one freshly fried item, one sabzi, one dal, some roti and rice, accompanied by some chutney, pickle or papad, all of it served with love and attention to detail. Bring out your traditional silver thalis or kansa (bell-metal) plates and have a leisurely sit-down dinner. Indulge your guests with time and attention rather than an overwhelming variety of dishes. Break the monotony of heavy and multi-course Diwali meals with a touch of simple sophistication.

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