Those people looking to detox and maybe shed a few pounds in January following the excesses of the festive season, are being warned not to leave curry off their diet in the New Year.
Spicy foods are known to stimulate the metabolism, boost the immune system and boost the spirits on cold, damp dark winter days. Popular curry recipes contain turmeric, cumin, allspice, cardamom, ginger, garlic and capsicum - spices with strong anti-bacterial properties.
Kowsar Ali, the owner of Simply Indian in Wadhurst in East Sussex and several other Bangladeshi restaurants across the south of England, says that contrary to popular belief, Indian food is not fattening:
“When do you ever see an over weight Indian waiter, or even a rotund Indian chef?” he asked with the proviso. “Some of the richer dishes laden with cream and butter should be avoided if you want to lose weight – and go easy on the lager.”
Apart from promoting weight loss, the spices use in Indian cookery offer a whole host of health benefits. Natural herbs and spices were used for their health giving qualities for thousands of years before the invention of modern medicine. Many of the synthetic chemicals used in prescription and over-the-counter drugs, are derived from the active ingredients originally found in popular culinary flavourings.
Studies have found that garlic, cinnamon and cumin can destroy up to 80 per cent of meat-borne bacteria, while ginger can slow bacterial growth by 25 per cent. This is why they are found in dishes from hot countries, where meat needs to be preserved.
Kowsar’s business partner Jamal Rahman is also a firm believer in the health giving benefits of the food his restaurants serve: “When I feel a cold coming on, my body instinctively craves spicy dishes like Jalfrazi, Dansak and Madras,” he said.
Chilli raises the metabolic rate, improves the respiratory systems and stimulates the immune response - which is why many cold relief treatment contain caffeine. Garlic well known for its antibacterial effects, and help fight of disease. Tumeric relieves congestion, in much the same way hay fever treatments work by reducing inflammation in blood vessels in the sinuses. Ginger stimulates lymph glands, which fight infection.
“When my body energy levels are low I go for easily digestible, sizzling dishes like Chicken Tikka, Tandoori Fish or lightly spiced Shashlick (kebabs) with capsicums and onion and vegetables,” said Jamal, adding, “Rich Masala and Korma dishes are great for boosting energy – as long as you keep the portions small.
In grills and tandoori dishes, the natural sugars in meat and vegetables gives the body a quick energy boost. Onion skins contain quercetin, a potent anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory, effective in relieving blocked nose. Onion extracts are also recognised by World Health Organisation (WHO) for providing relief in the treatment of coughs and colds, asthma and bronchitis.
Red capsicums (peppers)is known to be beneficial to the mucous membranes, encouraging healing and helps the body ward off infections. The vegetable has antioxidant properties, which neutralise free radicals responsible for damaging tissue and cells. Capsicums are full of anti-inflammatory properties, reduce cholesterols, warding off strokes and heart attacks, beneficial for treating colds and fevers, stimulates stomach secretions to improve digestion, acting as a laxative. Importantly peppers triggers the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters produced in the brain, which reduce pain and boost a general feeling of well-being] – which is a welcome relief in a dark, cold, damp January.