Indian cuisine is known for its vibrant spices, fresh herbs and wide variety of rich flavors.
Though diets and preferences vary throughout India, most people follow a primarily plant-based diet. Around 80% of the Indian population practices Hinduism, a religion that promotes a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet.
The traditional Indian diet emphasizes a high intake of plant foods like vegetables, lentils and fruits, as well as a low consumption of meat.
However, obesity is a rising issue in the Indian population. With the growing availability of processed foods, India has seen a surge in obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes (1, 2).
This article explains how to follow a healthy Indian diet that can promote weight loss. It includes suggestions about which foods to eat and avoid and a sample menu for one week.
A Healthy Traditional Indian Diet
Traditional plant-based Indian diets focus on fresh, whole ingredients — ideal foods to promote optimal health.
Why Eat a Plant-Based Indian Diet?
Plant-based diets have been associated with many health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer (3, 4, 5).
Additionally, the Indian diet, in particular, has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe this is due to the low consumption of meat and emphasis on vegetables and fruits (6).
Following a healthy plant-based Indian diet may not only help decrease the risk of chronic disease, but it can also encourage weight loss.
What Food Groups Does It Include?
The Indian diet is rich in nutritious foods like grains, lentils, healthy fats, vegetables, dairy and fruits.
The diets of most Indian people are heavily influenced by religion, particularly Hinduism. The Hindu religion teaches nonviolence and that all living things should be valued equally.
That’s why a lacto-vegetarian diet is encouraged, and eating meat, poultry, fish and eggs is discouraged. Lacto-vegetarians do, however, eat dairy products.
A healthy lacto-vegetarian diet should focus on grains, lentils, dairy, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats like coconut oil.
Spices such as turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, ginger and cumin are at the forefront of traditional dishes, adding rich flavor and powerful nutritional benefits.
Turmeric, one of the most popular spices used in India, is celebrated for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties (7).
A compound in turmeric called curcumin has been found to fight inflammation in the body, improve brain function and reduce risk factors of heart disease
Healthy Foods to Eat
There are many delicious foods and beverages to choose from when following a lacto-vegetarian diet for weight loss.
What to Eat
Try incorporating the following ingredients into your daily meal plan:
Vegetables: Tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, mustard greens, okra, onions, bitter melon, cauliflower, mushrooms, cabbage and more
Fruits: Including mango, papaya, pomegranate, guava, oranges, tamarind, lychee, apples, melon, pears, plums, bananas
Nuts and seeds: Cashews, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, watermelon seeds and more
Legumes: Mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, lentils, pulses and chickpeas
Roots and tubers: Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams
Whole grains: Brown rice, basmati rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, barley, corn, whole-grain bread, amaranth, sorghum
Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, milk, kefir, ghee
Herbs and spices: Garlic, ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander, garam masala, paprika, turmeric, black pepper, fenugreek, basil and more.
Healthy fats: Coconut milk, full-fat dairy, avocado, coconut oil, mustard oil, olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, ghee
Protein sources: Tofu, legumes, dairy, nuts and seeds
Meals and snacks should focus on fresh, whole foods flavored with herbs and spices.
Additionally, adding non-starchy vegetables like greens, eggplants or tomatoes to your meals will provide a boost of fiber that can help you feel satisfied for a longer period of time after eating.
What to Drink
An easy way to cut back on excess calories and sugar is to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and juices. These drinks can be high in both calories and sugar, which can negatively affect weight loss.
Healthy beverage options include:
Unsweetened tea including Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri teas