“You need to eat spicy curries regularly.” This was the advice given to a colleague on a visit to a medical mobile unit offering free health checks in a London suburb last year. The medical practitioner was responding to a slightly low blood pressure reading and a sluggish metabolic rate “The heat of the chillies makes the heart work harder and will stimulate your metabolism”


Tikka Masala, Jalfrezi, Madras, Rogan Josh, to name a few, are rich in taste, texture and satisfying, Indian food, or at least food that is prepared with minimal oil and healthy cooking methods, is often considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.


Hot, spicy, oily, rich, fatty and creamy. What do we mean by ‘healthy’? Indian cuisine, though hugely popular, is highly misunderstood. It actually includes a variety of healthy spices and dishes cooked in a multitude of ways that help retain their nutrients as well as a variety of ingredients to provide a balanced diet.


A good source of carbohydrate can be found in Roti (or Chappati) which is usually made from wheat flour and ideally with soya bean and bran added.   Steamed white rice is the more popular cereal grain, while brown rice is nutritionally better as it contains fibre. Lentils are good for protein, providing the essential amino acids, fibre, vitamin B1 and minerals such as iron. They also help to regulate blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels.


Curd is a milk product made by the fermentation of milk and certain bacteria, although healthier if made from reduced-fat milk. Yoghurt contains bacteria which is good for the digestive system and a good source of calcium and protein. Paneer, a cottage cheese dish is made by curdling milk, its fat content dependent upon the type of milk used. Easy to digest, Paneer is high in calcium, strengthening bones and teeth and recommended in the prevention of osteoporosis. It has also been found to promote weight loss.


Spices are full of antioxidants and used both for prevention and curing ailments.   Ginger prevents dyspepsia, garlic reduces cholesterol and hypertension and fenugreek is a good resistance builder. Pepper is often recommended as an antihistamine and turmeric used for burns and stomach ulcers. In India fragrant fennel, cardamom or cloves are mixed with sugar for helping digest the food. And not only are they great mouth fresheners but they aid digestion and can prevent heartburn.


Chillies, of course, play a key part in the character of India curries and dishes. Red chillies are the fruit pod of a plant and offer amazing health benefits. They contain the chemical compound capsaicin, which has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. They are also rich in vitamins A, B and C and many phytonutrients too.


Curry is synonymous with Indian food, a blend of spices called garam masala, and most typically contains tamarind, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, cardamom and cumin.


Indian food is ingrained into our British society, visible on all high streets, and a top takeaway choice earning its own annual Curry Oscars ceremony. The 12th British Curry Awards takes place in November, rewarding and praising the best in the industry. Last year saw foodies, celebrities and dignitaries pay homage to the nation’s finest curry restaurants. Guests included Adil Ray (Citizen Khan), Eastenders actor Nitlin Ganatra, Restaurateur Prue Leith CBE, TV personalities Stephen Mulhern, Lizzie Cundy and Casey Bachelor.


The Oscars have witnessed the fall of Tikka Masala and the rise to fame of Jalfrezi, a popular South Asian dish which is cooked with oil and spices and characterized by a dry, thick sauce. This winning curry was championed by Cyrus Todiwala OBE, one half of The Spice Men, who cooked for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.


So there’s far more to Indian food than chillies, chutneys and chicken tikka. With a little less fat, a Jalfrezi dishes out a balanced meal, gets a thumbs up from the medic, gives a kick to the metabolism, a message to the heart and a vote in next years Curry Oscars.