In search of swaad and swaasth

A few months back I embarked on a journey that focuses mainly on diet and lifestyle changes in order to achieve a healthy life. As part of that, I have been slowly reworking my meals. This has been quite an interesting and a revealing journey. My diet prior to this journey usually consisted of:

Breakfast – tea with sugar and (one of) omelette with 2 slices of bread, cereal/granola with milk, pancakes
Lunch – whole wheat rotis with a vegetable
Dinner – whole wheat rotis with a vegetable and legumes/beans
The vegetable was usually substituted with meat (chicken or goat) once or twice a week, and eaten with white rice.

This formed a basic framework for my meals, but Hobbes being, well, himself, they were often punctuated with pizzas, pastas, desserts and all kinds of awesome food from several cuisines! (all made at home from scratch).

The first (and only) principle that I diligently embraced was a no-wheat, no-sugar, and a no-white-rice diet. Everything else (for e.g. dairy) is on a best effort basis. This is not Paleo or Atkins or another one of those substitute-your-favorite-diet-name here. This is more like a mashup of all of those, and doesn’t really have a name. The goal here is to come up with something that I can follow for a long time, and not just for a few weeks. Unlike most diets, weight loss is not the biggest motivating factor either, though it wouldn’t hurt if I can fit again into those beautiful dresses hanging in my closet!

Surprisingly enough, sugar was the easiest to give up. I have never been a fan of American cakes, desserts, or ice-creams so I just avoided them whenever they showed up. I considered myself a chai addict but somehow just stopped it cold turkey and it didn’t bother me. I take 2-3 sips from Hobbes’ cup when he has chai around me and that has probably given me psychological comfort that should I need it, it is around the corner 🙂 Earlier I would get headaches if I went without tea for a little while, but thankfully, that has not happened so far. (Tea without sugar never had any appeal for me). I continue to eat fruits, so I am not aiming for a zero sugar diet, just no added sugar. I am also not a religious fanatic about it, so some honey and molasses every once in a while is fine.

White rice goes really well with Indian curries, but given that I was already eating it rarely, it wasn’t that big of a change. I substituted brown rice, and while it doesn’t taste as awesome as white rice, it’s not a bad tasting alternative. I even make brown rice dosas now!

Wheat was an altogether different story – it was present in every meal, and having an Indian meal without roti or naan just doesn’t seem normal. The good part about this is that I no longer have to make rotis! I’ve done it long enough that I have optimized the process and can do it on auto-pilot very efficiently, but not having to do it is even better 🙂 I still needed something to eat my daal-subji with and so quinoa became my new staple. Doesn’t need washing, and what’s better, gets done in 15 minutes with no supervision. Perfect for lazy cooks like me.

While quinoa simplified my lunch and dinner quite a bit, breakfast was proving to be quite a challenge without wheat. So far I have tried sausages (too much meat first thing in the morning), eggs (my first choice), oats (both steel cut and rolled, I find that they taste blah and still need some kind of sweet additive to make them tasty), and plantain pancakes. I think after all the experimentation, I am going to stick with eggs. An omelette loaded with onions, green coriander, and green chillies tastes awesome, cooks fast, and I can eat it without toast – making it a very low-carb breakfast. The plantain pancakes can be more of a luxury breakfast on weekends and such, since they need a bit more work, but are tasty nevertheless.

As for lunch/dinner, I am trying to embrace salads along with the traditional Indian fare. Mixed greens with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers thrown in and tossed around with a simple dressing make for a quick and hearty meal. Hobbes usually has some sous-vide chicken lying around in the freezer and a few cubes of that supply the necessary protein. Since starting this diet, I attended several desi parties where all I could eat was tandoori chicken. And while I have always eaten it in the past as an appetizer, I was pleasantly surprised by how it can make for a delicious, complete meal.

I am still new to this kind of eating. Indian food, which will always be comfort food to me, has surprisingly a huge repertoire for healthy eating if you cut out the breads and the rice. There are so many veggies, dals, and beans that you can eat combinations of those for many days without repetition. Not to mention the flavorful spices, that can enhance any ingredient. While I have always eaten amazing home cooked food, thanks to my karmic jackpot of being married to be a foodie who loves to cook, I am now taking a more active interest in my food. Earlier my participation was limited to consumption, now it is slowly spreading into the realm of introspection and preparation 🙂

P.S. Merely an attempt to document my experience so far, not looking to impart advice on food, health, nutrition, etc. Every individual is unique and all that good stuff.

In search of swaad and swaasth