The great Indian festival of Diwali, a vivid, colourful and full-of-life occasion, is celebrated with much fervour across the country and this is also a time for one to relax and rejuvenate one’s mind, body and soul however, as we feast during the festivities, our food tends to be high in calories and we may even miss out on including adequate protein in every meal! That is when plant-based protein-rich foods can step in to help us meet our body’s daily protein requirement while we continue the festive celebrations.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Sanjay Sethi, Executive Director at Plant Based Foods Industry Association, revealed, “Apart from being high in protein content, plant-based foods are rich in an array of other nutrients such as folic acid, selenium, zinc, vitamins and more, while being low in unhealthy fats, sugars and calories.”
While there are several plant-based proteins one can include in their diet, he recommended some options that will not only satiate your festive cravings but also have a positive influence on your overall health –
Pulses constitute a major source of protein in Indian diets and play an important Chickpeas (gramme; used to make dishes like chhole, hummus and more), pigeon pea (tur or arhar), moong beans, urad (black matpe), masur (lentil), peas, and different beans (like kidney beans are major pulses cultivated, all being high in protein and low in environmental impact. They also have good carbs, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Pulses contain 20 to 25% protein by weight, which is twice the protein content of wheat and three times the protein content of rice. Dishes like Halwas, Laddus, Dal Bhari Puris, Ukkarai, and Cholafali can be easily made using pulse flours, along with oil/vegan ghee.
While it has only recently become a favourite, soy has been a part of the culinary world for decades. This humble legume is high in nutrients, especially protein and is one of the healthiest additions you can make to your diet this Diwali. With the protein content of soybeans being 36%-56% of its dry weight, this ingredient is a must-have for your Diwali diet as it helps to reduce fatigue and strengthen your immune system. Not just protein, soybeans are an excellent source of Vitamin C, folate, calcium, fibre, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium while being low in saturated fat. Be it using soya crumbs to make tandoori soya kebabs, soya chaap or soya chunks to make cutlets or even getting creative and using it as stuffing in a taco for a contemporary festive menu – there are endless delicious ways to make soya a part of your menu. Products made from soy like Soy milk, Tofu (which can be an excellent substitute for paneer), Tempeh (made from cooked and fermented soybeans), and more are high in protein and have a variety of health benefits.
While millets have been a staple in the kitchen for centuries, they have recently made a comeback as a popular ingredient, especially given their easy availability and high nutritional value. In addition to good protein content, millets are heavy in dietary fibre, Vitamin B, calcium, iron, manganese, and other minerals. They are also a powerhouse of antioxidants and flavonoids and have a medium glycaemic index (GI) of about 45, thereby resulting in immense health benefits such as regulating blood glucose levels, lowering the risk of heart disease, and promoting digestion. Available in several varieties, ranging from amaranth to buckwheat to ragi and bajra, each of these can be easily incorporated into one’s Diwali meals to add a healthy twist. Be it a ragi dosa or a cheela made of bajra with a side of healthy greens, consuming a variety of millets make for a wholesome addition to your diet.
4. Nuts and seeds:
While dry fruits are a common presence during the festive season, be it for gifting or snacking purposes, they also play a more significant role when it comes to one’s overall health. Be it almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts or even pistachios, nuts are a great source of nutrition. Rich in protein and healthy fats while being low in carbs, nuts also provide a range of vitamins and minerals. They are loaded with antioxidants, which protect your body’s cells and maintain satiety. Add them as a topping on your salads, grab a fistful as a quick snack or even use them to prepare healthy desserts like buckwheat chocolate walnut brownies or almond crunch mithai – because after all, no celebration is complete without a sweet treat!
Peanuts are an excellent plant-based source of protein and are high in various vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. The nut and nut butter, being high in fat as well, can be consumed by people who are looking for healthy ways to gain weight. Despite being small in size, seeds are known to be super-nutritious. Seeds such as Chia seeds, flax seeds, sesame, hemp, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and watermelon seeds can be included as they provide high-quality protein. Hemp seeds are one of those foods that are gaining huge popularity among young consumers. It has the highest level of protein at 31% of all the seed proteins. However, care should be taken to consume these seeds as per their daily intake limit. Incorporating these as toppings for sweets and savoury snacks, as well as developing new dishes, such as hemp laddus during Diwali, can easily boost your protein intake.
5. Maximize the nutrients:
It is good to have a variety of plant proteins in your diet to reap the maximum benefits. While these foods are rich in protein, it is good to keep these additional factors in mind to maximise bio-absorption. For instance, using the right food combinations and cooking process to improve the nutritional profile and protein bioavailability. A Cereal-Pulse combination like dal-roti, idli-sambar, dal khichri or whole-wheat bread with peanut butter provides a complete amino acid profile. Seasonal foods provide better and bioavailable nutrients in addition to being low cost.
Cooking on a low flame, and keeping food covered while cooking is methods to reduce nutritional losses. Common and traditional pre-treatments like soaking, sprouting and germination of grains help to reduce their anti-nutritional factors while also increasing the bioavailability of protein and other nutrients like Vitamin B6 and B12.
So, this Diwali, go ahead and add a healthy twist to your celebrations with protein-rich, plant-based foods in your diet. Be it your traditional favourites or a modern re-creation of age-old recipes, plant-based alternatives can help you to meet your protein requirements while boosting physical health, mental well-being and happiness.