In honor of National Women's Health Week and Asian Pacific American Month which encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands, I would love to share an interview I had with Diabetes Self Management Magazine to promote health and provide easy tips for a Diabetes friendly diet regarding healthy Indian cuisine. Hope you enjoy!
Spicing Up Your Plate with Healthy Indian Cuisine
Interview By Alison Massey | Diabetes Self-Management Magazine
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Ayurvedic Practitioner, and Culinary Wellness Expert, Sapna Punjabi-Gupta MS, RDN, LD, AP is combining her eastern and western education to inspire and educate others to cultivate a journey of wellness. She emphasizes plant-based dietary patterns, healthy aspects of Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic practices as strategies to improve one’s nutrition and health status.
Born and raised in a vegetarian family in India, Punjabi-Gupta never lost touch with her roots despite coming to the United States in the late 1990’s. In fact, her upbringing, including her mother’s passion for cooking, led her to a career as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/N). “Food, like many other cultures, was the center of our Indian traditions, customs and daily rituals,” recalls Punjabi-Gupta. She grew up frequenting the farmer’s market daily with her mother to select seasonal foods to include in their home-cooked meals for the day. Her love of food prompted her to enroll in a food and nutrition undergraduate program in India to become a RD/N. She later completed a master’s degree in nutrition along with a coordinated dietetic internship program from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and pursued credentialing to be an RD/N in the United States. . In addition to undergraduate and master’s level work focused on nutrition science, Punjabi-Gupta is also a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner by the National Ayurveda Medical Association of USA.
Punjabi-Gupta’s career began with work predominately for individuals with diabetes, as a consulting dietitian for an endocrinologist in India. After completing her graduate studies in Case Western, she spent over a decade in clinical work at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. She held various positions during her tenure and specialized in the areas of women’s health and neonatal nutrition. Now, Punjabi-Gupta is an owner of beSPICED, a private nutrition practice that integrates western nutritional science with ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. She also is the star of the YouTube channel “be.spiced” and is curator of an heirloom line of spices. Punjabi-Gupta is utilizing her unique skillset to introduce creative, practical and accessible ways to integrate the eastern wisdom of Ayurveda and the western evidenced-based nutrition science into our every day lives for better living.
Diabetes Self-Management Magazine (DSM): In addition to being a registered dietitian with a masters in nutrition, you are also a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner. What is Ayurveda and how do you incorporate the practices into your nutrition and culinary education for clients?
Sapna: Ayurveda is made up of two words. Ayur means life and Veda means science or knowledge. This traditional system of healing focuses on the balance of body, mind and consciousness. Our mind and consciousness plays a huge role in our ability to heal and maintain sound health. The foundation of Ayurveda is a tri-dosha theory which views the individual’s constitution as a mixture of ‘Vata’, ‘Pitta’, and ‘Kapha’, which are three distinct combinations of the universal five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. A person’s unique combination of these elements along with diet, self-care, herbal therapy, bodywork, yoga, meditation, prayer, and lifestyle practices are considered when
developing a personalized care program.
I incorporate Ayurvedic nutritional practices of living harmoniously with seasons and help my clients understand how seasons affect us in various ways such as their influence on grocery shopping for seasonal balance. I also emphasize mindful eating and empower my clients to develop a positive connection with their food. I strive to integrate western nutritional science with ancient wisdom of Ayurveda to make the journey of wellness practical for modern living with my clients in my private practice and also through my culinary and wellness workshops.
DSM: In your opinion, what are the most healthful aspects of traditional Indian cuisine?
Sapna: Indian cuisine is deeply rooted in history and is probably the oldest cuisine known to mankind. Indian cuisine is extremely diverse just as its geography. So if you think that
Indian food is just curry, you are missing out on all that it can offer. The foundation of Indian cuisine is based on the principles of Ayurveda. According to Ayurveda, every meal should have a balance of all the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent). A standard American meal is predominantly sweet, salty and sour and lacks in bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. I pay close attention to the tastes of my meals in addition to maintaining a balance of carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and fruits when I am planning diets for my family as well as my clients. I encourage you to take a look at your next meal and pay attention to what tastes are present and what might be lacking to see if that might be related to your current health status. Indian cuisine is also incomplete without the use of spices. Spices are the stars of Indian dishes and are very dear to my heart and in my kitchen. Understanding the correct technique and combinations of using spices in our meals can provide every day healing through our food.
DSM: Individuals that aren’t familiar with cooking traditional Indian dishes at home
might be intimidated by the list of ingredients required. What are your top three
culinary tips for approaching healthy Indian cuisine?
Sapna: Indian cuisine can appear complex but believe me home-style Indian cooking can be simple and very well balanced.
Tip #1. Always soak beans or lentils before cooking. Do not skip this
important step. Soaking not only cuts down on cooking time but also helps reduce the
indigestible sugars and enzyme inhibitors that may cause flatulence.
Tip #2. When cooking Indian cuisine, don’t shy from spices. If you have never cooked
with Indian spices, introduce them one at a time. Spices don’t have to be a part of just
cooking Indian dishes. For example, it is so easy to add turmeric when you are cooking
mac and cheese, pasta or even plain rice. Remember, don’t be bland — be spiced!
Tip #3. Cook with mindful intention and love. Don’t let cooking be an act of removing frustration or anger. What we eat becomes a part of who we are. Set the right intention before you begin cooking.
DSM. What are your favorite spices?
Sapna: I cook with spices in every single meal, every single day. An Indian kitchen is incomplete without a spice box. Each spice box may have different spices depending on the region of India one belongs to. My spice box has seven of my favorite spices: turmeric, whole cumin seeds, roasted cumin seed powder, whole black mustard seeds, coriander seed powder, dry mango powder, and red chili powder.
DSM: How do you like to incorporate your favorite spice into your meals?
Sapna: Turmeric powder is my favorite spice and is referred in Ayurveda as the healer for the whole being — body, mind and spirit. Its treats the entire individual and has countless healing properties such as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal. Cooking with turmeric is very easy but one must always add turmeric while cooking as the volatile compounds are released when in contact with heat especially when infused in hot oil. Turmeric pairs well with a variety of dishes such as soups, stews, rice and cooked vegetables.
DSM: You have created your own line of heirloom spices. Tell us a little about your
product line, where individuals can purchase the products and why you believe
incorporating spices regularly into one’s diet is good practice?
Sapna: In Ayurveda, incorporating the “six tastes” balances a meal. Spices offer a great way to complete all the six tastes in our meals and provide antioxidants and other health benefits. I have a select retail line of heirloom spice blends and spice products that were created due to multiple requests of my clients over the years. beSPICED's versatile spice blends and spice products can be used in many non-traditional ways to add flavor to everyday foods. These spice blends are homemade and ground in small batches with lots of love and affection. At this time, I sell my products at local farmer’s markets and direct to customers. You can find details about my products on Naivedhya’s website.
Sapna’s Suggestions for Enjoying Indian Cuisine
Choices to Try & Choices to Limit
Choices to Try: Rotis , parathas and tandoori rotis are made with whole wheat flour
Choices to Limit: Naan, although very popular is made with all-purpose refined flour
Choices to Try: Lentils and Beans are great source of plant based protein, healthy carbohydrates and generally have a low glycemic load
Choices to Limit: White rice, a popular grain used in Indian cuisine.
It is best to limit your portion by combining with beans and lentils.
Choices to Try: Paneer or Indian cottage cheese is high in protein, calcium and low in carbohydrates. Try Saag Paneer, a dish made with spinach and paneer cubes
Choices to Limit: Indian curries made with lots of cream and nut based gravies can add extra fat calories