A thali for right reasons

A thali for right reasons

The Indian thali is truely one-of-its-kind in the world. It is almost a work of art. A foodie might describe an Indian thali just like a painter talks about his paintings. He describes about the taste, the texture, the combination of flavours and the outstanding colours on the plate. All these are essential to create a wholesome meal, and when they come together, we have a fantastic gastronomical experience.

The most stand out thali is one that simply appeals to each one of our senses namely taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch. Speaking of mouthwatering thalis, have you ever wondered what foods you should eat more of? Sounds ridiculous, isn't it? Our generation or Gen-Y is wired to think about eating less not more. In the attempt to get healthier, most of us just blindly start eating less, but don't know what to cut out? The worst part is we don't even question if cutting out things is the only option or replacement makes sense too.

Let's explore this idea a little more and decide what should we eat more of.

The original design

A typical Indian thali generally includes some form of rice and dal topped with some ghee, chapatis and sabji, salad, curd, chutney, pickles, papad, a dessert and some buttermilk. A non-vegetarian meal would have an additional meat dish. More or less regardless of which part of India you come from, you will see most of these items in your thali.

Now let me give that sentence a nutritional twist and rewrite it. The typical Indian thali would generally include some forms of starch with protein and good fats, carbs with a vitamin and mineral-dense sabji, some roughage, a digestive containing good fats and proteins, a chutney of various seeds, pickles, which act as digestives and are rich in antioxidants and some glucose. Non-vegetarian thalis contain more protein.

Did that sound wholesome and nutritious to you? Hell yeah!

But should you be eating, in the same manner, as your predecessors did? A big NO. You must be wondering why not. Let me tell you why.

Transition to the 21st century

* Our ancestors were more physically active than us. There were no computers, not so many modes of transport, mechanisation, and definitely not too much of snacking.

* The average stress levels are higher today. Blame the corporate culture, rat race, or unhealthy lifestyle choices. How often do we have the time to cook a well-planned meal? We find the easy options. 'Ordering in' has given birth burgeoning food take-out industry. And will the food we order be cooked in stable saturated fats like ghee? No. But do we care? Of course not, because we are afraid of the ghee anyway!

* Almost 50% of India is suffering from metabolic disorders and lifestyle ailments like diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS/PCOD). If we continue to eat what our grandparents did, will it increase our chances of suffering from these disorders too? Should we not find alternative food choices to steer clear of these ailments?

* Now let's look at the quality of food we eat today. The demand-supply ratio of food was more balanced years ago, not only in India but throughout the world. Because of which, "organic" food was the cheapest, healthiest and most easily available produce in the market. However, tables have turned today. The most expensive foods on offer today are the organic ones. A lot of what we eat today including fruits and vegetables are pumped with growth hormones, sugar, and pesticides to meet the ever-increasing demand. All that we can do is learn to make better food choices.

Think about impacts of these lifestyle and food changes on the body and if your body was a person, this is probably what he/she is saying to you now.

The food our ancestors ate hasn't remained the same, nor have the physical activity levels, but the human body has stayed the same, and so has its functioning. So, let's see how we can make a new version of the Indian thali that we can proudly call as one that suits the Gen Y. Yes, the Facebookers and Instagrammers.

The Gen-Y thali

With the non-negotiable elements intact, let's see what this new thali really looks like.

* The Gen-Y thali is not designed by placing rice and roti at the centre. The Gen-Y thali must be designed focusing on the protein-rich dishes. For example, take paneer or chicken, then think what goes with it. What can you add to make it interesting? Don't prepare rotis/rice and then decide which sabji goes well with it. Ask yourself what have I done today to eat this much starch?

* This meal has to appeal to all our five senses. There is no dearth of good ideas on the internet. There is only a lack of will to change eating patterns. Train your mind to look for all things healthy and you will find wholesome lip-smacking recipes.

* The new-age thali must have just enough food to suit your activity levels. Eat enough to nourish your body for that day, based on how much energy you spent.

* Include a good amount of healthy saturated fats such as ghee and butter. This is for better absorption of vitamin D in the body, for the formation of your sex hormones, for better functioning of the brain cells and a lot more.

* Avoid daily consumption of rice and roti. In case of occasional consumption of starches, white rice and roti can be replaced with slow digesting variants such as brown rice, jowar, bajra etc.

* Your thali should consist of fresh farm sourced or organic vegetables. To ensure quality food on your plate, shop at farmers markets near you. Make sure you know why a watermelon is 'THAT' sweet and an apple impeccably red.

Let me describe what this thali will look like now. It will be adorned with a big portion of paneer butter masala or a huge portion of chicken masala, right in the middle. On the side, you may have some cauliflower rice prepared like a pulav or curd rice and a coconut-flour roti. Some spinach sabji or a salad, a glass of buttermilk, flaxseed chutney and lemon pickle. You can finish your meal with some blueberries or a couple of strawberries in fresh cream.

And voil! This Gen-Y thali is going to keep you healthy all your life because it is tasty and scientifically sound.

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