Indian Meal Traditions Rooted in Science

This article is authored by Dr. Shweta U. Shah. A practicing homeopath, she follows a patient-centred perspective, emphasizing the benefits of natural remedies and herbs, homeopathy and whole food nutrition.

The Indian cuisine is one of the most vibrant and aromatic cuisines in the world. Indian food traditions are colorful and exciting! Our meal etiquette is based on ancient traditions and customs, all of which have been substantiated by science. These daily, weekly or even yearly practices lend immense joy and bring us closer to each other.

Each and every one of us has meal traditions with our family and friends, whether we realize it or not. Traditions have a way of making their way in, subtly and sometimes inadvertently; and they develop into something that defines and shapes us!

Food, culture and science!

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There is a strong connection between food, culture and science! At a personal level, we grow up eating the food of our culture. We link food from our childhood with love, warm and snug feelings and wonderful memories, and it ties us to our families. On a bigger platform, food is a fundamental and vital component of our culture. Time-honoured traditions and cuisines are passed down from generation to generation. It establishes a powerful cultural identity and is a symbol of our ethnicity. Fascinatingly, our food traditions have robust scientific backing as well!

• Eating with the hands: This Indian custom has its origins in Ayurveda. Our forefathers stated – ‘eating with your hands evokes emotion’! Based on Vedic knowledge, hands are the chief organs of action and every finger represents the 5 elements. The thumb is representative of ether, the index finger represents air, the middle finger is fire, the ring finger for water and the little finger represents earth. When you eat with your fingers, you rouse these 5 elements and this helps stimulate the release of digestive juices within the stomach. Furthermore, the nerve endings at the fingertips pep up digestion, since a signal is sent to the stomach that you are about to eat.

• Eating on the floor: This practice is rooted in science and is greatly advocated because the repeated bending of the spine to eat every morsel of food, boosts digestion, improves blood circulation and perks up metabolism.

• Serving food on banana leaves: Radish Eating food on a banana leaf is believed to be very healthy by the South Indians. When you place hot food on the banana leaf, several nutrients are emitted from it which enhance your food. Banana leaves are packed with polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. Additionally, the leaf lends oodles of flavour and aroma to the food as well.

• The traditional ‘thali’: The Indian Thali is without a doubt much-loved and absolutely legendary! It makes for a wholesome, full meal and is found along the length and breadth of the country. Complete with yummy vegetable gravies, delectable curries, dals, roti, rice, farsan, pickle and sweets - it defines the Indian meal. The thali offers a scientific approach to nutrition and comprises of all the components in the food pyramid. Well balanced and lip-smacking - variety at its very best!

• Paan: A significant aspect of the Indian meal is how we end it. At the conclusion of the meal, we have paan! Fresh leaves of the betel plant are wrapped around aromats - anise seeds, fennel seeds, and gulkand. This cleanses the palate after the meal and promotes good digestion as well.

Traditions provide meaning to our meals, as well as to our life. Life can be rather erratic and continuously changing, and traditions present stability. Interesting, meal traditions are very important because nothing brings people closer than good food!


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