Move over butter chicken, rogan josh, here comes a new banquet

By Indira Laisram
Raji Jayadev

Inspired by the people she has helped in hospitals around Australia for more than 25 years, dietitian Raji Jayadev has curated a banquet of nutritious recipes that are easy enough to make in your home kitchen. An accredited and practising dietitian, Jayadev says each of these recipes have been nutritionally analysed by dietitians. These recipes, 45 traditional Indian vegetarian ones, feature in her website She claims they will leave you “feeling lighter and deliciously satisfied”. Jayadev has adapted the recipes to maximise nutrition for wellness, plus suit people living with diabetes.

Born in Karnataka, Jayadev migrated to Australia in 1973, where she obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney. She currently lives in Sydney and maintains a private practice. In an exclusive chat with The Indian Sun, she dispels some of the myths about Indian cooking, and more.

What is the concept of wellness in today’s age and time?

My concept of wellness comprises of physical, mental and spiritual health, not just being devoid of illness. I’ve used the term “wellness” for my website meaning good physical and mental health actively maintained by following a healthy eating plan. As Hippocrates says, “Let food be thy medicine, medicine be thy food”.

Is there a shift happening in public perceptions of wellness?

Yes, once upon a time the only place you’d see the word ‘wellness’ was on dietary supplements in the health food shop. Then there was the trend of following celebrity wellness gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow, and more recently, social media influencers.

Now, I think there’s a shift towards simplicity, with people seeking the path to wellness to help ease stress and find more energy and clarity of mind, such as through the practise of yoga, mindfulness, and learning about nutrition.

You list 45 traditional Indian vegetarian food as key to wellness? What kinds of food are you advocating?

The 45 recipes I have featured in my website are based on foods we should eat every day for good health, with the exception of sweets, which as a dietitian, I encourage people to enjoy them for special occasions only.

Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and split peas feature regularly in my recipes because they are a key food group for preventing and lowering the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Among all foods commonly eaten worldwide, legumes are the only foods which contain a health supportive mix of both protein and fibre in significant amounts. Moreover they are prebiotic foods, meaning they support the growth of probiotic (good) bacteria in the intestine, which is vital for gut health and to boost your immunity. They also have a low glycemic index which is important to maintain energy levels and help manage blood sugar levels.

My recipes also feature spices like cumin and turmeric, as well as ginger and herbs, which are all incredibly rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Beverages like masala chai, turmeric milk and kashaaya (kaada) are very easy to prepare an packed full of antioxidants. These drinks were used traditionally in India but have been somewhat forgotten these days.

In the “Food as medicine” section of my website, I also share my top six ingredients for wellness, with suggestions for how to incorporate them into your day. They include: bitter gourd, cumin, ginger, turmeric, lemons and limes.

There’s a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and heart disease among south Asians. Following a healthy eating plan to manage these conditions may not be enough for some people. So I ‘prescribe’ some foods like doctors prescribe medications. For example, I encourage people to eat ½ cup of cooked legumes twice a day with meals, drink 30 ml of bitter gourd juice once or twice a day with meals and drink a cup of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice before meals.

Red mung beans and carrot usali
What is a common misconception that people have about Indian food?

One, that Indian food is hot and spicy. But it is chillies which add heat to dishes not the spices. You can add or totally omit chillies from the recipes.

Two, that Indian foods/recipes are complex dishes that take hours to cook. Some complex dishes may take hours, while other recipes can take 30 minutes or less. For example, my recipe for sundal red mung beans and carrot usali (see photo) is highly nutritious and takes only 20 minutes to make when canned beans are used.

Three, that Indian vegetarian meals are low in protein and iron. Compared to a meal of white rice and curry, which is low in fibre, vitamins and minerals, a vegetarian Indian meal consisting of brown rice, a legume curry and a colorful salad provides a substantial amount of protein and iron, as well as hunger-satisfying fibre.

What are some of the most common nutritional mistakes you observe in your clients or people in general?

Among Indians, a common nutritional mistake is having a consistently high carbohydrate intake, which can be problematic for people living with type 2 or gestational diabetes. This happens when the centre of the meal is always rice and/or roti and you see nutritious foods like legumes and vegetables used as a side dish only.

As per the ‘Healthy meal plate’ information on my website, I recommend 50 per cent of a meal plate to be filled with vegetables, 25 per cent by carbohydrate foods like rice, and 25 per cent by protein foods like legumes.

Another mistake is the use of white rice.

A comparison of white and brown rice on my website reveals that white rice is lower in fibre, vitamins and minerals compared to brown rice.

For vegetarians it is also important to eat grains like rice, with a legume dish like dahl. This improves the biological value of protein and boosts the fibre content of the meal, plus it helps regulate blood sugar levels. This will leave you feeling fuller and more energised.

“Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan or an omnivore, meals should be well planned to make sure they contain a variety of foods in adequate amounts for good health and wellness”

What is your opinion on vegetarianism and veganism?

A plant-based eating plan has many health benefits, including lowering the risk of many chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Plant foods are very rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Most of them are high in potassium and low in sodium to support a healthy blood pressure, contain no cholesterol and are low in saturated fats (exception—coconut and palm oil) for good heart health.

Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan or an omnivore, meals should be well planned to make sure they contain a variety of foods in adequate amounts for good health and wellness. Refer to ‘healthy meal plate’ to see what this looks like.

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