Protein in South Indian food

So a number of people have recommended that I switch to a low carb high protein diet. The primary impediment to implementing this is the fact that most high protein foods are meat based and we don’t cook meat at home. However, of late I’ve started noting down the various vegetarian sources of protein and I think I should give this high protein diet a go.

Having decided I’ll embark on this high protein vegetarian diet from tomorrow morning I decided to have a traditional simple to make dinner tonight. I ate some poori-palya which was left over from breakfast and then followed it up with curd rice. And the. I started thinking about protein content in traditional South Indian food.

The traditional meal I’m used to is rice with sambar followed by rice with curd. Rice of course is carbohydrate only but the sambar is ideally made thick, with lots of dal and curd is also quite high in protein. So from that perspective the traditional meal I grew up with is not that low in protein – despite what a lot of people like to say. And contrary to what I’d said in a post in December there is plenty of vegetables also in home cooked food. So why is the traditional South Indian diet considered unhealthy?

I think it primarily has to do with bad implementation – usually a consequence of attempted cost saving. If you can’t afford thick curd you eat buttermilk instead – which is quite a dilution. And then lentils are expensive so you end up diluting the sambar too. And then you skimp on vegetables and you get a carb heavy thing!

Then why did I bitch about the Andhra meals the other day? Why is it that Andhra meals is not as nutritious? The answer is that if you eat only the vegetarian component of what is essentially a meal that includes meat you end up missing out on the nutrition. What we get as meals in most Andhra restaurants is food that people who eat meat eat. So that food relies on the meat to provide the protein and so the rice accompaniments like the powders and chutneys need not have much protein in them. So when you leave out the meat and eat the rest you naturally get an unbalanced diet!

Anyway starting tomorrow I’m cutting down on rice, sugars and other carbs. I plan to be eating loads of eggs, cheese,tofu, mushroom and the like. Let’s see how far I go with this!

8 thoughts on “Protein in South Indian food”

  1. I wouldn’t recommend a high protein diet ( not zero protein ). It junks the kidneys unless one is body building. Rather recommend a high fat ( saturated fat like butter, olive oil etc ) and moderate protein and close to zero carb.

  2. Second anon above. Assuming your aim is to lose weight, a ketogenic diet will help better, and I am speaking out of experience here: Struggled with a regular south Indian diet and high levels of physical exertion (running+cycling) for almost an year, but difference was negligible. But lost 8kgs in as many months, thanks to a moderate version of the keto diet.

    For a 1600kcal meal per day, I did a 100gm fat (900kcal), 90gm protein (360kcal) and 80gm (320kcal) split.

    Fat: Olive oil, cheese, avocadoes, walnuts, almonds, whole eggs

    Protein: whole egg/ egg white, dairy (except milk), whey (if you exercise regularly), veg salad, chicken (converted! couldn’t help. just couldn’t get the desired protein intake without this)

    Carb: Oats, chapati, salads

    If you are to track your ‘regular’ diet, you will be surprised to see that carb intake, even in moderation, spread through the day, can easily touch 200-220gm. Cutting this by half is an achievement in itself.

    Will sign off with this: weight training will complement this diet well. Results will be seen faster.

    1. Thanks for the detailed response! This is a lot of encouragement. Aim is not to primarily lose weight, but to just become more healthy and make myself feel more fit! A number of people have told me about the keto diet, but given that I don’t cook meat at home (“converted” a couple of years back, but don’t cook at home) I’ve never seriously considered it!

      One thing I’m still trying to figure out is how I can keep track of what nutrients i consume – packaged food is easy. But most food I eat (vegetables, eggs, chapati, etc.) is not packaged, so it’s a bit of a challenge figuring out how much I’ve eaten!

      And half a day in, I already realize the importance of eating fat – will make you feel damn hungry otherwise and you end up eating junk (like it happened this morning)!

      And why do you exclude milk in dairy-based protein sources?

    2. Milk should be avoided simply because of the carb content: 200ml=10g carb. That is too much for a low carb diet.

      Try MyFitnessPal app to track the calorie intake. It has a near exhaustive library of food items (most Indian foods included).

  3. I’m on a fairly high-intensity exercise program – 30 to 50 km. running, 100 k cycling, and 1 hour swimming a week. Don’t need to lose weight, but at my age, need to be concerned about preserving muscular strength, as I am vegetarian. Have a fair amount of curd; always had a bit of cheese for breakfast, but the big change I have made in my diet is to gorge on nuts – walnuts, cashew, almonds, even peanuts (technically not nuts, but oilseed).

    1. Thanks Mohit. That’s a lot of exercise! I seriously wish I had the discipline to do something like that!

      And a number of people have told me about this nuts thing. Used to eat them a lot earlier, but now cut down. Need to resume that.

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