When talking about Indian restaurants and takeaways, there is often the feeling that 'having a curry' is a bit of a naughty treat. However, you don't need to feel too bad. Is curry good for you? Look, it's not going to be quite as healthy as a salad, but curry can have a surprising number of health benefits!
Well, today, you will find out. I'm going to discuss whether curry is good for you or not and talk about some of the reasons why you don't need to feel guilty about digging in!
Quick Answer | Is Curry Good for You?
The truth is that there is no such thing as 'bad' food. Any food can become unhealthy if you eat too much of it. Curry is just the same as any other food. Apart from a few spices, it could be considered the same as a stew or stir-fry, neither of which have ever been considered 'bad'.
The reason curry is seen as unhealthy is normally what accompanies it. People will go overboard on rice, chips, naan bread (and maybe even accompany their curry with a few pints of lager). Throw into the mix that there are some really oily curries, and it is easy to see how people pile on the pounds.
The good news is that if you make the correct choices and choose a healthy curry, it can actually be good for you. Read on to find out some of the great health benefits you can enjoy when eating curry.
What are the Benefits of Eating Curry?
There are actually loads of healthy things in curry, and you'll get lots of benefits.
- Curry speeds up digestive transit, reducing the risk of bowel cancer. Those who 'go' less often have an increased risk. Curry certainly doesn't slow digestive transit down, that's for sure!
- It apparently can help to stave off dementia. An article in the Daily Mail (I know) suggested that curry contains compounds that can help reduce the chances of mental degradation
- Reducing the possibility of strokes
- Curry normally contains a balanced amount of macronutrients. Get your choice right, and curry can actually form a really nutritious meal, packed with just the right amount of protein, carbs and fats.
- The ingredients of curries are full of things that can be good for you…
Curry has a compound that features in a great many of its ingredients. It's called Curcumin...
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is a chemical found in many curries. In fact, its scientific name is diferuloylmethane… But that's a bit too technical when we are looking for a reason to try chicken tikka masala!
Curcumin has plenty of health benefits. This includes: -
- Being an antioxidant, trapping free radicals that can damage your cell's DNA.
- Acting as an anti-inflammatory, reducing things such as tendonitis
- Reducing the chances of developing Parkinson's disease
Let's take a look at reasons why you don't need to feel guilty next time you pile your plate high with a nice chicken madras. Here are some of the other things you'll find in curry that have proven health benefits: -
Ever noticed how curry stains really easily? Loads of types of curries contain turmeric. This is one of nature’s superfoods.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. The spice is formed by drying out turmeric root and then grinding it into a fine yellow powder.
And fine it is!
Turmeric is high in Curcumin (not to be confused with 'cumin'). As we saw above, this compound has great anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces the likelihood of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and arthritis.
Don't believe me? You can actually buy turmeric supplements in capsule form for the above reasons!
If you've used ginger and garlic paste in your curry, then you are in for a treat. Ginger is packed full of good things like gingerol, zingerone and shagaol. These compounds trap particles that are harmful to the body called free radicals.
Ginger also works well to settle your stomach. It is a well-known seasickness cure and is often used to treat the symptoms of a cold. While a nice spicy pathia might do good for clearing a blocked nose, I probably wouldn't recommend it if you are going on a long sea voyage!
Garlic is another food that holds the title of 'superfood'.
Garlic features really heavily in most curry dishes.
Garlic is a natural antiseptic. In fact, its inclusion in recipes has been shown to reduce bacteria in meat by up to 80%!
It can help to lower cholesterol and also contains an anti-carcinogenic compound, caked allicin.
Aside from tasting great, garlic is also packed with nutrients and minerals. This includes magnesium, zinc, calcium, potassium and phosphorus! It is also wonderful for boosting the immune system!
Rice is good for you (as long as you don't go overboard and order a huge portion). Rice is a great source of fibre. Fibre is great for your gut as it keeps you regular. It also absorbs water, meaning you will have a healthier digestive transit.
We've all seen the adverts saying that yoghurt is packed full of 'friendly bacteria', this is actually true!
You'll find yoghurt included in curry recipes, but you'll also find it served in dips like raita and in drinks such as nice cool mango lassi.
Yoghurt is full of microbes that can help strengthen those found naturally in your gut, this aids digestion. It is also milk-based, meaning it is packed full of calcium.
Ok, I'm not going to pretend that naan is the healthiest thing on the menu, especially when it comes smothered in ghee. That said, there are a few good things that can be said about ordering a naan.
And naan is really easy to make…
First, it is made with wheat flour. While processed white flour isn't the best, it is still a good source of fibre. It is also a carbohydrate, vital for feeding the brain and providing your body with energy.
If you are looking for something similar to naan but a little healthier, then why not give a roti a go? These are made with a type of wholemeal flour called atta which is a little better for you.
If there's one thing that practically every curry has, it is onions. If you choose to go for a dopiaza, this is absolutely packed with them! Other curries will use an onion base gravy in the recipe
Onions are loaded with healthy sulfides, which encourage anti-cancer causing agents to be produced within the body. It also encourages enzymes to be produced that detoxify the body and help regulate friendly gut bacteria. (Oh, and they speed up digestive transit).
To read more about the (not-so-pleasant) effects of onions, check out my article here.
A big bowl of this couldn't be considered 'healthy' as such, but in moderation, there are plenty of good things in mango chutney.
Mango contains large amounts of vitamin C, which is vital for a healthy immune system. They also contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Mangoes also contain mangiferin, a compound that can reduce heart inflammation and help promote digestive stability.
Did you know that tomatoes are actually a fruit?
Trivia aside, you'll find tomatoes in plenty of curry recipes. The good news is that they are crammed full of healthy agents. Tomatoes can help to protect against cancer. They are also great at maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Tomatoes in curry can count toward one of your five-a-day. Vegetables and fruit intake have a positive link with healthier skin and hair. They are also really calory sparse, meaning that you can eat a lot without upping your calorie intake significantly.
Here's something that you need to know. Fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, your body ideally needs fat to function properly.
Healthy fats (such as natural oils, and fats found in meat) are needed by the body as a source of energy, it is also used by the body to grow new cells. It is also required to allow your body to absorb other nutrients and stimulate the correct hormonal responses as you go about your daily life.
Your body can't make its own fatty acids, so you need to get them from an external source. A nice plate of curry sounds ideal to me.
Depending on which curry you go for, you might also find that it contains a large amount of cumin. This is a good thing
This spice powder is formed by grinding up cumin seeds.
Cumin contains antioxidants that will help keep your cells healthy. It also has a great feature in that it apparently can stop cancer cells from multiplying!
Cumin is also hypoglycemic. This means that it helps to lower blood sugar levels, great for staving off diabetes! Cumin is also great for lowering cholesterol!
Did you know that the humble chilli is really high in vitamin C? This is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. It is also thought that chilli contains a compound that can lower the risk of stomach ulcers!
You might have noticed certain effects if you have consumed a particularly spicy dish. While it can be unpleasant, the truth is that chilies do accelerate your metabolism. If food leaves your digestive system sooner, you absorb fewer calories, meaning that chilli can greatly aid weight loss!
Ever bit into one of these little pods while enjoying a nice biryani?
Not the most pleasant, I know.
But, that said, there's plenty of reasons to celebrate finding a cardamom pod or two in your curry.
As with most of the ingredients, you'll find in curry, cardamom is an anti-inflammatory and a great antioxidant. It also has antibacterial properties and can work well to settle stomach upsets and digestive discomfort.
Is Curry Good for Weight Loss?
The simple answer is it depends on what curry you order and what you order with your curry.
Weight loss (or gain) isn't about the food that you are eating. It is about how much of that food you are eating. If you ate 5000 calories-worth of salad each day, you'd still put on weight.
If you choose a healthy curry, this can be good for weight loss (as part of a calorie-controlled diet). Curries full of calorie sparse, healthy ingredients can be as good as any other food for losing weight. If you want to learn about the healthiest curries, I've got a detailed guide here.
When you throw in the fact that curry (and chilli) in particular can cause your metabolism to speed up, this could be great for weight loss.
The Flipside | Why is Curry So Unhealthy?
I believe in balance when it comes to passing information, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that curry is the be-all and end-all when it comes to being healthy.
There are plenty of reasons why curry is not good for you.
Here’s why you might want to give the curry a miss if you are trying to stay healthy: -
Curry can be Full of 'Hidden' Calories
Eh? Hidden calories, what do you mean?
Hidden calories are elements of the dish which might not be apparent, but trust me, they are still in your dish.
Want an example?
Take a creamy korma made with almond flour. While you might not be aware, almonds are really high in calories. You can easily cram in an extra 500 or so with a small handful of almonds. Throw into the mix that the recipe is also made with calorie-dense (and pretty fatty) double cream, and all of a sudden, you have overeaten without even realizing it!
Curry Side Dishes Aren't Always Slimming
One of the things that make curry an absolute joy is the side dishes.
I love a huge plate of fried rice (along with chips) as much as the next person. But, these side dishes are laden with things that aren't good for you. Here are some of the curry side dishes that you could order that are deep-fried or full of carbs: -
- Onion Bhajis (But that said, they can be oven baked)
There's Plenty of Fat and Oil
I love opening a takeaway container full of curry to find the top swimming in a bright red layer of oil. Oily curries are the tastiest!
I can't pretend that this is going to be good for anyone.
Many curries contain huge amounts of oil or ghee (or both). These are both calorie-dense, meaning that it is easy to go overboard.
There are Plenty of Carbs
Naan, chips, rice, poppadoms, aloo (potatoes), these are all really carb-loaded sides. When you think that you have them and a plate of curry, it can be easy to see how people overindulge. If you are doing this several times a week, then it isn't going to be healthy.
People Drink Alcohol with Curry
Let's face it, nothing makes a red hot vindaloo go down quite like a nice tall glass of beer. Alcohol causes negative hormonal responses in the body. It is also full of 'empty' calories that your body can't really use to provide energy.
I order a beer nearly every time I go for a curry. There is no way on earth that drinking beer can be healthy.
What Does Curry Do to Your Stomach?
"I think I'll order a nice phaal and settle my stomach"…
Said no one, ever.
Let's be honest, curry is spicy food. What does spicy food do to your stomach?
It irritates it.
Chilli can really get your gastric juices going and cause them to increase in acidity. The end result? Indigestion and heartburn! It's the capsaicin found in chilli that does it.
Aside from heartburn, you might occasionally experience looser bowel movements if you've had a particularly hot curry. Yep, ring sting is a real thing!
Is Indian Curry Healthy? Final Thoughts
You've got to take the rough with the smooth, I guess. It isn't too bad for you if you make sensible choices and treat curry like an occasional treat. In fact, there are compounds found in curry ingredients that can actually be quite good for you. At the end of the day, a curry is little more than a spicy stew. It is often all of the things that accompany a curry that is seen as unhealthy. What's your go-to choice for a healthy curry? Let me know in the comments.