There’s an old saying in India, “Hurry, Worry and Hot Curry are bad for you!” As someone from South India, I have always felt that our food is simple with little variation from day to day. The typical meal is vegetarian, with a large serving of white rice, a lentil stew and sautéed vegetables along with buttermilk or yogurt. We would indulge ourselves, however, with a pappadum (rice wafer) dripping with oil and a salty mango pickle. There was no thought given to how our daily diet helped or hurt our long-term health and well-being.

Khumb Palak

Khumb Palak

When I moved to the United States and I had my first physical, the doctor asked me for a family health history. I quickly covered just about every disease in the dictionary between my parents. Heart diseases led the chart. That was my Aha! moment. I knew it was time to change my food habits.

I love trying new foods and cuisines. But this can be challenging. Being a chef, I know that words like “smothered” in a restaurant menu mean loads of fat, “crispy” means fried and the  “the chef’s special sauce” is going to clog my arteries. I now constantly look for “grilled,” “poached,” and “organic” in the menu.

According to the South Asian Heart Center (SAHC), South Asians are four times more likely to get coronary artery disease (CAD) when compared to their fellow Americans.

  • A study among Asian Indian men showed that half of all heart attacks in this population occur under the age of 50 years, and 25% under the age of 40.
  • More than 30% of deaths from heart attacks in South Asians occur in those younger than 65 years of age, a rate double that of the U.S. national average.
  • South Asian women also have one of the highest mortality rates due to heart disease. Recent findings from the 1990-2000 California Census data showed that all ethnic minority women were living longer except South Asian women.

The SAHC at El Camino Hospital is doing valuable work in raising awareness in the community and among health care providers to treat heart disease among South Asians. The typical “at-risk” South Asian does not fit the risk profile that is tied to smoking, obesity, and other poor habits. Surprisingly, coronary heart disease is seen in South Asians who are vegetarians and exercise regularly. The reasons are largely genetic. Early intervention is very critical but changes in diet can make a huge positive impact.

The SAHC has designed a program called MEDS (Medication, Exercise, Diet, and Stress Reduction), besides offering early screening services and health education for patients and care providers.

Ram Ramgiri, owner of The Mynt restaurant in San Jose, took SAHC’s message to heart when he, his Executive Chef George Godinho, and all his employees got themselves screened.

Chef Godinho, along with SAHC dietician Ms. Nancy Bugwadia and the Department of Nutrition at San Jose State University, analyzed and adjusted The Mynt’s menu to accommodate heart healthy choices. A red “heart on a spoon” makes it easy to spot dishes on the menu card for the watchful eaters amongst us.

I went to The Mynt with an open mind. But the skeptic in me was unsure whether heart healthy dishes could be tasty. I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the Khumb Palak and the Bharwan Shimla Mirch. They were tasty and flavorful without the extra fat and sodium. The cumin rice made with brown rice and corn was excellent.

I hope many more Indian restaurants collaborate with the SAHC to help lower the risk of heart disease amongst the South Asian population in the Bay Area and all around the United States. So have you got yourself screened yet? Go to www.southasianheartcenter.org to register and check outwww.themynt.com.

Here is a sampling of recipes and supporting analysis from The Mynt:

Khumb Palak (serves 2)

Chef Godinho, with the recommendation of the SAHC dietician, was able to reduce the fat and salt content in this dish by half.

Ingredients

4 ounces fresh spinach
4 ounces fresh mushrooms (sliced)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chopped Serrano chilies
½  medium sized onion (chopped)
1 medium sized tomato (chopped)
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon garam masala powder
1 pinch methi powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon butter (1/2 teaspoon recommended)
Salt to taste (1/8 teaspoon recommended)

Clean and chop spinach. Steam with ½ tablespoon garlic until tender (approx. 10 minutes). Coarsely blend spinach mixture. Sauté cumin in hot butter. Add remaining garlic, ginger, chilies. When brown, add onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and remaining spices (except cilantro); cook approx. 5 minutes. Add in the cooked spinach; simmer for 3 minutes. Add methi powder; stir and remove from heat. Garnish with cilantro.

Recipe before recommendations—Total Fat 31%, Saturated Fat 12%
Recipe after recommendations—Total Fat 25%, Saturated Fat 7%

Garbanzo Mynt Salad (serves 2)

The healthy version of this refreshing salad has half the fat and sodium, yet tastes great.

Ingredients

 5 ounces garbanzo beans
1 ounce cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 ounce lettuce, shredded
Salt to taste (1/8 teaspoon recommended)
chopped mint to garnish
Lime Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (1 tablespoon recommended)
4 teaspoons crushed black pepper

Boil garbanzo beans in water until soft. Once cooled to room temperature chill in the refrigerator. Prepare lime vinaigrette by whisking all ingredients together. Toss chilled beans, cucumber and tomato in a bowl. Add salt to taste.
Pour lime vinaigrette over tossed salad mix and fold in with chopped mint. Serve on a bed of lettuce, with  mint garnish.

Recipe before recommendations—Total Fat 57%, Saturated Fat 8%
Recipe after recommendations—Total Fat 42%, Saturated Fat 6%. n

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at  www.rocketbites.com.

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