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A plateful of goodness: Uncovering the health benefits of Onam Sadhya
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A plateful of goodness: Uncovering the health benefits of Onam Sadhya

The traditional feast hailing from the coastal state of Kerala offers a myriad of health benefits that are as extensive and diverse as the spread itself

Onam Sadhya

It’s Onam! – a festival that celebrates unity in diversity, where the fragrance of flowers mixes with the scrumptious aroma of traditional food that transcends caste and religious barriers.

It falls around the month of August or September, starting with Atham (the first day) and continuing over 10 days during which various rituals are performed. The final day (also known as Thiruvonam) includes the grandest ritual — Onam Sadhya, a feast of abundance and prosperity.

Beyond the exquisite display of vibrant colors and aromatic flavors, this traditional feast from the lush, coastal state of Kerala offers a tapestry of health benefits that are as rich and diverse as the spread itself. From the first tangy bite of inji curry to the last sweet note of payasam, every dish on the Onam Sadhya platter reflects a harmonious blend of nutrition and culture. The ingredients and cooking techniques used in preparing the meal not only tantalize the taste buds, but also promote overall health and well-being.

The quintessential banana leaf

Onam Sadhya is consumed on a banana leaf, which has numerous health benefits. The polyphenols present in banana leaves have immune-boosting properties that help enhance the body’s resistance to diseases. These polyphenols are released from the banana leaf when hot food is placed on it. They then mix with the food and enter the body upon consumption. Additionally, the banana leaf also possesses the ability to reduce bacterial activity, adding an additional layer of hygiene to your meal by lowering the bacterial count on the leaf.

How each dish of Onam Sadhya contributes to health

The feast begins and ends on a sweet note, starting with the sugary taste of jaggery and ending with payasam (a sweet dessert). The sequence of flavors is designed in such a way that the sweet taste comes at the end. The usual sequence of the food served is as follows: it starts with sarkkara varatti, followed by salt, ghee, parippu (dal), pickles, buttermilk, sambar, avial, olan, kalan, puli inji, erissery, pulisherry, pachadi, banana, pappadam and then payasam.

This sequential arrangement of flavors carries immense significance. Traditionally, there are twelve main components. However, the count might vary slightly depending on regional preferences and personal tastes. Each element is carefully prepared using fresh and pure ingredients, contributing to the richness of the meal.

♦ Sarkkara varatti

Raw banana, dried ginger, cardamom and jaggery are the ingredients used in sarkkara varatti preparation. Dried ginger helps stimulate the digestive process, and jaggery increases the level of hemoglobin in the blood.

♦ Red rice or Matta rice

Red rice is rich in complex carbohydrates and contains essential nutrients (like magnesium) that are crucial for heart health. Moreover, it has a low glycemic index, which is beneficial for managing diabetes. In addition, the soluble fiber present in it helps reduce cholesterol levels and regularize digestion.

♦ Ghee and parippu (dal)

Dal is rich in proteins, and the combination of ghee and parippu promotes better digestion, provides essential nutrients (without causing imbalances) and counters any negative impact that dal alone might have on the digestive system.

♦ Sambar

Sambar is a nutritious blend of various vegetables and lentils. The combination of different vegetables (like drumstick, carrot, beans, brinjal, green pumpkin, yam, cucumber, pumpkin, bitter gourd, snake gourd and green chilli) enhances its nutritional value and boosts metabolism. Besides being a rich source of protein, dietary fiber and antioxidants, the spices used in sambar have anti-inflammatory and digestion-enhancing properties.

♦ Avial

It is a medley of various vegetables cooked together in a coconut-based gravy. Known for its rich taste and nutritional value, avial is prepared with drumstick, carrot, yam, green beans, green pumpkin, raw banana, curd, cucumber, mango and coconut oil. All these ingredients provide essential nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin E, fiber and minerals.

♦ Olan

It is a simple and light curry made with ash gourd, red cowpeas, coconut milk and green chillies. Ash gourd (also known as winter melon or white pumpkin), the primary vegetable used in olan, is known for its hydrating properties and low-calorie content. In addition, red cowpeas are a rich source of protein and dietary fiber.

♦ Kalan

It is a dish that includes various ingredients like yam, raw plantain (green banana), elephant foot yam, buttermilk and turmeric. These ingredients enhance its nutritional value and help maintain a balanced gut microbiome, which in turn aids digestion and helps maintain bacterial equilibrium during digestive disorders.

♦ Rasam and moru (buttermilk curry)

Rasam is prepared with the intention of aiding digestion. Ingredients like cumin, black pepper, turmeric and ginger are added to enhance the medicinal properties of the dish, which help reduce digestive problems and stomach-related discomforts.

Onam Sadhya with a healthy twist

  • The rich and indulgent flavors of the sweet and fried sarkkara varatti can make you crave more. However, it’s important to remember that excessive consumption could lead to spikes in your blood sugar levels. Therefore, it’s vital to consume it in moderation.
  • Although red rice contains complex carbohydrates, too much of it will add to your total calorie intake. Consider reducing the rice portion and increasing the serving of sambar instead, as it can enhance satiety.
  • The meal ends with payasam, typically prepared with a generous amount of sugar. Payasam should be consumed in moderation, and if your craving for something sweet persists, choosing a banana is a healthier alternative.
  • Avoid using potatoes in the vegetable dishes to limit carbohydrate intake.

Takeaways

  • Onam Sadhya, the grand feast that happens during the final day of Onam, provides numerous health benefits.
  • The meal is consumed on a banana leaf, which has numerous health benefits. The polyphenols present in banana leaves have immune-boosting properties that are released when hot food is placed on them. They then mix with the food and enter the body upon consumption.
  • The sequential arrangement of flavors within the meal carries immense significance, and each element is carefully prepared using fresh and pure ingredients, contributing to its richness.

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