Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar created quite a stir when she revealed that her best-known client, actor Kareena Kapoor Khan's fab abs owed everything to eating dal-chawal at night. "No soup and salad please," she said in her characteristic sweeping style. "It's not what we Indians are used to, and quite frankly, there's no need."
There is no part of India that doesn’t love the humble bowl of lentil (dal) and rice (chawal). It may not sound as exotic as a quinoa salad or mushroom soup, but there's growing proof to suggest that the comforting all-in-one bowl is just what it takes to move the weighing scale to the left.
What makes dal-chawal the complete meal
Ayurvedacharya Anubha Chandane backs what Diwekar has to say. "Dal is packed with essential nutrients that makes it a must for Indian diets. From proteins, vitamins, iron, calcium, carbs to fibre, lentils contain everything that work best for the body and makes your immunity stronger. On the other hand, rice is a gut-friendly food that only increases your body's satiation level. When you combine the two, dal-chawal brings its proteins and nutrients and rice has enzymes to satisfy hunger," she elaborates.
The other good stuff in rice includes Vitamin B1 and resistant starch. The result, says Chandane is, "stability for your blood-sugar levels, heart and peace of mind."
She would especially suggest the same to frequent travelers: "Any hotel on desi shores would serve you dal-chawal. It is much better than salad because nothing upsets your system more than stale raw food. Chances are, you will have a successful meeting the next day when you wake up with a clear head and healthy gut."
What the weight-loss gurus have to say
Slimming head and senior nutritionist at Pune's Vibes Health Center, Sujata Gohil points out that soup and salad could actually be counter-productive for some clients struggling to control their basic habits. "Not everyone's resolve or approach towards their weight-loss program is the same. Some find it hard to sleep at night after a soup and salad meal—which in many cases, they don't enjoy. It's far better to eat dal-chawal/khichdi and sleep well in a weight-loss diet. This ensures you get up refreshed and have a healthy metabolism," she says.
According to Dr K Damayanthi, Scientist and Head Dietetics Division, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, the protein quality improves by combining dal and rice, it also provides energy and a minimum amount of fat. To make it a complete meal, one should combine them with leafy green and other vegetables for all the required micronutrients, which is a perfect as a weight-loss diet.
Simply put, dal-chawal is a classic combination. Besides, everyone can eat it: even those with diabetes and high BP. (For these, you could replace polished white rice with brown, for higher fiber content).
Is Dal-chawal also good for the planet’s health?
Chandane points to the recent study by the Eat Lancet Commission that decisively names lentil-rice as one of the sustainable food systems that will save the planet. Given that feeding 3 billion people on earth is going to be a challenge, the dal-chawal diet will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions largely linked to animal agriculture and and its impact on the planet.
Even as it advocates cutting the consumption of red meat and sugar by half by 2050, the report says: "The diet that can save the world would be porridge for breakfast, rice, lentils and veggies for lunch and dinner."
But be warned, there is no one-size fits-all bowl of dal-rice that will lead to your weight management goals. Pune-based nutritionist Ameeta Thakur would be "cautious" against making blanket statements on the weight loss efficacy of this dish. Sure enough, she agrees that dal rice has all the possible amino acids, and is every bit as good a deal as chicken when it comes to protein.
But. "When it comes to designing a nutrition-cum-diet program for people with specific goals, seek an expert who will recommend portion sizes and foods depending on your health and lifestyle.
How to cook dal-chawal for weight loss
This is not to suggest that dal-chawal rich with masalas and ghee floating on top is the panacea for your weight worries. Also, those who have high body fat may need a different regimen that goes easy on rice and replace it with more millets. You’ve to find your portion size of dal-chawal. Also, don’t just stick to plain dal-chawal, and add other foods, vegetables, leafy greens, nut, seeds, fruits to your diet.
Weight loss depends on the total calories consumed in a day and how much energy is expended through physical activity. Portion sizes are usually prescribed based on the weight goals, current weight status and other factors that could influence, that too after carefully considering a lot of other factors, says K. Damayanthi.
"We suggest about 25-30 grams of visible fat per person per day. A third of that (8 to 10 g) can be from saturated fat sources, such as ghee. And mind you, this is for a person of healthy and normal weight and BMI," says Damayanthi.
Gohil simplifies this further. "No more than a single teaspoon of ghee, please. That is enough to add a delicious flavor without overpowering the taste of the dal-chawal or ruining your chances of losing weight," she says.
"For weight loss, a typically healthy adult is recommended 30 gm of cooked rice and dal each," says Gohil. "A bowl of fresh, seasonal vegetables adds further value. As does the addition of antioxidants like jeera and ghee.”
How to make a healthy bowl of dal-chawal
"A bowl of (30 g) or rice, topped generously with pressure-cooked lentils seasoned with spices of your choice (cumin, panch phoron, methiseeds, preferably in ghee) will satiate you without adding extra calories. And don't consume achaar or fries with it. A squeeze of lime on top will add the necessary tang, says Gohil.
If you want to make it healthier, sub your white rice with brown, red or parboiled varieties. Diabetics, take note. "Brown rice has a little more dietary fibre, B-complex vitamins and minerals as compared to white rice, so brown rice is better from a nutritional point of view,” says Damayanthi.
While these are healthier ideas, keep the larger context of your health status, health goals, portion size, and your overall diet in mind. Dal-chawal is no magic pill, but definitely a comforting bowl that will give you optimum health and satiety.