Freelance graphic designer Lia Fernandez loves her Italian food—especially pasta. But for the 21-year-old it is difficult to indulge her taste buds because of her gluten allergy. A few years ago, she found a way around it. She now makes pasta with—hold your breath—zucchini.

“I was online and found this recipe for zucchini noodles, or zoodles, on a blog. I tried it out and it turned out so good, and satisfied my cravings. I have been making it ever since, experimenting with the ingredients once in a while as well," she says.

Fernandez started out by making the dish with the help of a friend, who had a spiralizer—a hand-held device that helps make noodles from several fruits and vegetables. When her friend was not available though, she would have to make more effort—“noodling" the zucchini with a vegetable peeler by hand. The time and effort taken was the only thing that made Fernandez try the dish only once or twice a month. But now, with her own spiralizer, she makes it often for her friends and herself.

When in doubt, substitute

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology led by scientists from Imperial College London, found that fruit and vegetable intakes were associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality. It further mentioned that although the recommended 400g of fruit and vegetables a day reduced disease risk, increasing that intake to 800g a day offered greater benefits.

Increasing the intake of vegetables can be challenging for those always on the go. But just like Fernandez, more urban millennials are using vegetables in their diet to replace carbs, eat healthier or have a different tasting meal.

Lia Fernandez
Lia Fernandez

“We try to make healthier eating choices. I made broccoli burrito bowls a few times. The broccoli rice is the basic ingredient, but I keep changing the accompaniments—sometimes adding paneer, or other vegetables into it. This makes it more nutritious and tasty," explains Mamata Volvoikar, a graphic designer in furniture manufacturing company Herman Miller. Making the broccoli rice does not require much time or any expensive gadget—a simple mixer-grinder or grater turns the florets into fine broccoli rice.

Volvoikar, 31, and her husband, Deepak Ariga, 34, are conscious of their health and follow a relatively clean eating plan. They work out regularly, cook fresh every day, do not own a fridge, and try to stay away from packaged food. While the elders in the family prefer their rice and roti meals, the young couple indulge in traditional carbs only once a week. But more than the health benefit, Volvoikar believes that it is a difference in taste that keeps her coming back to broccoli rice.

Why go green?

“I do see a lot of people moving away from rice and wheat in their meals. They might be doing it by replacing it with vegetables, or choosing millets or alternative grains like quinoa," explains Rohit Gambhir, executive chef, The Oberoi, New Delhi. Gambhir often uses potato starch along with other ingredients to make pasta or the sheet for dim sums. “This not just adds a different texture but can then be served to people who are intolerant to wheat," he adds. Typically these recipes are used for people who are on a low carb, high fat diet, such as Keto. “When people go on the keto diet, there is a short-term deficiency in vitamins and minerals. Adding more vegetables to your meals can help curtail the nutrient loss to a certain extent," explains Uma Kale, sports nutritionist at Kalometer, a nutrition clinic in Mumbai. However, she points out that one needs to know how their bodies react to it as well. For example, vegetables which have a high glycemic index, such as carrot, potatoes and parsnip should be avoided.

“The benefits are certainly all there — fibre keeps you fuller longer and the same mouth feel of noodles or rice without actually including the starch. Fibre is also difficult to overeat, versus something like rice. But one must remember that if you go on any sort of calorie deficit, you are bound to lose some muscle mass," explains Mumbai-based sport nutrition specialist, Kripa Jalan.

Delhi-based Armenian restaurant, Lavaash by Saby, offers dinners with the option of replacing the potato mash by cauliflower puree and ordering zucchini noodles instead of rice with your meal. “A lot of people have switched to healthy alternatives. I have a lot of people who are on a gluten free diet, vegan diet or keto and it’s always better to have options for them in the menu," says Megha Kohli, executive chef at the restaurant. She adds that most people ordering for the healthier alternative happen to be younger clients.

However, eating just one vegetable in the dish would mean too much of one nutrient and none of the other. Especially if you think just making a meal out of say, zucchini, cauliflower or broccoli. Therefore it is important to balance it out by adding more vegetables. “Fry the cauliflower rice with carrots and beans, make the zoodles with chicken, tomatoes, beans and more. The idea is to have a balanced meal to lead a healthier lifestyle," adds Jalan.

Chicken & lettuce wraps

Ingredients

450g chicken-minced

1 cup chopped mushrooms

6 basil leaves

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

1 teaspoon ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons garlic

Instructions

Mix chicken, mushrooms, and basil leaves. Set aside. Prepare the marinade sauce by mixing hoisin, soy and teriyaki sauce, garlic, and ginger. Pour the marinade on top of the chicken and mix until everything is well combined.

Sauté chicken for about 8-10 minutes or till cooked. Place it inside lettuce wraps and serve.

— Kripa Jalan, nutritionist

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