Eat Curry, Run Better!

Forget about fat-laden, greasy takeaways - Indian food doesn't have to be heavy. There are a whole range of curries packed full of ingredients which are bursting with flavour and health-boosting properties. Personally, I think the best way to remain healthy is to eat lots of Indian food - the building blocks of most curries top the lists of the healthiest ingredients to include in your daily diet. Even if you're training hard, there's no need to deprive yourself of a good curry.

It's National Curry Week (October 13 - 17) so now's the perfect time to get into the kitchen and cook up a delicious and healthy curry.  Choose one with lots of fresh ingredients and they can form an essential part of a runner's diet. Here are my key health-boosting ingredients...

Anjum Anand is a TV chef and cookery writer. Her delicious new range of Indian sauces, The Spice Tailoris available to buy now from Waitrose. For more information visit: www.thespicetailor.com

Ginger

Not only does ginger add a tangy zing to curries, it has also been used for centuries in Ayurveda, one of the world's oldest medical systems which originated in India.

Its main active ingredient is gingerol, which is believed to encourage blood flow and ease pain. Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties can help with sore joints and its antioxidants help strengthen the immune system.

When a recipe calls for ginger paste, you can make it at home with some fresh ginger simply by using a microplane grater or a hand blender. Freeze the paste in teaspoon-sized batches in ice cube trays and then just pop them in the pan when you're ready to use them.

Garlic

Garlic is used throughout Indian cooking and is a great food for runners. Garlic helps to keep your heart healthy, reduce cholesterol and fight colds. Allicin, the element that gives garlic its pungent aroma, helps to relax blood vessels, making blood flow more easily and reducing blood pressure.

Cooking garlic fully is essential. You can tell when it's cooked by the fragrance, which changes from raw and strong to mellow. In a paste, garlic will start to look grainy and turn a pale gold colour.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is used in Ayurveda to treat the symptoms of a range of illnesses from indigestion to diabetes. Its effects on blood sugar have been scientifically proven: a 2003 study in the Diabetes Care medical journal reported that eating one to six grams of cinnamon a day reduced blood sugar levels in people with type two diabetes.

Whole spices are always the first ingredient to go into the hot oil in Indian cooking, and they have greater depth of flavour than ground spices. If you're using whole cinnamon, it should be cooked in hot oil for 20-30 seconds to release its aromatic oil. Conversely cinnamon powder can be added to almost anything!

Turmeric

Vibrant in colour and mild in flavour, turmeric has been used for centuries as a super-healer in Ayurveda.  Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles reported earlier in the year that turmeric may be able to help the body repair some of the damage caused in the immediate aftermath of a stroke. 

But it's believed to be good not just for the brain but for health and wellness as a whole. For generations, families have believed it to be good for bones, good for healing wounds as it is antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and it is also good for skin regeneration. It is also believed to be good for cleansing and detoxing internally.

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is good for the digestive tract thanks to its probiotics, as well as good for bones as it is full of calcium, especially when taken with vitamin D. Yoghurt also contains vitamins B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium. In India, we believe the best way to have yoghurt is cooked with spices to make it easier to digest and therefore absorb the nutrients.

Yoghurt can however be a challenge to cook as it can split in the pan. This isn't a disaster but will mean the dish isn't as creamy as it could be. To avoid curdling, use full-fat yoghurt at room temperature: the fat stabilises the yoghurt and a cold product added to a hot pan is more likely to split. But as important is the need to keep stirring the yoghurt as you put it into the pan and with some enthusiasm, until the yoghurt is mostly "absorbed" into the sauce. Yoghurt can also be a good accompaniment - try some raita on the side.

Coriander

Considered both a spice and a herb, coriander is a versatile ingredient and its leaves, stems and seeds (whole or ground into a powder) can all be used in Indian cooking. Coriander is anti-carcinogenic and anti-convulsant and its other health benefits include treatment of swelling, high cholesterol and improving digestion.

Coriander seeds are large, pale and spherical with a mild and citrussy taste and fabulous aroma. Once powdered, they are one of the most commonly used spices in Indian food, rounding off and softening stronger flavours.

Chillies

Red and green chillies contain the anti-inflammatory capsaicin, which helps you breathe more easily, clearing mucus from the nose and lungs. In moderation, capsaicin helps to speed up your metabolism which helps with weight-loss. It can also reduce cholesterol and kills of bacteria that cause stomach ulcers. 

Remember, the hotter the chilli, the most capsaicin it contains. I often leave chillies whole in my food so that they impart flavour without too much heat (the heat is mainly contained in the seeds and membrane).

Onion

Onions are the base of most curries and are a wonderful vegetable as they have antibacterial and antifungal properties. They can also help to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and prevent high blood pressure.

As onions are used in so many recipes, getting the cooking right is crucial. Always make sure they are cooked through until soft and turning golden at the edges. After that, the further you cook them the deeper the flavours of the curry will be. For a lamb or chicken curry, cook onions until the edges are well browned.  In curries containing more delicate ingredients - such as vegetables or seafood - onions only need to be just golden, or their taste could overpower the rest of the dish.