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Healthy Diwali delights

ghee lamps - Diwali images Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs all over the world. The festival is marked by lighting lamps (diyas) and fireworks to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.

As with many festivals it’s a time when families come together, give each other gifts and feast on festive treats. The only difficult part about Diwali is finding a way to eat healthily because there's so much food and sweets (mithai) around.

So, we've pulled together a few ideas to help you enjoy your seasonal treats, without feeling too guilty.

A good all round celebration

Indian family - Diwali images The festival falls in October or November each year, but dates tend to vary because the festival is based on the lunar calendar.

There are lots of different Diwali traditions, because of the different beliefs about how the festival began. Hindus, for example, celebrate over five days and believe that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, only visits homes that are clean and brightly lit, so homes are spotless and lit by dozens of flickering lamps.

In Jainism people come together over three days and celebrate the Nirvana of Lord Mahavira and welcome in the New Year.

Whereas for Sikhs, Diwali celebrates the release of the Guru, Hargobind Ji from imprisonment and people celebrate by lighting the way to the Golden Temple.

Sweet sweet mithai

jam sponge - Diwali images Mithai are sweet treats. They form a big part of Diwali celebrations and are often given as presents to family and friends.

Some seasonal favourites include:

  • ghughra – a crescent-shaped pastry parcel, filled with coconut, semolina, flour, raisins, nuts and spices
  • gajar halwa or gajrela – a delicious dessert made from semolina or milk, carrots and cardamom, and mixed with nuts and raisins
  • besan ladoo – made from gram flour, sugar and cardamom and rolled into tasty balls
  • burfi – colourful square sweets made from thickened milk and sugar, and traditionally mixed with grated coconut or pistachio nuts
  • gulab jaman – made from thickened milk, flour and butter, flavoured with caradamom seeds and rose water, and shaped into balls that are deep-fried and soaked in syrup
  • kheer – a traditional rice pudding made with milk, sugar and rose essence or green cardamom
  • sheera – a traditional Diwali dessert made with semolina, cardamom, ghee (clarified butter), nuts and milk
There's no hiding from the fact that these sweets are high in fat and sugar. But Diwali only comes once a year, so there's no need to stop eating your favourite things, just keep an eye on how many you're eating! Here are some healthy tips to make sure they'll still go down a treat.

Make your mithai healthier

bangles - Diwali images Get in the holiday spirit and bring your family together to make your own mithai. That way you can make them a little healthier by adding less sugar and using low-fat milk, oil or a low-fat spread instead of ghee.

The simplest way to eat less sweets is to cut them into smaller pieces and add extra dried fruit and nuts.

Have a selection of sweets and snacks to hand so you can choose a healthier option. Why not stuff dates or figs with pistachio nuts, or offer fresh fruit alongside some more indulgent snacks.

For a change, you could also give some different gifts to friends and family, such as clothing or bangles.

Diwali dishes with a difference

lentils with spinach and garlic - Diwali images At Diwali, families often feast on richer versions of their favourite dishes. But you don't have to add extra ghee or cream to make your Diwali meal special. Have a look at some of our healthier ways to have a fabulous feast.

Why not start by adding some special ingredients, like chopped almonds or dried fruit. Or use a selection of different vegetables – go for ones that you wouldn't usually choose.

Some people may eat meat during Diwali, so our tips do include some meat and fish suggestions.

  • Opt for plain rotis instead of paratha and you won't need to add any fat. Make them with wholemeal or 'medium' flour and avoid adding oil or salt.
  • When you're cooking dishes such as pilau rice, try to use just a small amount of oil instead of ghee or butter, and avoid adding any salt.
  • Try making paneer at home with a low-fat milk and grill the cubes rather than frying them.
  • If you're cooking meat-based dishes, try to buy lean cuts or trim off the fat. You can make dishes healthier and more filling by adding dhal, beans or spinach.
  • Rather than frying, bake fish wrapped in foil with a little oil, masala and lemon juice.
  • Make a healthy mango chutney using unsweetened diced mango, lemon and red chilli.
  • Instead of the familiar deep-fried snack, try brushing them with oil and baking in a hot oven until golden.

Flavour toolbox

various hot spices -  Diwali images Take advantage of the delicious spices in your kitchen, and enjoy your favourite traditional recipes with more spice and less salt. It's important to watch the salt you use at the table as well as when you’re cooking, because eating too much can raise your blood pressure, making you more at risk of heart related illnesses.

Try these delicious ideas:
  • Blend together fresh coriander and mint leaves with green chilli and lemon juice for a zesty chutney to have with a snack or main meal.
  • Add some ground cumin and chopped fresh coriander leaves to low-fat natural yogurt to make a simple raita. Try throwing in some grated carrot chopped walnuts or cucumber.
  • Make a spicy fresh tomato chutney by blending chopped fresh tomato, red pepper and red chilli with lemon juice.
  • Here's an idea for an instant spice mix: roast a mixture of spices and seeds, then grind them and store in a jar.
  • Make a paste of ground almonds, fresh coriander, chillies, garlic and ginger with a little lemon juice and use this to coat chunky vegetables.
  • For a delicious marinade for paneer or vegetables, mix low-fat yoghurt, crushed garlic and ginger, lemon juice, coriander, fenugreek, black pepper, garam masala, cinnamon powder and clove powder.

Get the balance right

girl dancing - Diwali images When you're surrounded by food, it's easy to lose track of what you're eating. Try some of our top tips for a healthier Diwali:
  • Try to pack meals with plenty of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables. These are healthy and keep you feeling full for longer.
  • Eat regular meals and avoid eating rich foods very late in the evening. This will help stop you snacking and reaching for that extra sweet during the day.
  • Try to have smaller portions and take your time when you're eating. And try to avoid second helpings, even if it means being strict with a persuasive relative!
  • Make sure you're drinking enough water during the day. It can be easy to forget when you're busy.
  • Do something active every day. Try walking to the local temple or gurdwara with the family. And if you really want to burn some calories, why don't you get your friends together to dance – garba, dandia and bhangra are great exercise.

This is just a taste of some of the delicious festive foods you can enjoy. And how, with just a few changes, you can make your Diwali celebrations a little healthier. Happy Diwali.