• Rouf says you can still eat sweet treats during Diwali. But if you're trying to be healthy, just moderate your portion sizes. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)
Diwali can be joyous, treat-filled and healthy at the same time. You just have to be mindful of a few essential health tips while you celebrate.
By
Yasmin Noone

6 Nov 2018 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2018 - 11:08 AM

The Festival of Lights, Diwali, is a time of celebration, family gatherings, decadence and parties.

It’s also a time for millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains throughout the world to feast on delicious savoury treats and cultural sweets, from dishes like rashmalai and halwa, to gulab jamun and ladoo.

“Diwali is all about celebrating,” spokesperson for Dietitians Association of Australia, Anika Rouf explains. “People typically start off with a prayer – an offering of food – and then feast as a family. After that, families might go out and give food to others, mostly sweets.

“When you celebrate, you may end up eating constantly, all day, as you visit several family and friends. What you consume can easily add up to many more calories than you'd usually consume in your daily routine.” This is important if you have a medical condition that requires you to watch what you eat or if you’re working towards a health goal that involves weight loss.

“Diwali can disturb your diet but it all depends on how much you engage in feasting, whether you buy highly processed food that’s ready-made from a shop or you make it at home yourself, and how many sweets you eat.”

Rouf says the good news is that Diwali can be joyous and healthy at the same time. You just have to be mindful of a few essential health tips while you celebrate.

“Diwali can disturb your diet but it all depends on how much you engage in feasting, whether you buy highly processed food that’s ready-made from a shop or you make it at home yourself, and how many sweets you eat.”

This shop sells $100,000 worth of sweets in the weekend rush before Diwali
From deliveries to students far from home to gifts from businesses to their employees, hundreds of thousands of boxes of Indian sweets will be given - and eaten - over the next two weeks.

Nishi Sidhu is a British-Indian woman, who currently lives in London, and celebrates Diwali every year. Sidhu explains that her family aims to eat healthy all year round. That’s why it’s essential to maintain healthy eating practices at Diwali and ensure celebrations remain as nutritionally balanced as possible.

“The food we used to eat at Diwali was home-made or bought [from a shop] and included lots of fried foods, like samosas and curry made with of lots of oil. But the only thing we make and fry at home now is pakoras – which is a ritual on Diwali.

“Our healthy way of cooking is to add very little oil at the start of making a curry. Then, when the curry starts sticking, we add water instead of adding more oil. We also consciously add less salt to our food. Even my parents have started doing that.”

Diwali recipes
Mark the Hindu Festival of Lights with plenty of colour on your plate, from fragrant Bengali fish cakes and chickpea masala to plenty of sugar-soaked sweets.

Sidhu says her family occasionally buys samosas from the shop but almost everything else they eat on Diwali is cooked at home. They pre-marinate proteins – lamb and chicken – themselves as well. “We then put the meat in the oven to cook and serve it with naan bread, salad and raita (yoghurt). We also make saag (spinach) at home but it is a healthy version, because we add lots of greens to it (broccoli, greens, spinach and methi leaves).

“We also opt for some English shop-bought desserts rather than any traditional Indian sweets.”

Size does matter

Rouf says you  can stick to eating traditional sweets as you like, especially if specific cultural treats hold a deep meaning or are religiously significant. But if you're trying to maintain a healthy diet during the celebration, just be aware of the portion sizes you're consuming.

“If someone wants to try eating a bit of everything, then it would be good to have small portions,” Rouf says. “Cut up the deserts and share them with other people. If you prefer to enjoy one particular sweet that you love, then skip the others.

“It’s also important to be mindful of what you eat when you are with family and friends, catching up, as it’s easy to get carried away [talking] and forget what you are eating.”

But at the end of the day, if you do go overboard eating on Diwali, don’t beat yourself up.

“It’s just one celebration in the year. If you overdo it, consider incorporating more physical activity and exercise on the same day or over the following days.”

Chickpea flour sweets (besan ladoo)

These spherical sweet are made with chickpea flour (besan), usually In celebration of a holiday like Diwali.

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Enjoy a traditional “Diwali” feast – Hinduism’s most celebrated festival – with recipes from a South-African-Indian kitchen.
Coconut-chocolate balls (ladoos)

This recipe is of Indian origin and gives traditional ladoos a modern twist. Traditionally, condensed milk and chocolate buttons are not used to make ladoos. The present recipe is an easy version for the busy housewife or novice in the kitchen. Ladoos are very popular during the Diwali Festival of Lights, which occurs between mid-October and mid-November.