CHENNAI: What is Pongal without its traditional taste? That was what Express asked several city diabetics. The answer in one voice was: a lot of ‘self control.’
While most middle-aged and elderly diabetics admitted that they took a teaspoon or two of yummy sakkarai pongal, despite their medical condition, a handful said they couldn’t recall the last time they had the yummyness wrapped in jaggery.
Now you may think that health- conscious families would prepare the sweet dish with artificial sweeteners but the truth is disappointing.
Lalitha R who tried the experiment last year, replacing jaggery with artificial sweetener, said, “My husband was quite excited because he hadn’t had sweet pongal in seven years.” But she sighed, “Once he tasted it, he politely told me he didn’t want anymore.” And neither did anyone else at home. The entire pot of sweet pongal went waste! Other parents and grandparents with diabetes were more skeptical about using artificial sweeteners in their food.
This is quite justified, according to wellness doctor Wasim Mohideen who says, “Regular use of artificial sweeteners over the years can increase carcinogens load in the body and lead to varied forms of cancer.”
So instead of opting for a jaggery substitute, opting for a rice alternative is the answer, suggests Chef Praveen Anand who is associated with one of the most highly rated South Indian specialty restaurants in Chennai.
Chef Praveen says, “Traditionally grown rice like Vijaya Ponni, Vella Ponni and Gutharaivaal arasi are known to have a much lower glycemic index as opposed to refined varieties.” For those who are willing to try taking rice out of the recipe altogether, he recommends replacing it with millets or oats.
However, it seems that most diabetics who are 50 or above don’t want to mess with tradition. They would rather use the recipe passed down by their parents and their grandparents, and watch the rest of the family feast on the treat.
Ramya Muniandi, an IT professional says, “Both my parents are diabetic, but I can’t remember a year when we didn’t make pongal the traditional way at home.”
She observed that the quantity had reduced from a three kg pressure-cooker full when she was little girl to about a half kg of sakkarai pongal planned for this weekend. But she smiles, “More than the eating, it’s about keeping the tradition alive and sharing the pongal with neighbours and friends.”