Indian Vegan Cuisine

Savannah Helm

By: Alicia Jerome MS, RDN

Indian Americans, or Indo-Americans, make up about 4.5 million of the U.S. population, according to Madhu Gadia, MS, RDN, CDCES, and author of The Indian Vegan Kitchen and New Indian Home Cooking. More specifically, they could be your next patient or client as they are genetically prone to diabetes and heart disease.

When asked, “What do Indian RDNs wish the rest of the dietetic profession would do or know differently?” Gadia provided these fascinating ideas:

  1. Most Indians do not own curry powder. You will have to read one of Madhu’s books to learn the whole story on this one.
  2. Family is very important and most meals are eaten together. Ask your Indo-American clients how often they socialize and share meals with friends and family.
  3. Eating and serving hot (temperature, not spice) meals is valued as part of taking care of yourself and family. Cold meals are very rare.
  4. Spices and herbs are huge in Indian cooking.
  5. Beans, legumes, and pulses are part of the Indian diet starting from babies and are used in 100s of dishes that are naturally gluten free and high in protein.
  6. The daily bread, called roti or chappati is made with whole wheat flour and is low in fat and sodium.

Imagine if you had an Indo-American client acquire your services, and as you inquire about their eating patterns, you realize that you have no idea what kind of foods are being discussed as part of their daily food intake. Take it a step further, and consider how overwhelming it would be for your client if they also had no idea what kinds of foods you are prescribing. Would they leave feeling like they had the tools they needed to lower their blood glucose? Or, would they write off the time because there was no understanding and connection with you?

Let’s say that you do have an elementary understanding of Indian vegan foods. Would that basic understanding apply to every Indo-American client you have? The answer is no. Just like in other cultures, there are many nuances, cultural or geographic specificities, family traditions, and personal preferences to consider.

Gadia also comments that 40% or more of Indo-Americans tend to be vegetarian but that Indian vegetarian typically means lacto-vegeterian. A subtle point that could make a big difference in the number of options you offer. However, here’s another caveat. The majority of Indian vegetarian dishes prepared at home are naturally vegan because dairy is served as the side dish. This is a helpful semantic when meal planning.

We’ve only skimmed the surface, but choosing to increase your cultural competence in Indian and vegan foods will not only increase your knowledge base but also your marketability and ability to better care for your clients.


Madhu Gadia, MS, RDN, CDCES,  is an expert on Indian Cuisine. Her expertise lies in home-style, healthy, and authentic Indian cooking. She has 25-plus years of experience as a nutrition counselor, diabetes educator, writer, and speaker.

See her cooking videos on her website. 

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