One of the life-style changes made by Asian Indian immigrants in the US relates to food intake and this has many health implications. Savory and sweet snack foods have always been an indispensable part of the Indian cuisine. There always was chevda, sev and various saltines (namkins) whipped out of the pantry in a quick minute to be served and shared with a cup of tea or coffee even for the unexpected guest.
Snacking however has assumed an even more important role in the Indian immigrant household due to lifestyle constraints like the working homemaker, lack of time for food preparation, (secondary to long commutes to work, multiple tasks, and responsibilities) the absence of social support systems for child care and the ready availability of ready to eat snack foods that may not necessarily be healthy.
Most vegetarian snack items are either made with cereals like rice, rice flour, semolina (sooji), refined wheat flour (maida) or whole wheat flour (atta) and legume flours like chick pea flour (besan), moong flour either in combination or alone. Some snack items may contain nuts, vegetables, spices, salt, oil, ghee and or sugar.
Based on the method of preparation snacks may be:
Savory and salted snacks that are not deep-fried, for example: Uppuma, Pav Bhaji
Savory and salted items that are deep fat fried, for example: Samosa, Pakoras, Bhujias, and Murruku (deep-fried, crunchy spirals).
Savory and salted items that contain a combination of deep-fried and raw ingredients, for example: Bhel puri, Dahi wada, Pani puri and Chaats.
Sweet snacks prepared and preserved in a sugar medium, for example: Rasagolla, Pumpkin petha.
Sweet snacks deep fat fried and preserved in sugar syrup, for example: Jilebi, Gulab Jamun.
Non-vegetarian snacks baked, fried or grilled, for example: Chicken or mutton tikka, Egg pakoras, Fish fry, Shish kababs.
Vegetarian snack foods that are based on cereals or legumes are high in carbohydrates. The fat and calorie content is high as well, due to many of the items being either fried or containing oils, ghee or butter. While the salt content of the savory snacks may be high the sweet snacks tend to have even higher amounts of carbohydrate due to the sugar content. When served in combination a savory item with a sweet snack, – the mini meal may have the calories, fats and carbohydrates to be safely considered a meal replacement.
Non vegetarian snack items though considerably lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein are nevertheless calorie rich due to the fats they may contain (often saturated).
Traditionally savory snacks are consumed between meals while sweet snacks may be consumed after dinner. A social visit by friends or family prompts the inclusion of snacks with a cup of coffee or tea and may be sweet, savory or both, for not only the guests but the hosts as well. Snacks feature prominently in holiday and special occasion menus.
A predominant number of Indians men and women are in the workforce, hence on weekdays the work force environment may permit the inclusion of a pre-lunch snack at work and a pre-dinner snack either before leaving the workplace or upon arrival at home. Lack of time for food and snack preparation may influence the inclusion of ready to eat snacks in the diets of this population. Store-made, ready-to-eat snacks while being available on time to appease hunger may offer very little room for manipulation of the actual nutrients and calories ingested. Weekend snacking provides an opportunity to consume more traditional Indian snack items both at home and /or social gatherings. It is customary to serve snacks as appetizers in restaurants and homes.
The challenge of selecting and consuming healthy snacks though daunting is achievable even for the diabetes seeking glycemic control and weight management.