Restaurants that serve Padang food or Minang cuisine are available almost everywhere in Indonesia.
This shows that Minang cuisine, marked by its typical coconut milk, has a lot of fans. Even rendang has been and remains on the list of the most delicious foods in the world.
Born in the dramatic highlands and rugged coastlines of West Sumatra, Minang cuisine (or as it is more commonly known, Padang cuisine) is arguably the most popular food in Indonesia. Between its agreeably diverse repertoire and the Minang people’s own culture of merantau (migrating), its presence is felt on every corner of the archipelago with Singapore and Malaysia’s significant Minang emigres carving out a niche in our neighbour’s culinary legacy.
But many fuss over the health effects of such dishes cooked with coconut milk. It is feared that they have high bad cholesterol in the body, which will trigger heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. However, Prof. Dr Nur Indrawaty Lipoeto, MMedSci, Ph.D—a professor of nutrition at Andalas University—lets go of the worry. Based on her research, she asserts that Padang food is actually healthy. In her paper entitled “Healthy Life with Minang Food”, she explained that fear of coconut milk began with the theory of food and heart disease relations raised by an American nutritionist Keys and his friends in 1958.
According to Keys, the main cause of heart disease is saturated fat, stemming from animal fat, meat, eggs and coconut oil. Their research was on people who consumed saturated fat, whereas Europeans and Americans did not consume coconut. The levels of saturated fat and animals are different. “This theory is so well-known in Indonesia from the 70s until now that coconut oil has become the main scapegoat inducing heart disease in the country,” Indrawaty wrote.
She further elaborated that the theory generated a wide-ranging concern about consuming foods with coconut milk. Despite their yummy taste, many consume dishes of coconut milk with apprehension as they will increase cholesterol, which is unhealthy. However, Indrawaty’s research suggested different results. She showed saturated fatty acids in coconut have physical and chemical properties different from those found in animal fats.
In addition, Indrawaty said Minangnese’s consumption of coconut milk goes along with eating lots of spices, despite admitting that saturated fat has the potential to increase blood cholesterol levels. “The use of spices that seem useless is actually a very valuable local wisdom of our ancestors. The antioxidant activity of herbs and leaves, known as phytochemical components, has been recognised in many studies,” she wrote.
Nur Indrawaty Lipoeto has conducted research on Minang cuisine for years. She has written books and scientific papers about it, some of which have been published in international journals. When she was inaugurated as a professor at Andalas University in 2013, she presented the healthy secrets of Minang cuisine in her inaugural speech. She initiated and taught the “Minang Cuisine and Health Aspects” course, which is now officially taught at the university’s Faculty of Medicine.
When it comes to antioxidants, she described them as substances that neutralise oxidants, which are poisons in the human body. They are often called free radicals. Simply put, the antioxidants serve to kill toxins. “There are mostly herbs and fruits. The more colourful the vegetables and fruits (orange, dark purple and dark green), the more they possess antioxidants. Ginger, turmeric, and galangal are laden with antioxidants as well,” she explicated.
She added that antioxidants can prevent the oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), which is often called “bad cholesterol“. Oxidation of LDL is an important determinant in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries due to plaque formation. Also, antioxidants are instrumental in preventing cancer, arthritis, and cataracts and slowing down ageing.
For food, the use of antioxidants serves to prevent decay. It is a natural preservative that makes food last longer. That is why Minang dishes that are rich in spices like rendang can last longer. The use of these spices, according to Indrawaty, is closely related to the use of coconut. People who use a lot of coconut milk naturally also consume more spices than those who use less. She said curry dishes are much healthier than fried dishes. Curry contains a lot of water because it is processed from coconut milk, while fried dishes are 100 percent fat.
Minang curry sauce contains antioxidants coming from herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, galangal, and other ingredients. Minang cuisine is processed using lots of antioxidants derived from these spices and herbs. Unlike fried dishes, they rarely use spices rich in antioxidants and are synonymous with spicy spices. Apart from using various antioxidants in spices, Indrawaty reminded us that healthy Minang dishes use fresh ingredients in cooking. Food should not be heated many times as it will lose its nutrition if it is constantly heated.
Yet we cannot shun the fact that excessive consumption of Minang cuisine will have some detrimental effects on human health. Consuming Minang cuisine or Padang food excessively, especially the fat side dishes, will certainly make people gain weight. In addition, some spicy side dishes of Minang cuisine are among the most common causes of food-induced diarrhoea due to an irritated stomach thereby increasing stomach acid. Salt taste sensation in a number of side dishes of Padang food contributes to the potential risk of hypertension or high blood pressure and is a gate for other diseases such as heart, kidney, and stroke.
Maintaining a moderate diet consisting of healthy foods, in consultation with reliable nutritional and medical experts, is a must. Eating too much food, or eating unhealthy food, can be very dangerous to our bodily health.