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Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of all Indian festivals. Every year, the day is celebrated on 14 January (mid-winter) with many traditional delicacies on the table; til laddu, laai, payesh, pongal, makara chaula, to name a few.
These food items are packed with healthy ingredients such as jaggery, sesame seeds, coconut, chickpeas and groundnuts. Upon their consumption, they are known to provide a lot of health benefits and also play a major role in disease and infection prevention, which are mainly active during the winter season.
In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of foods consumed during the Makar Sankranti. It will help you enjoy the festival in a healthy way and will also give you an idea of why they are preferred during this festival.
1. Til laddu
Makar Sankranti is incomplete without til laddu, also known as sesame seeds laddu or tilkut. It is a famous Maharashtrian dessert but is also famous in Bihar. The main ingredients in til laddu include sesame seeds, jaggery, peanuts and cardamon.
- Health benefits of sesame seeds: They are packed with bioactive compounds such as vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols and lignans. The antioxidant activities of sesame seeds may help prevent inflammation, risk of cancer, high glucose and high cholesterol levels in the body. Sesame seeds are also known to improve the infertility problems in men. 
- Health benefits of jaggery (gur): It is prepared by sugarcane juice and is considered the best alternative to sugar. This natural sweetener prevents damage to the lungs, lowers cholesterol, manages diabetes and helps with weight loss. Jaggery is also best known to produce heat in the body and improve blood flow, the reason why it is mainly consumed during winters. 
- Health benefits of peanuts: They are a good source of fibre, vitamin B, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, zinc and antioxidants like selenium, copper and manganese. The low glycemic index of peanuts is beneficial for diabetes management while the high content of vitamin E helps with preventing the risk of coronary heart disease. Also, folate in peanuts is considered good during pregnancy. 
- Health benefits of cardamom: A study says that cardamom has blood pressure lowering, anti-food poisoning, heart-function improving, anticancer, antibacterial and gastroprotective activities. In short, this ancient spice may help improve the overall health of a person. 
Makar Sankranti is also celebrated as Pongal in South India, especially in the Tamil Nadu. Pongal, the famous South Indian dish is usually made with newly harvested moong daal and rice along with spices like curry leaves, asafoetida (heeng), ginger, cumin seeds (jeera) and black pepper (golki).
- Health benefits of moong dal: Moong or mung bean sprouts are packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamin K, folate and vitamin C along with vital bioactive compounds such as polyphenols and peptides. It may help protect the liver from damage, boost immunity, lower cholesterol and manage blood glucose. 
- Health benefits of curry leaves: These Ayurvedic herbs are rich sources of carbazole alkaloids that help with treating piles, digestive disorders, oedema and body aches. They are also known for their antidiabetic and neuroprotective effects. When added to foods, they lift up the taste of the dishes along with providing multiple health benefits. 
- Health benefits of asafoetida: This spice is traditionally used in the treatment of whooping cough, stomach ache, flatulence, intestinal parasites, influenza, weak digestion, asthma and bronchitis. 
- Health benefits of ginger: The mighty ginger has been used for thousands of years in the treatment and prevention of diseases like arthritis, high blood pressure and colds along with many other inflammatory diseases. Gingerols, the main active compound in fresh gingers are responsible for large health benefits.
3. Patishapta Pitha
It is a famous Bengali cuisine prepared on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti. This mouth-watering dish is mainly prepared by semolina (soojee), flour (maida), milk, cardamom, khoya and sweetener You can replace khoya with more milk, wheat flour with garbanzo bean flour or any legume flour and use jaggery or date-palm syrup as a sweetener.
- Health benefits of semolina: It is made of durum wheat, a hard variety of wheat. Semolina helps with weight management, digestive problems and is good for the heart due to the presence of vital nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, folate, vitamin B and magnesium.
- Health benefits of garbanzo wheat flour: Also known as chickpeas flour or besan, this wheat flour is high in vitamin B complex, fibre, magnesium, folate and potassium. Garbanzo wheat flour is regarded as heart-friendly. 
4. Makara Chaula
It is a famous traditional recipe of Odisha prepared by ingredients like cottage cheese (paneer), coconut, fresh fruits, newly harvested rice, sugarcane, ginger, sweet potato, jaggery and pepper.
- Health benefits of cottage cheese: It is a good source of calcium and can be tolerated by people with lactose-intolerance with any symptoms. Nutrients in cottage cheese may help in the prevention of osteoporosis and chronic non-communicable diseases such as stroke or asthma. 
- Health benefits of coconut: Coconut is beneficial for weight loss, boosting immunity and enhancing the memory. A study says that consumption of coconut can help in the prevention of heart diseases compared to groundnuts. 
5. Jaggery Payesh/Kheer
Jaggery payesh, commonly known as gur ki kheer, nolen gurer payesh or gur payasam is made with jaggery or date palm jaggery and newly harvested rice. This dish is a must-have on the occasion of Makar Sankranti and is loved by people all over India.
- Health benefits of date palm jaggery: This jaggery is prepared by date palm which is widely known for its effect on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Date palm jaggery is also an excellent source of energy and healthy nutrition due to the presence of polyphenols. 
Festivals are incomplete without delicacies. Every festival has a signature dish or dishes, maybe for a healthy reason so as to eliminate the flu, allergy or infections which are active during the season in which the festival falls. Indulge in the aforementioned healthy delicacies and get their nutritional benefits.
Happy Makar Sankranti!