South Asian diets and Cholesterol

South Asian represent around 20-25% of the world population, and metabolic diseases like heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity are major health concerns.
Studies have shown that South asians are at increased of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases compared to the white population. Metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk in South Asians is also heightened by their higher body fat. South Asians, as an example, store a disproportionate amount of visceral fat and have higher levels of low- density lipoprotein cholesterol. Due to higher amounts of visceral fat, South Asians present with greater insulin resistance when compared to other ethnicities with the same BMI. It has been predicted that people of South Asian descent are 30-40% more likely to die prematurely from CHD compared to the average UK population.

What is cholesterol, and which one is good for our health?

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that helps your body make cell membranes, many hormones, and vitamin D. The cholesterol in our blood comes from two sources: the foods we eat and our liver. The Liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, there are two main types of cholesterol: low density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol and high density lipoprotein or good quality cholesterol. Not only high dietary fat intake increase cholesterol levels but, excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates is associated with higher levels of triglycerides ( a form of fat in our body that stores excess energy from the food of a person)

South Asian diet

The traditional South Asian diet can actually be very healthy. There are so many healthy traditional ingredients, such as an array of spices like ginger and garlic, the dhals, chana, moong, rice, wholemeal atta, chana atta, jowar or millett or bajra atta, loads of delicious vegetables such as bhindi and brinjal and exotic fruits like papaya and mango. So it’s possible to eat really healthily.

The problem is eating too much in terms of portion size, higher consumption of solid sugar in the form of traditional sweets and our cooking methods can make the traditional diet a recipe for chronic diseases like heart disease and other metabolic disorders.

You don’t have to give up your traditional foods…just small changes can make a big difference.

Add healthy fats:

Saturated fats like ghee and butter are unhealthy so replace them with unsaturated fats like vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. But remember, All types of fat contain the same amount of calories, so switching from one type to another will not help you lose weight. Only reducing the total amount of fat you eat can do that.

Limit salt intake

Avoid salty foods like pickles, salted nuts and crisps. Don’t add salt when at the table, and cut down the amount added during cooking. Remember that the maximum recommendation is 6g of salt per person per day, which is just a teaspoon’s worth!

Eat less energy- dense foods

Fried foods are energy dense with fewer nutrients, like samosas, curries made with ghee. Restrict dishes that involve deep frying. Replace heavy cream and full fat coconut milk with low fat yoghurt. Lentils or dhal are very healthy but try to make them with less oil and salt.

Traditionally any occasion in south Asian communities is incomplete with sweets or mithai. Also, it is customary to sweeten the mouth after every meal, joyous occasions, religious festivals and social gatherings. Try to limit desserts to special occasions, and avoid juices and sugary beverages, as they contain empty calories.

Be Portion size -wise

Try to use measuring cups/spoons for cooking for accurate measurements. Since food in south Asian community is a gesture of hospitality, it may be hard to refuse. To avoid feeling overly full, aim for 75% fullness.

For more information about portion size, visit or you can download this practicle guide published by British Nutrition Foundation.

Get more active

A sedentaory lifestyle along with caloric dense food is a major contributing factor for developing CHD in south Asian population. Especially, south Asian women are less physically active as they may be reluctant to attend a mixed sex gym or other cultural barriers. Walking or single sex classes can be helpful. Breaking activities into manageable chunks (of 10 minutes or more) can make it much easier to achieve your target of at least 150 minutes a week.

It is Time to get serious.

South Asians will need to get serious about incorporating changes into their diets. People should enjoy food, and only then a good healthy eating pattern can be sustainable. Recipe makeovers with unsaturated oils/fats, also using nut butter can give a very creamy consistency to the traditional food. Lifestyle modifications like physical activity can also play an important role.


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