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  • Writer's pictureshazia faisal

South Asian Diet 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.

Research findings indicate that South Asians face an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in comparison to the white population. This heightened susceptibility to metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular issues is linked to their increased body fat levels. For instance, South Asians tend to accumulate a disproportionate amount of visceral fat and exhibit higher levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This unique physiological profile contributes to greater insulin resistance among South Asians with similar BMI levels to other ethnicities. Alarmingly, predictions suggest that individuals of South Asian descent are 30-40% more prone to premature coronary heart disease-related deaths compared to the average UK population.


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).


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 challenge lies in excessive portion sizes, elevated intake of solid sugars through traditional sweets, and our cooking techniques, which together can transform the traditional diet into a catalyst for chronic ailments such as heart disease and various metabolic disorders.

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


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.


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!


Fried foods, such as samosas and ghee-laden curries, are calorically dense but often lack essential nutrients. It's advisable to limit the consumption of dishes that require deep frying. Consider substituting heavy cream and full-fat coconut milk with low-fat yogurt for a healthier alternative. While lentils or dhal are nutritious, aim to prepare them with reduced amounts of oil and salt to enhance their health benefits.

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.


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

Or you can download this practicle guide published by British Nutrition Foundation.


A sedentary lifestyle along with caloric dense food is a major contributing factor to developing CHD in the South Asian population. 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.


South Asians must prioritize dietary changes to address cholesterol concerns. Embracing enjoyable foods is essential for sustaining a healthy eating pattern, complemented by lifestyle adjustments such as regular physical activity.


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