PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Tips to Make a Traditional South Asian Diet Healthier

Posted on Nov 4, 2011

Sugar is the building block of carbohydrates. Since rice and grains are a rich source of carbohydrates, they are also a rich source of sugar.

White rice and breads are staple foods in the traditional South Asian diet, and eating uncontrolled portions often contributes to weight gain and associated health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that affect South Asians.

Eating healthier varieties of carbohydrates can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes by lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and blood clots. To make a traditional South Asian diet healthier, follow these tips:

  • Eat less “refined grains.” These are grains that have been processed and modified from their natural form. Often they have lost nutritional value along the way. These include white rice and white flour, as well as items made with white rice or white rice flour, such as idli or dosa.
  • Don’t rinse your grains. If you do need to eat white rice occasionally, do not rinse your grains. Rinsing removes the enriched vitamins. Some people think rinsing rice removes the bad starch, but this is not true.
  • Eat fewer starches that have been fried or prepared with generous amounts of oil. These include vada, samosa, paratha, sev, pakora, plantain chips, namkeen or chevda mix, puri, kachori, motichoor and laddu/ladoo.
  • Limit your consumption of starches that have been prepared with generous amounts of sugar. These include halwa, gulabjammun, cookies, cake, puddings, jalebi, pheerni, burfi, ras malai and imarti.
  • Drink fewer sugary beverages, such as juice, soda, sweet lassi, sweet tea or coffee. Coconut water (juice from a young coconut) is highly nutritious but high in sugar, too.
  • When you can, substitute white rice in a meal with a healthier alternative such as cracked wheat, whole wheat couscous, barley, quinoa, millet or amaranth.
  • Eat more whole grain products that are refined (made from flours) but nutritious. Examples include whole wheat chapatti or roti, besan pancakes, whole wheat bread or pasta, whole grain crackers.
  • Consume more unrefined (healthy) grains. Examples include brown and wild rice, steel cut or rolled oats, whole wheat or rye bread, barley, corn, peas, beans, and yams and potatoes with their skin on.
  • Have fruit as a dessert and snack every day. Small-sized fruit the size of a tennis ball or about four ounces total weight is ideal.
  • Make low-sugar versions of favorite recipes using sugar substitutes.
  • Eat generous portions of nonstarchy vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, peppers/capsicum, greens, broccoli, carrots, celery, summer squash (thin-skinned), tomatoes, onion, cabbage and karela.

More South Asian Health resources are available on the PAMF website.