PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Tips to Make a Traditional South Asian Diet Healthier

Posted on Nov 4, 2011 | 10 comments

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.


Please note that we are unable to respond to personal medical questions through the comments feature below. For information about personalized health care, or if you need help in choosing a PAMF physician, please visit Becoming a PAMF Patient ( or call 1-888-398-5677. If you are a PAMF patient, you can email your doctor securely via our My Health Online program. Thank you


  1. happy 2 note keep it up

  2. Great tips.. for Vegetarian Southeast Asians.

    Most of your tips are around cutting down simple carbohydrates (like sugars, juices and refined flour) to complex carbohydrates (cracked wheat, oats). This is great, but one thing that a lot of Vegetarian Desis can benefit from is shift to higher protein diets, that are *not* milk based.
    Dal, Garbanzo beans, Red Kidney beans etc. are a great source, and should be consumed in higher quantity, esp. because lot of Vegetarian diets lack the higher quantity of proteins that most new healthy diets are shifting to.

  3. is there a detail diet help for low carbohydrate high protein vegeterian diet i do drink milk and eat yogurt cheese etc

    • Dear Smita,

      I don”t have specific references, but there are lots of online health websites and specific books on Amazon that are tailored for low carb vegetarians. Most certified nutritionists can help with this, as well.

      – Dr. Sinha

  4. Although we realise that low carb high protein diets are well suited for our today’s less active lifestyles compared to the ones our indian ancestors led, i do want to ask you how this kind of eating style solves the problem of vitamin d and calcium deficiencies raised by the high consumption of legumes/pulses, which are the primary sources of proteins for indian vegetarians ?

    • Hi Priya,

      Vitamin D is predominantly obtained through sunshine and diet cannot reverse significant vitamin D deficiency which is prevalent in South Asians. Dietary calcium can be obtained from healthy sources of dairy and plant-based foods.

      Dr. Ronesh (Ron) Sinha

  5. Dr. Sinha,
    Can you please shed more light on which cooking oils to be used. As a consumer, I am very confused as to which oil is healthy. We use Canola oil for frying etc and olive oil for sauteing. Also use mustard oil for some dishes. But lately, have heard negative reviews about Canola. So what is the alternative oil to use? Especially for frying.


    • Pallavi,

      When using oils, pick those that are heat stable and less likely to become oxidized at higher temperatures. Oxidized oils trigger inflammation which is linked to heart disease and chronic disease. Unfortunately, most vegetable oils, including canola are susceptible to this. Using organic butter, ghee, coconut oil and avocado oil are some good choices. Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be used for lower temperature stir-frying. I would limit deep-frying as much as possible regardless of which oil you choose.

      – Dr. Sinha

  6. We need help for our daughter whose UTI never goes away? She is always on Antibiotics.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Smita,

      This is a community blog and does not provide personalized medical advice. If you have a personal medical question, please contact your doctor directly to discuss the situation. Thank you for visiting our blog and best wishes.

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