South Asian cooking varies from country to country. As with all cooking, it can be made healthier without sacrificing taste.
The term ‘south Asian’ refers here to anyone of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Sri Lankan origin. Each of these communities has its own unique history and culture, but they all share some common health issues
Making a few changes to your ingredients or ways of cooking, such as reducing the amount of fat, salt and sugar you use, can make a big difference. This can help protect you against putting on weight and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Dr Justin Zaman, chair of the cardiovascular working group at the South Asian Health Foundation and cardiologist at University College London Hospitals, points out that how you prepare food can be as important as what you eat. “Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, for example, tend to eat lots of fish, and some Hindus are vegetarian,” he says. “These are healthy options, but often the fish or vegetables are fried in ghee, which makes them higher in fat. As a general rule, try to avoid using too much ghee in cooking and replace this with healthier cooking oils.”
Use rapeseed oil or olive oil as alternatives to ghee in cooking.
Here are Dr Zaman’s top tips on eating a healthier diet:
Eat less sugary food
Cut down on sweets, cakes, syrupy desserts and sweet drinks. For desserts or snacks try yoghurt, fruit or nuts, and try drinking fruit juice, water or unsweetened tea.
Eat less processed food
This includes foods such as sausages, cakes, biscuits, burgers and fast food. These can be high in fat and salt.
Eat less salt
Too much salt can cause raised blood pressure, which has no symptoms but can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Raised blood pressure isn’t more common among people from south Asian communities, but it is a serious health issue for everyone why not try here. Avoid adding salt to food when you’re cooking and try not to add it to food at the table. If you need to season food, use pepper and other spices.
Salt is often added to ready-made and processed foods, including bread, cereals and soup. Reading food labels (usually on the back of the packaging) can help you control how much salt you eat. Look at the figure for salt per 100g.
- A high salt content is more than 1.5g salt (or 0.6g sodium) per 100g.
- A low salt content is 0.3g salt (or 0.1g sodium) or less per 100g.
Eat less saturated fat
Saturated fat is found in butter, ghee, full-fat milk, fatty and processed meat such as kebabs or sausages, coconut and palm oil, biscuits, pastries and cakes. Too much saturated fat can:
- raise the level of cholesterol in the body, which is a risk factor for heart disease
- lead to weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and other health problems
Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming the fat off meat, taking the skin off chicken, using skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt, and avoiding foods that you know are high in fat. You can also read food labels to see whether a food is high or low in saturated fat.
High levels are more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g. Low levels are less than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g.
Eat small amounts of unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat. Unsaturated fat is found in oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable oils, and spreads made from these oils.
Eat less deep-fried food
Foods that have been deep-fried in oil or ghee, such as samosas, are high in saturated fat. Try steaming, baking, boiling or grilling food instead.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim for five portions a day. It doesn’t matter whether they are fresh, frozen, tinned (in water or their natural juice), juiced or dried. Read more about how to get your 5 A DAY.
Eat more starchy food
Starchy foods such as rice, bread, pasta, potatoes and yams should make up the main portion of a meal. Wholegrain (brown) versions are healthier than white versions. Use wholegrain or wholemeal flour when you’re cooking.
Eat more beans and pulses
Beans and pulses, including lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans, are low in fat and high in fibre. Avoid frying pulses. To learn about eating pulses as part of a balanced vegetarian diet, readVegetarian health.
Eat more oily fish
Oily fish include mackerel, pilchards, salmon and sardines.
Make healthy swaps
When you’re cooking or snacking, go for a healthy option. Swap ice cream for yoghurt, swap sweets for fruit, or have nuts instead of chocolate.