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 prevent you putting on weight and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Dr Justin Zaman, consultant cardiologist at James Paget University Hospital in Norfolk and trustee at the South Asian Health Foundation, 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 small amounts of rapeseed oil or olive oil as alternatives to ghee in cooking.
Here are Dr Zaman's top tips on eating a healthier diet:
1. Eat less sugary food
Cut down on sweets, cakes, syrupy desserts and sweet drinks. For desserts or snacks try yoghurt, fruit or nuts (such as unsalted walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds), and try drinking water or unsweetened tea.
2. Eat less processed food
This includes foods such as sausages, cakes, biscuits, burgers and fast food. These can be high in fat and salt.
3. Eat less salt
Too much salt can cause raised blood pressure. High blood pressure usually has no obvious 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. 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.
4. Eat less saturated fat
Saturated fat is found in butter, ghee, full-fat milk and other dairy products, 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 blood, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by:
- trimming the fat off meat
- taking the skin off chicken
- using semi-skimmed milk, 1% fat or skimmed milk
- using low-fat yoghurt and reduced-fat cheese
- eating smaller amounts 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.
5. Eat less fried food
Foods that have been deep-fried in oil or ghee, such as samosas, are high in fat. This can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and other health problems. Try steaming, baking, boiling or grilling food instead.
6. Eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day. Fresh, frozen, tinned (in water or their natural juice), dried or juiced all count. Read more about how to get your 5 A DAY, and find out what makes a portion.
7. Eat more starchy food
Starchy foods such as rice, bread, pasta, potatoes and yams should make up the main portion of a meal. Try to choose wholegrain (brown) versions instead of white versions, as they contain more fibre. Use wholegrain or wholemeal flour when you're cooking. Find out more about eating a balanced diet.
8. Eat more beans and pulses
Beans and pulses, including lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans, are low in fat and high in fibre, and an important part of any balanced diet. Avoid frying pulses.
To learn about eating pulses as part of a balanced vegetarian diet, read about vegetarian health.
9. Eat more oily fish
A healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. Oily fish is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to keep your heart healthy. Oily fish include mackerel, pilchards, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna. Find out more about fish and shellfish.
10. Make healthy swaps
When you're cooking or snacking, go for a healthier option. Swap ice cream for plain low-fat yoghurt, swap sweets for fruit, or have nuts instead of chocolate. Find out more about healthy food swaps.
Get some healthy south Asian recipes.
Article provided by NHS Choices