How to improve your heart health if you have a South Asian diet

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK's single biggest killer. Although it can affect anyone, South Asian individuals are 50% more likely to die prematurely from CHD. Physiology Regional Lead Rebecca Scott explains how these diets can be improved.

Having a healthy diet and lifestyle is important in preventing and managing the risks of CHD. The key is to make realistic changes that you can sustain over a long period of time to have the biggest impact.

Small changes can go a long way to improving your health and can even be fun in the process – such as cooking more meals from scratch, taking up a new exercise routine, and making more time for yourself.

Best foods for heart health

Consider your portion sizes

For a typical mealtime, carbohydrates should consist of around 1/3 of your meal plate, or 1 cupped handful for women and 2 cupped handfuls for men.

Cut down on saturated fat

Eating less fat is recommended when trying to lose weight, as fat contains more calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates.

Here are some ways to cut down on fat:

  • Check food labels: For saturated fat, look for foods with 1.5g or less of saturates per 100g (if a product has 5g or more per 100g it is high in saturates) – current guidelines are no more than 30g saturated fats for men and 20g for women per day
  • Avoiding using ghee, butter, coconut or palm oil in cooking: Or reduce the amount used in cooking
  • Avoid adding ghee or butter to chapatti dough and cooked dhal: And avoid spreading fat on cooked chapatis
  • Skim off any oil that settles on top of foods: Such as home-cooked curry
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat such as chicken or turkey breast: Cut off any visible fat on chicken legs or cuts of lamb.

Introduce healthy fats 

Eating healthy fats two or three times per week may help to lower the risk of cholesterol and heart disease.

Here are some examples of healthy fats.

  • Oily fish e.g. mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna, sardines and anchovies
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds (30g per portion)
  • Avocado (1/2 avocado per portion)
  • Olive oil (1 tsp per portion).

Eat high-fibre foods

Many traditional South Asian dishes have healthy elements such as pulses and wholegrain carbohydrates.

These foods are high in fibre and protein, which is beneficial for lowering cholesterol:

  • Beans (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, cannellini beans etc.)
  • Lentils (e.g. red, green, puy or yellow split lentils)
  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrain carbohydrates such as medium or wholegrain flour, millet or gram flour
  • Brown rice (basmati also has high fibre content compared to short grain white rice or Arborio risotto rice)
  • Wholegrain, rye, granary bread
  • Oats
  • Pearl barley.

Healthy food swaps

Here are some simple switches you can make.

Starchy foods

  • Swap fried potatoes for plain boiled potatoes
  • Swap biryani for plain boiled basmati rice
  • Swap paratha/puri for chapatti or pitta bread.


  • Swap dahl with ghee for dahl with minimal butter/ghee
  • Swap paneer for tofu or soya chunks
  • Swap butter chicken for grilled chicken tikka/tandoori
  • Swap lamb/beef keema for lean lamb saag.


  • Swap whole milk for skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
  • Swap raita for low fat raita
  • Swap kulfi for low fat yoghurt desserts.

Healthy cooking methods

Choosing healthier cooking methods can also count towards lowering fat intake, which is beneficial for weight loss and lowering cholesterol.

Some examples of healthy cooking methods include:

  • Microwaving, steaming, poaching, baking, boiling or grilling instead of frying and deep frying
  • Limit oil to one teaspoon per person when making curries
  • Add water or tinned tomatoes to stop food sticking to the pan
  • Double the amount of onions you use for sauces to increase the moisture content
  • Use smaller portions of meat and add extra vegetables and pulses such as peas, beans and lentils
  • Invest in a good quality non-stick frying pan and use it to start your tarka or vagar
  • Brown your meat in a non-stick pan, drain excess fat and then add the tarka if necessary.

Taking small steps towards these changes is the best way to keep them as habits for life. Getting support from friends and family is also key, so make sure your loved ones are on board with making healthier choices too. Share this article with your friends and family and start making new healthy eating habits today.

Last updated Tuesday 28 March 2023

First published on Friday 16 December 2022