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Satya S. Jonnalagadda, PhD, RD, LD
is an Associate Professor 
at the Department of Nutrition, 
Georgia State University, Atlanta
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Health Risks of Asian Indian Immigrants in the US:

Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations

BY SATYA JONNALAGADDA

Do Asian Indians have higher risks of heart disease? Studies have shown this to be true! If you or your ancestors originated from South Asia, you are more likely to suffer from heart attack or stroke  than any other ethnic group in the world.

Asian Indians immigrants in the U.S. experience high rates of cardiovascular disease (heart disease), hypertension (high blood pressure), insulin resistance, diabetes (high blood sugar levels) and osteoporosis (brittle bones). Additionally, unlike their Western counterparts, Asian Indians have lower risk tolerance for the above mentioned diseases. 

Here are the facts to prove the point. For example, among Caucasians a Body Mass Index (BMI = weight (kg)/ height (m) 2) of 21 is considered normal weight, whereas for Asian Indians a BMI in > 21 is considered a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes. Although, genetic predisposition plays a role in disease development, lifestyle practices such as diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking, have a major impact on individuals’ risk of disease. 

Among Asian Indians immigrants, factors such as changing dietary habits from vegetarian to non-vegetarian, changing meal patterns, increased frequency of food consumption, increased use of fast and convenient foods, replacement of traditional foods with high-fat Western foods, have resulted in moving from a low-fat, high complex carbohydrate to a high-fat, low-complex carbohydrate diets. These dietary practices, combined with physical inactivity, contribute to weight gain and risk of above mentioned chronic diseases.

How do we prevent these diseases? What can we do to reduce our health risks? Here are a few practical tips for modifying your health risks to prevent chronic diseases.

  •  Try to consume a minimum of three meals a day. It’s not a good idea to skip your meals, since one tends to overeat at the next meal. 
    a. For some individuals small meals (6 meals) more frequently (every 2-3 hours) maybe appropriate.
    b. Avoid eating too late at night. 

  •  You should avoid highly processed and refined foods. Instead stick to whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean white meats and fish, legumes, beans, nuts and low-fat dairy products. 

  •  You should eat a variety of whole grain cereal products at least 6 servings every day.
    a. 1 serving = 1 whole wheat roti (6” diameter), ˝ naan, ˝ cooked rice, 1 slice of whole wheat bread, etc.

  •  Include a variety of fruits and vegetables at least 5 servings/day in your diet.
    a. 1 serving of fruit = 1 medium banana, or 1 medium apple, or ˝ mango, etc.
    b. 1 serving of vegetable = ˝ cup cooked vegetables such as okra, green beans, eggplant, etc. 

  •  Eat whole or split beans, dals, or lean white meats at least 2 servings/day.
    a. 1 serving = 3 oz chicken, ˝ cup beans, 1 ˝ cup dal, etc. 

  •  Always use fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) dairy products at least 2 servings/day.
    a. 1 serving = 1 cup milk, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup yogurt, etc. 

  • For cooking, use liquid oils such as canola oil, safflower or olive oil; but you should limit the quantity. Try to cook your food in minimum oil.

  • Limit/avoid consuming fried foods, butter, ghee, coconut oil, sugar and sweets.

  •  You must limit/check your intake of salt, flavor foods with spices, lemon, herbs etc. 

  • Exercise is very important to be healthy and fit. You should exercise for at least 30 minutes everyday. Your activities may include: 
    a. Brisk walking, tread milling, stationary biking, yoga, etc.
    b. Always check with your physician before starting an exercise regime.

  •  Try consuming alcohol in moderation (less than 2 drinks/day).

  •  Avoid and/or quit smoking.

  •  Stress can play havoc on your health. We do live stressful lives. If you can’t avoid stress, the least we can do is to minimize it.

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