Bad diet habits of Indians: what do we need to eat less of?

India is often called the ‘world capital’ of diabetes and lifestyle diseases and Indian diet patterns has specific risks associated with these diseases. So, what bad diet habits to change and diet restrictions to make, in order to avoid these diseases?

Cholesterol and fat?

Most of us would go with this answer! However this answer is not unconditionally true. You may need to reduce your fat intake, but only if you are consuming too much oil (check out ‘Family oil use calculator’ to find out)

If your fat consumption on average is not high, reducing the amount of oil further is unlikely to give drastic benefits, on the other hand too much restriction can actually result in deficiency of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. In addition,  and you may end up eating too many unhealthy carbs!

When it comes to cholesterol: the most important dietary input leading to high blood cholesterol is not the cholesterol in your diet but other bad fats and bad carbs

Bad fats?

This one is unconditionally true!

But which is the worst type of fat? The Trans Fatty Acids (Trans fats) are the most harmful fats for your heart. Trans fats are not found in natural foodstuff in any great amount, but found in high quantity in namkeens, snacks, sweets etc. You must check the food label information when buying these products . If it does not clearly state no trans fat, dump it! Also when buying table margarine or vanaspati, make sure that they do not have trans fats

Next culprit is SFAs or ‘Saturated Fatty Acids’. It is found abundantly in animal fats including that in meat, poultry, egg, full fat milk and milk products. There is a debate raging on the potential harmful effects of SFAs on heart; some say they are harmless and some say they are not. But the weight of evidence is clearly in favor of reducing SFA intake in diet; all major dietary guidelines in the world say that their intake should be less than 10% of total calories

Dietary cholesterol is lower in hierarchy of badness than these two! Dietary cholesterol is only found in food of animal origin; all plant origin oils are zero cholesterol, but some such as coconut oil is full of SFA. On the other hand,  eggs and shrimps although full of other dietary benefits have disproportionately higher cholesterol levels. This means that you should definitely avoid cooking in coconut oil, but before you give up eggs or shrimp, carefully analyze the trade-off. If you do not have high blood cholesterol levels the balance is tilted towards consuming these in moderation rather than banishing them from your diet!

There is another raging debate in use of oils, which concerns the use of PUFA (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids) rich oils such as sunflower and safflower oils. The consensus is that they should not be the only oil you use for cooking and avoid using them at very high temperatures, where they give out smoke and reusing them for repeated deep frying

The Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids are the friendliest oils and therein lies part of the glory of olive oil, which is a MUFA rich oil

Read all about good and bad fats and PUFAs including omega 3 fats

Bad Carbs?

‘Bad’ carbohydrates have become the focus of nutritionists world over, but for Indians, they are the enemy number one! These include simple or added sugars and highly processed carbs such as milled rice, dehusked wheat flour (maida) present in breads etc.

Studies have revealed that eating (or drinking) too much of ‘bad carbs’ not only leads to weight gain and insulin resistance but also raises your risk of heart disease/CHD

In Indian context, carbohydrates, and especially bad carbs are arguably a bigger concern, since we eat carb heavy diet, because of ‘roti/rice+dal’ based meals, and consume sugar, jaggery etc. with abandon

This along with the fact, that, Indians have higher risk of diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome than Caucasians, and therefore need to reduce the mount of carbohydrates, especially added sugars and milled rice, means we should aim to:

  • Make at least half of your grain intake whole grain and their products; especially heavy rice eaters need to shift the intake to more of whole wheat breads, brown rice or at least parboiled rice
  • Keep the intake of added sugars less than 10% of total calorie intake, by eating less of sugar, sweets, sweetened tea/coffee, cold drinks etc.


Too high salt intake can give you high blood pressure, therefore experts recommend to keep your intake of salt less than one tablespoon per day (less than 2300 mg of sodium)

A world of caution: iodized salt is nearly the only source of Iodine in our diet, therefore restricting salt in dishes cooked at home can be counterproductive and give rise to iodine deficiency, especially in the ‘at risk’ group: children and women of childbearing age

Your usual home cooked meal is unlikely to give you an overload of salt, but pickles, papad, ‘ready to eat’ food such as Knorr/Maggi soups, namkeens etc. would.

Also read:  what to eat more of

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet