Health and Wellness
By Anu Kaur

How to Eat and Live for a Healthier Heart

You know what I love about South Asian food? It is good for your body. Turmeric, dals (lentils), sabzis (vegetables) and yogurt are all foods that are healthy. The typical thaali (a South Asian meal offering a selection of small dishes, usually in a round tray), which consists of two rotis, ½ cup of dal, 1 cup of non-starchy vegetables, ½ cup of yogurt and ½ to 1 cup of salad is the perfect example of a well-balanced meal. But then why do so many of us have high cholesterol or have a family history of heart disease?

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

- High Blood Pressure

- Smoking

- Physical Inactivity

- Dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol levels)

- Diabetes - Peripheral Insulin Insensitivity

- Increased Body Fat (Especially upper body waist obesity)

High cholesterol or heart disease could have something to do with how snug your jeans feel around your tummy. Or, it could be the fact that you are too tired to exercise after work, taking care of the kids or any of the things for which you are now responsible as an adult. It could be your blood pressure rising as you get stressed out about the traffic, work deadlines or the many small annoyances that trigger stress. Perhaps it could be abnormal cholesterol levels of which you are unaware because you haven’t gone for your physical in a while. It could even be a family history of diabetes and your current lifestyle that makes you a bit more prone to heart disease.

All or any one of these risk factors are little red flags to remind us to check that our daily habits align with our desire to be healthy.

Daily eating, exercising and stress management habits determine how healthy our heart will be. Lifestyle is a powerful tool. Many of us with busy lives just do not prioritize food or exercise. It is the first thing to give if we have a lot to accomplish that day. Exercise helps you not only lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but also can improve cholesterol levels and arterial wall damage. The best part? Exercise is also a stress reliever.

So what does it take to live healthier while eating food you like? Acknowledging our personal pitfalls can be a great start.

Common Pitfalls
Yes, many South Asians love to celebrate with food. If you just celebrated Diwali, you might have been eating mithai (sweets) or snacks like puri-aloo (fried bread with potato) or kachori-chole (stuffed fried bread with spicy chickpeas). Perhaps your host served American cuisine, and you ate cheese and crackers and breaded shrimp. The fact is we often associate socializing with “special occasion foods,” which in most cases are high in saturated fat.

Food indulgence may eventually lead to cholesterol-lowering medications, symptoms such as fatigue and chest pain and really just not feeling well enough to do all the things you used to enjoy doing. It may not happen today or tomorrow but eventually it can catch up with you.

Anu is the owner and president of “A Nu Healthy You,” a nutrition private practice in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. She is a health practitioner of Integrative Medical Nutrition Therapy and specializes in women’s health in the South Asian community.

Anu is also the recipient of the 2009 Emerging Dietetic Leadership Award presented by the American Dietetic Association. Visit to find out more about her integrative approach, read her blog and sign up for her free newsletter featuring upcoming workshops for newlyweds and new moms as well as information about her wellness packages.

Know Your Numbers
Cholesterol Awareness

Triglycerides – less than 150 mg/dL
Total Cholesterol – less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (Bad Cholesterol) – less than 100mg/dL
HDL (Good Cholesterol) – greater than
For Men > 40 mg/dl
For Women > 50 mg/dl

Many of us also eat or exercise differently on the weekends and weekdays. Weekends are when the parties happen and our portions tend to expand. Unhealthy eating habits might not just be about what you are eating but how much and how often you are eating.

The most effective way to manage your cholesterol from a dietary standpoint is to lower your saturated fat intake and increase your fiber intake. You should eat foods like meat and full-fat dairy products in moderation. Tasty healthy foods can make a difference in lowering your LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. The HDL (good cholesterol) has a protective effect on your arteries and you should try to eat more fruits and vegetables every day to increase your HDL.

Here are some tips for ensuring that your diet is heart healthy:

- Focus on nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, vegetables and fruits.

- Moderate amounts of nuts and non- or low-fat dairy products.

- Eat 3-4 ounces of fish twice a week.

- Exercise 30-60 minutes each day.

- Be moderate and balanced in your eating habits and enjoy your food.

The secret to eating heart healthy is to make gradual changes and try adding more of your favorite fish, fruits and vegetables. Relinquish the “feast or famine” mentality and see how eating moderately at parties and on the weekend makes you feel. Heart healthy eating does not need to be all or nothing. Small steps can eventually lead to big results!

Try Eating These Foods
- Oily fish like salmon or tuna
- Gobi (cauliflower)
- Bhand Gobi (cabbage)
- Saag (spinach)
- Rajma (kidney beans)
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts like walnuts, almonds
- Broccoli
- Cherries
- Bananas
- Melon
- Mangos
- Papaya
- Lychees
- Or any five servings of your favorite fruits or vegetables

Limit These Foods
- Any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Butter or ghee (clarified butter)
- Red meat (mutton, lamb and beef) or dark chicken meat
- Rasmalai (milk-based dessert with cheese patty)
- Kulfi (Indian ice cream)
- Paneer (farmer’s cheese)
- Mithai (Indian sweets)
- Chai with whole milk
- Butter chicken or other cream-based dishes
- Fried Foods such as pakore (fried vegetables in gram flour), samosa (fried potatoes and peas in a pastry shell)
- Kofte (fried Vegetable dish)


Anu Kaur is a registered dietitian and certified wellness coach with a B.S. in psychology and minor in biology and M.S. in dietetics/nutrition. Visit for more information.