urdumom south asian family

7 Unhealthy Habits in South Asian Families

As a South Asian, there are many things we are proud of: our cuisine, family values and traditions. Every South Asian conversation starts and ends with food. The running joke is that even if South Asians are planning a hike, food is at the top of the priority list! While that’s all great for fun and banter, it’s also important to talk about the unhealthy habits in South Asian families.

While many of us think that diabetes is something that impacts people of all ethnicity’s equally, in the Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines, people of South Asian decent are identified as one of the high-risk populations for developing type 2 diabetes [footnote 1]. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Canadians living with type 2 diabetes [footnote 2 , 3].  Incorporating type 2 diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy foods into your diet is an important part of managing your diabetes and reducing your risk of heart disease [footnote 4].
I’m listing seven unhealthy habits in South Asians here that may increase our risk of diabetes and heart troubles. I’m sure there are more, so please comment and share them here.

1. Lack of daily exercise

That walk pacing around the TV lounge doesn’t count dad!
Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, which can be broken down to at least 10 minutes at a time and resistance exercise at least twice a week. Why not make exercise a family routine? [footnote 5]

2. Skipping Breakfast

You’re in a hurry in the morning and rush out the door with just a cup of chai. When living with type 2 diabetes, it’s important to eat a simple, balanced meal for blood sugar control and weight loss [footnote 6].  Some great ideas for breakfast are: eggs, fresh fruit, whole-grain bread, and low-fat and low-sodium dairy such as milk, yogurt and cottage cheese [footnote 7].

3. Late night snacking

You might be up late to talk to family back in South Asia due to the time difference but enjoying late-night snacks on a regular basis is not good for your health! This can cause blood sugar spikes, a bad pattern if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes [footnote 8].
If you must have a late-night snack, go for healthier options such as carrots or almonds [footnote 9].

4. Not paying attention to carbs

Enjoying naan might be a guilty pleasure, but you have to be careful! Not all carbs are the same. The type and amount of carbs you eat is what matters [footnote 10].

There are many healthy carbs that are good for you [footnote 11]. Try focus on eating healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Whole grains, such as whole oats, quinoa, brown rice, are healthy and versatile. You can enjoy them in cereal, salad, soup, and stir-fry [footnote 12].

5. Shopping Without a List

You might be able to “wing” a lot of things in life, but don’t rely on this skill for grocery shopping!
Meal planning for the week can help with shopping and cooking at home [footnote 13].
In most grocery stores the fresh, perishable items – including produce (fruits and vegetables), protein and dairy – are found in the aisles around the outside of the store. Try to stock up on mostly fresh foods. Then head to the centre aisles for healthy staples like frozen fruits and vegetables, canned or dry beans, and whole grains [footnote 14].

6. Buttering up!

No, I don’t mean the social buttering but the one omnipresent in a South Asian kitchen for cooking. Use olive and/or canola oils instead of butter in cooking and salads [footnote 15]. However, be mindful of portion size. Even healthy fats should be consumed in moderation [footnote 16].

7. Inconsistent Sleep

Getting adequate amounts of sleep has shown to allow the body’s blood pressure to regulate itself and lower risk of heart disease [footnote 17]. So, switch off those Pakistani dramas and get some quality sleep!

urdumom south asian family

There’s no single way to eat right. But it is important to stick to recommended portion sizes in order to maintain a healthy calorie intake. Fill half your plate with vegetables, such as dark, leafy greens and split the other half between a protein and healthy carbohydrates [footnote 18].

I’m super excited collaborate with cart2table.ca to present a healthier version of a well-loved Pakistani Seekh Kebab recipe. I learnt this from my mother-in-law and I hope you will enjoy this recipe as much as our family has.

You can enjoy these Seekh Kebab with brown rice, raita (yogurt with a pinch of salt and some chopped coriander) and a hearty salad of dark, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, arugula, collard greens that are low in calories and carbohydrates but high in vitamins and minerals [footnote 19].

Do checkout cart2table.ca for delicious diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy recipes, grocery success tips and much more at cart2table.ca.

As a South Asian I realize that my family’s ethnic background puts us at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes [footnote 20]. I want to take active steps for my family and our community in managing a healthier lifestyle.

What are some unhealthy habits you feel we can change as South Asians? Do share!

Disclaimer: This blog was sponsored by two of Canada’s leading pharmaceutical research-based companies. All opinions are my own.


1. Diabetes Canada. “Screening for Diabetes in Adults”. Retrieved from:
https://guidelines.diabetes.ca/cpg/chapter4. (Accessed March 2023)

2. Diabetes Canada. Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. Retrieved from:
https://www.diabetes.ca/health-care-providers/clinical-practice-guidelines/chapter-1#panel-tab_FullText. (Accessed February 2023)
3. Heart and Stroke. “Diabetes and you: Manage your lifestyle and reduce your risk”. Retrieved from:
https://www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/health-information-catalogue/en-diabetes-and-you-v5-4-web.ashx. (Accessed February 2023)

4. My Heart Matters. “A balanced diet is important for heart health”. Retrieved
from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/living-with-diabetes/heart-healthy-foods. (Accessed February 2023)
5. My Heart Matters. “Diet and Exercise”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/living-with-
diabetes/diet-and-excercise. (Accessed February 2023)
6. My Heart Matters. “A balanced diet is important for heart health”. Retrieved
from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/living-with-diabetes/heart-healthy-foods. (Accessed February 2023)
7. My Heart Matters. “A balanced diet is important for heart health”. Retrieved
from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/living-with-diabetes/heart-healthy-foods. (Accessed February 2023)
8. Castro, M. (2021). “Late-Night Eating: OK If You Have Diabetes?”. Retrieved from:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/expert-answers/diabetes/faq-20058372. (Accessed February 2023)
9. Marengo, K. (2020). “Which are the best bedtime snacks for diabetes?”. Retrieved from:
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324881. (Accessed February 2023)
10. Diabetes Canada. “Meal Planning”.  Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/nutrition—fitness/meal-planning. (Accessed February 2023)
11. Diabetes Canada. “Meal Planning”. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/nutrition—fitness/meal-planning. (Accessed February 2023)
12. WebMD. “Whole Grains and Type 2 Diabetes”. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/whole-grains-and-diabetes. (Accessed February 2023)
13. Diabetes Canada. “Meal Planning”. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/nutrition—fitness/meal-planning. (Accessed February 2023)
14. McKinney, C. Tips for Health Grocery Eating. Retrieved from: https://hopkinsdiabetesinfo.org/tips-for-healthy-grocery-shopping. (Accessed February 2023).
15. Richter, A. & Caporuscio, J. (2022). “What are the most healthful oils?”. Retrieved from:
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324844. (Accessed February 2023)
16. Seitz, A., Madeel, R., Nall, R. (2020). “Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Heart Disease”. Retrieved from:
https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/good-fats-vs-bad-fats. (Accessed February 2023)
17. Fletcher, J & Johnson, T. (2023). “Why Sleep Is Essential for Health”. Retrieved from:
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325353 (Accessed February 2023)
18. Diabetes Canada. “Basic Meal Planning”. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/tools—resources/basic-meal-planning 2018.42:s162-s169 (Accessed February 2023)
19. My Heart Matters. “Heart Healthy Foods”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/living-with-
diabetes/heart-healthy-foods. (Accessed February 2023)
20 Fazli, G.S., Moineddin, R., Bierman, A.S. et al. Ethnic differences in prediabetes incidence among immigrants to Canada: a population-based cohort study. BMC Med 17, 100 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1337-2

2 thoughts on “7 Unhealthy Habits in South Asian Families

  1. My kids love your show on YouTube. Very informative and interactive. Please keep it up!
    My Kids, Shahveer and Hurrem would love their name be mentioned in a video.

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