Dietary Transition in the South Asian Diaspora: Implications for Diabetes Prevention Strategies

Curr Diabetes Rev. 2017;13(5):482-487. doi: 10.2174/1573399812666160901094741.


Background: South Asians (SA) have a four to five fold higher risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in comparison to other Asian migrant groups. Dietary patterns have been attributed as an important independent modifiable risk factor.

Objective: The aim of this review is to document the dietary patterns of SA migrants in Western countries and to summarize the evidence for the association of dietary patterns with T2DM and its predisposing factors.

Methods: Using key search words articles from 1990 onwards were sourced from MEDLINE Pro- Quest and PubMed (not MEDLINE) databases for this narrative review.

Results: A significant shift in meal pattern with frequent dining out and eating fast foods, traditional festival foods and Western desserts and snacks was common among SA. Consumption of potatoes, dairy, oil, meat and fish increased and beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables decreased post-migration. "Animal protein" and "fried snacks, sweets and high-fat dairy" were associated with greater insulin resistance and lower HDL cholesterol. A "mixed" dietary pattern was associated with obesity and hypertension and a "western" dietary pattern was associated with overall risk for Metabolic Syndrome. A 70% increase in the odds of diabetes per standard deviation in gram of protein intake was also observed.

Conclusion: Dietary patterns pave the way to develop diabetes and other obesity related diseases among SA as duration of residence increases. The first five years since migration maybe a window of opportunity to provide targeted interventions to ensure maintenance of healthy dietary habits.

Keywords: Diabetes; South Asians; dietary patterns; migration; obesity; pre-diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia / ethnology
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group* / ethnology
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group* / statistics & numerical data
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control*
  • Diet* / ethnology
  • Diet* / trends
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feeding Behavior / ethnology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Humans
  • Preventive Medicine / methods*
  • Preventive Medicine / trends
  • Western World