Earlier this February, many families and health organizations throughout America celebrated the African Heritage and Health Week. This yearly event highlights the foods, flavors, and healthy cooking heritage of a traditional African diet. The delicious cuisines come from South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South.
Explore the cooking techniques and extraordinary history of the African Heritage Diet. This way of eating is powerfully delightful and nutritious, and naturally meets the guidelines experts recommend for supporting good health.
What Is The African Heritage Diet?
The ancestors of African American brought many wonderful food traditions when they migrated to the southern part of the nation. As modern American eating habits influence these old traditions, many have been lost over the generations. Whether you look to Brazil or Nigeria, Jamaica or Virginia, you can find this healthy way of eating a common theme in their gastronomic histories, with distinct foods featured by each region.
Everybody can use the African Heritage Diet Pyramid as a framework to claim their best health. Starting at the base of the of the pyramid, you’ll find:
- Daily food items to enjoy – vegetables, especially leafy greens; colorful fruits; beans of all kinds; tubers like sweet potatoes and yams; peanuts and other nuts; flatbreads, rice, and whole grains.
- Items to consume in moderation or only a few times a week – eggs, fish, yogurt, and poultry; homemade marinades and sauces of spices and herbs; healthy oils
- Foods to save for special occasions – sweets and meats
African Heritage Diet Supports Good Health
Many of the diseases we know today, like cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, were much less common in earlier times thanks to traditional diets. Research shows that conditions like these become more prevalent as people leave behind traditional diets and turn to quick, fast food meals.
The African Heritage Diet Pyramid is based on scientific studies which reveal eating the way your ancestors did can help:
- Treat or prevent diabetes
- Lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
- Nurture healthy babies
- Fight certain types of cancers and many chronic diseases
- Reduce depression
- Achieve a healthy weight and avoid obesity
- Remedy glaucoma, asthma, and kidney disease
Compared to other Americans, African Americans are at higher risk for many chronic diseases. In fact, they are 29 percent more likely to die of all causes than Americans as a whole, and they make 4.5 times as many emergency-room visits for asthma attacks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mounting evidence also reveals that African Americans have higher rates of obesity and are 1.4 to 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes than whites.
Diet plays a crucial role in the prevention and treatment of various chronic diseases. Characterized by researchers at the University of Alabama – Birmingham as heavy in processed meats, fried foods, and heavily sweetened beverages, “The Southern Diet” is often regarded as the “traditional” diet for many African Americans. However, you can find a healthier, more firmly traditional model when you look at the cuisines brought by Africans to the New World.
African Americans on average consume more legumes like black-eyed peas and more leafy greens than other Americans. The healthy habits of African Heritage and Health Pyramid are truly remarkable and reflect the wisdom of African American ancestors.
How To Get Started
The African Heritage Diet transforms familiar foods and prepares them in convenient and affordable ways. Getting started with this pattern couldn’t be simpler. Try any one of these steps and then try more once you’re comfortable. Find inspiration as you explore more recipes.
- Make Vegetables The Star Of Your Plate
Sautéed, steamed, grilled, roasted, or raw, enjoy veggies like green beans, cabbage, eggplant, or okra in larger portions than other parts of your meal. Whenever you feel like grabbing for seconds, choose the vegetables.
- Make Beans And Rice Your New Staple
Fiber-rich beans and rice are favorite staple foods all over the world. Add African heritage whole grains like teff, sorghum, and millet to your soups or combine them with peas.
- Boost Flavor With Spice
Peppers, curries, fresh herbs, coconut, onions, fresh lemon, spices, and garlic are low-sodium ways to add unique flavors to vegetables, beans, grains, and seafood. Try a different herb every week for a touch of African heritage.
- Change The Way You Think About Meat
For flavor, use lean, healthy meats in smaller amounts. Go for smoked fish or turkey instead of ham hocks, or pile on the spices and herbs instead. African heritage foods are full of zesty flavors that you may not even notice there’s any meat in there. There are plenty of vegetarian recipes to choose from.
- Find Real Foods Everywhere
Buy fruits or peanuts from a corner store; at a lunch buffet, load up your plate with fruits, veggies, beans, and salad. Pick African heritage whole foods in their natural state over packaged, over-processed “convenience” foods.
- Enjoy Mashes and Medleys
Boil or bake potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. You can also mash them with beans, eggplants, grains, seasonings, and onions. Add extra flavor and color to your greens with leeks and purple cabbage.
- Make Room For Celebration Foods
Even after adopting the African heritage diet, there are still special foods that will always be a part of your family. Some of them may fall outside the guidelines of the food pyramid you’re now following, but you can still save them for special occasions. Eat them infrequently but enjoy them whole-heartedly.
- Drink To Your Health
Turn water into a refreshing treat with a splash of flavor. Add small amounts of 100 percent fruit juice or crushed fruits to jazz up your go-to drink. Tea with ice and a little honey is also a good alternative to soda and other sugary drinks.
Get started in the kitchen and put the African Heritage Diet Pyramid on the plate. This way of eating can bring out amazing flavors to every dish, making your family love having healthy meals daily.