Is African food healthy? That’s the question a dietician asked me when I told her I eat African food 90% of the time. In 2010, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes – a condition which affects overweight pregnant women. When I consulted with a dietician to follow a diet that would help keep my blood sugar within the healthy range, I realized that nutritional information and sound knowledge on the nutritive value of African foods is (still) lacking. The reason why I decided to pursue a masters degree in public health nutrition.
Since 2013, I have gained profound knowledge on the myriad of health benefits of African food as a research associate at the Leipniz Institute for (obesity) prevention and epidemiology and currently as a Phd. candidate researching the nutrition-related factors that cause obesity especially among African migrants.
In the cause of my research, I have learned that Africa has some of the healthiest food on the planet. Our continent is rich with foods of all kinds and colors, providing all of the nutrients our bodies needs for growth, repair and proper functioning. Recent scientific studies show that African vegetables are the new superfoods, some providing 2o times more nutrients than conventional vegetables. With regards to the main food groups, Africa has got it all, from fruits and vegetables, legumes, roots and tubers to wholegrains, fish and fish oils, nuts and oils you name it, we’ve got it.
According to a study that analyzed the consumption of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and foods containing fiber and omege-3s in 187 countries published by The Lancet Global Health in 2015, it was found that Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly West Africa, have the healthiest diets in the world as countries like chad, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone ranked better than wealthier regions in North America and Europe, probably because their diets are made up of lean meats, vegetables, legumes and staple starches and less processed foods compared to other countries analyzed in that study.
Below is a cross-section of some of our foods and their health benefits;
|Dark leaf greens||Bitterleaf, kale, spinach, African spinach (all sorts), waterleaf, bitterleaf, lettuces, eggplant leaves, African basil, fluted pumpkin leaf, potato leaves, cocoyam leaves, cassava leaves, Ugu, sweet potato leaves, amaranth greens, etc.||
|Vegetables||Cabbage, carrots, eggplant, green beans, okra, onions, bell peppers, pumpkin, squashes, beetroot plus all dark leafy greens, jute mallow etc.||
|Fruits||Avocados, bananas, oranges, pawpaw, watermelon, mangoes, limes, lemon, plums, tomatoes, guava, passionfruit, grapefruits||
|Starces & Whole grains||Couscous, fonio, maize/corn, millet, rice, sorghum, oatmeal, etc.||
|Roots & Tubers||Sweet potatoes, cassava, plantains, yucca, yams, taro, potatoes||
|Legumes (beans, peas||kidney beans, black-eyed peas, cowpeas, lima beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.||
|Nuts & seeds||Groundnuts, cashew nuts, tiger nuts, pumkpin seeds, melon seeds, mango seeds||
|Herbs & spices||bay eaf, ginger, garlic, corianda, cinnamon, oregano, nutmeg, cilantro, peppers||
|Fish & seafood||Catfish, cod, tilapia, mackerel, dried fish, cray fish, prawns, sardines|
To answer the question of this post, is African food healthy? The answer is definitely yes! African food is rich in variety, rich in nutrients and provides a wealth of disease-preventing, health-promoting benefits if cooked in a healthy way and eaten in the right portion. In subsequent post, I will be sharing lots and lots of recipes as well as food facts so that you know your food and how beneficial they are for your health and well-being.
But first, feed your eyes with a few of many African well-balanced meals that pack a serious nutritional punch. Here’s to your health from heritage! 🙂
Sautéed Green (African Spinach)
Ndolé and Plantain
Char-roasted chicken, baked sweet potatoes and pepper sauce
I would love to interact with you. Describe your favorite (African) heritage food and what makes it so special?I am hungry, so please feed me with pearls of your heritage!!!