Throughout February, we celebrate Black History Month by paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who have made outstanding achievements, challenged our thinking, innovated, and paved the way for Americans today. Black history is American history, and it is important for all citizens to know their past. A great way of honoring where we come from is through our foods! Food and nutrition is integral to our culture, identity, and family.
The African Heritage diet was designed as a means of highlighting traditional ways of eating amongst African ancestors. Research suggests that today’s chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity would not be nearly as prevalent if we replaced some of our convenience and processed foods with more traditional diets of earlier times. The African Heritage diet food pyramid encourages a daily consumption of fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens), legumes, tubers (such as sweet potatoes), nuts and whole grains, similar to how ancestors ate. Healthy fats in oils and sauces are to be eaten a few times each week. Seafood, eggs, poultry, and dairy are also in moderation. Meats and sweets are to be limited and should be considered treats.
Because there are over 50 countries in Africa today, it best works to teach the food pyramid on broad terms, as stated above. However, four major regional diets are identified based on African Diaspora. African Diaspora describes the mass movement of people from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean during Transatlantic Slave Trades throughout the 1500s to the 1800s. Within new regions, and shaped by new cultures, the cooking styles became further unique. The four major regional diets of African heritage are:
• African American
• Afro-South American
Each region has key cooking qualities and flavor staples. The African diet includes many spiced soups and stews, relying heavily on plant foods. The African American region was influenced by French, Spanish, and Haitian cuisines resulting in today’s “Southern” food. The Afro-Caribbean diet has French, African, and Spanish culinary influences, heavy on tropical fruits and rice dishes. There are many people of African descent living in South America, many being in Brazil. The foods and cultures greatly overlap, and many of these dishes include rice, beans, and vegetables. You may be more familiar with one region’s cooking, but experiment and see what new foods you may be able to add to your plate.
To better connect to your heritage, speak with family members to learn if there are any cooking tips or recipes from past generations. If eating habits have strayed from the minimally-processed or traditional ways, are there ways you can modify what you eat today to make it healthier?
And of course, don’t forget that physical activity is also key to health! Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, recognized the importance of both nutrition and physical activity when launching her Let’s Move initiative, motivating children to be more involved in and knowledgeable about their health. Childhood obesity rates are particularly high in African American and Hispanic communities in recent decades, but this can change! Exercise helps prevent disease, lengthen life, and improve the quality of life. Incorporate these healthy habits for a brighter, happier, thriving future!