Oldways’ African Heritage Diet

Calling all nutrition educators, health professionals, teachers, families, church groups, and other interested parties!  I am here to show you the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid created by Oldways, the non-profit organization that promotes healthy eating based on cultural food pyramids. It is meant to reconnect all African-descendants to their healthy heritage foods and eating style.

Oldways’ website has great information about the African Diaspora, the term used to describe the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Atlantic Slave Trades. The Diaspora took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different parts of the Caribbean and North, South and Central America where the African diet was blended with local foods to shape a unique new cuisine. But, like all traditional diets, the framework remains the same: fresh plant foods, especially fruit and leafy greens; tubers; beans and nuts, including peanuts; rice, flatbreads and whole grains; oils; fish, eggs and poultry; yogurt; sauces of herbs and spices; and minimal consumption of meats and sweets. (Processed food and fast food are not on the list.)

In a great webinar from Oldways, Jessica Harris, the African Heritage culinary scholar, discusses African diet. She said, in Africa, it is common to eat spicy stews served over starch. I remember that was the case with the patients from Liberia I saw at the HMO where I worked in the late 1980s. The Liberians described a big pot of veggies (greens, sweet potatoes, plantain, cabbage, eggplant, okra, etc.) with beans and a bit of shredded meat or fish, served over rice, and fufu, a fermented cassava dumpling. The food was both nutritious and balanced, but always a variation on the same theme. They also had a communal kitchen and shared meals, to the point of sharing one big bowl. My guess is that those two practices, repetition and sharing, made overeating less attractive. And I believe the women took turns cooking for a month. Their system just keeps sounding better.

And so, when I think about it, African heritage food awareness is the starting point, but the key to success may rest in sharing all aspects of the meal. Really, since we’re cooking, we might as well cook for a crowd. It’s less expensive and more fun. It’s the old way.

Your thoughts: Will you broadcast the Oldways African Heritage Food Pyramid? Who else thinks sharing meals is a good idea?