African food is delicious, no doubt!
It’s not news to say that African foods are just yummy! I can certainly attest to its deliciousness. I love Ndole and ripe Plantain. I enjoy Bobolo and roasted fish with a touch of fried pepper. And Ekwang! Ohhh sweet Ekwang, I cannot do without it. Let’s not even begin to talk about Eru or Egusi pudding. Most people say our African staple foods are high carbohydrates foods! Arican foods are not healthy for weight loss? What else should we eat if I can’t eat garri, waterfufu, fufucorn, yam, cocoyam, Ekwang? Tricky isn’t it?
Gestational Diabetes got me thinking about African food!
When I was pregnant with Jemima (my baby girl), I was told I had gestational diabetes ( a condition which affects overweight pregnant women). I was adviced to seek a nutritionisr for counseling. So I made an appointment and as usual she started by assessing my food habits. I willinging told my dietician what I ate everyday. The next step was to follow a strict diet regime that included lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and protein, unrefined carbohydrates and healthy fats. This was nothing new to me since I actually had a masters degree in nutrition and health. The only problem was, the diet plan I recieved excluded all our “African” foods like plantians, cocoyams, yams, fufu corn etc. So I immediately knew i could not follow that regime. Then I asked her to include those foods but she told me she did not know the caloric values for them hence they couldn’t be included in my list. This got me thinking and made me ask myself some questions;
How healthy is plantain, yam, fufu corn and the rest of our African staples? What is the calorie content and value of a plate of Ndole served with fried plantain? Can I eat my typical african food and still lose weight? I started researching and found out quite some interesting health benefits of some of our food. Here we go…
Legumes and Beans
These are an excellent source of protein. Beans and other legumes are excellent for good nutrition in general as a good source of resistant starch, fibre, plus other nutrients. Other than non-starchy vegetables, beans are regarded as one of the lowest glycemic sources of carbohydrates. That is, the starch in beans are slowly absorbed released, and therefore absorbed. So we can still enjoy our “beignet haricot”? Sure! Provided we cook with healthy oils like avocado oil. Canned beans, however, generally tend to raise blood sugar more than beans which you cook yourself. You’re always better of eating foods that you have prepared and cooked yourself, rather than processed food.
Yams are low in saturated fat and sodium. Vitamin C, dietary fibre and vitamin B6 are also present and promote good health. They produce a good potassium-sodium balance in the human body, as they are high in potassium and low in sodium, protecting against osteoporosis and heart disease. Yam will provide a more sustained form of energy, and give better protection against obesity and diabetes, as they have a lower glycemic index than potato.
They are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are the types of carbohydrates that get broken down more slowly, and therefore released more slowly into glucose than simple carbohydrates. This helps to provide with stable energy over time or hours, as opposed sudden energy bursts which can cause your blood sugar to rise and drop suddenly.
Some other examples of foods that provide complex carbohydrates are whole grains such as brown rice and brown bread, cassava, corn, oats and potatoes.
There are different ways of preparing yams. They could be made into pounded yam (iyan) and eatenj with leafy vegetables, made into yam powder (amala), or boiled. Take care not to boil out the greatly beneficial nutrients in yams though! Avoid boiling in water. If you do, you lose the nutrients in the yams to the water you boil them in. You then throw the water away. Be careful! Yam is starchy, so do eat in moderation with lots of vegetables (like spinach, jute leaves – ewedu, okro), as you want your meals to be balanced.
Don’t we all love our fufu corn and njama njama? Fufucorn is made from grounded dried corn. Maize can be used as cornmeal or pap (ogi). Maize is an excellent type of African food. The high fiber content is an important characteristic linked to the nutritional benefits of corn. These benefits make it suitable for diets that are made to lose weight and those made with the aim of lowering cholesterol.
The traditional corn, like other cereals, also provides proteins, lipids and little water. Sweet corn is rich in fiber and minerals such as potassium, calcium and phosphorus. It’s also rich in carbohydrates, vitamins A, vitamin B and C.
Melon seeds are used in making egusi soup or egusi pudding. They contain a high amount of poly-unsaturated fat which is good for your heart. Egusi can be prepared with spinach, kale or leek – which are all plant foods high in cancer-fighting compounds. You can begin to tell why certain diseases are not that rampant in Africa.
Okro is another type of vegetable that is very rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals in the body, and help to fight cancer. Okro is also known as Okra, and contains a variety of other healthy vitamins.
Jute Leaves (Ewedu)
Jute leaves are a type of leafy green vegetables. Jute leaves contain antioxidants which help to inhibit cancer cells.
Other African food vegetables like bitter leaves and water leaves fall in the leafy green vegetables category, which contain phytonutrients and other cancer-fighting compounds.
Take home message:
1. Many types of African food are naturally nutrient-packed and contribute to fight one disease or another.
2. African food, however, tend to be cooked using lots of cooking oil and palm oil. The use of too much oils in cooking is the #1 cause of diabetic cases in Africans; and this is rising greatly by the day.Palm kernel oil, though rich in great nutrients, contains a huge amount of saturated fat – the type that clogs your arteries and puts you at risk of heart disease and obesity.
3. The problem is not the food type but the method of preparation and consumption that makes our foods extremely high in calories and fats. So if we cook with low fat or healthy fats and try as much as possible to eat more vegetable with our staples then our food will not only be delicious but will be extremely healthy too!
Do you think African fod is healthy? Let’s hear your views.