Is Soul Food Putting the “Die” in Diet? Why are African Americans disproportionately affected by conditions that are so common but often preventable? Many experts blame the proverbial soul food diet—the cooking and eating traditions that often include dishes that are deep fried or cooked all day, soaked in fat, and laden with salt, sugar, and calories.
Such severe health problems can’t be attributed primarily to soul food, according to Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a nonprofit organization perhaps best known for creating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and other culturally specific dietary guidelines.
“These disparities go beyond eating soul food,” she says. “There are many factors that have led to poor outcomes—economics, changes in family structure, lack of access to healthful food, and perceptions about time needed for cooking and shopping.”
Still, she and her colleagues at Oldways understand that a healthful diet goes a long way in improving overall health. The organization developed a program for African Americans that emphasizes the relationship between diet and general health; educates them about the possibility of improving one’s health through a heritage diet; and promotes healthful, delicious, affordable meals to encourage people in black cultural communities to eat well.
The important word here is communities—plural. There are approximately 40 million people of African descent living in the United States. Some have been in the United States for many generations; others are more recent immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, or other parts of the world.6 What and how they eat may differ significantly—at least until immigrants become acculturated.
“Scientific studies show that many chronic conditions now prevalent in African American communities appear in [black immigrant] populations as traditional diets are left behind,” Baer-Sinnott says. Studies have shown that when people adopt a more westernized diet, their susceptibility to health problems increases.
For example, research published in a 2010 volume of the Journal of Biomedical Science found that the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in young Tanzanian men increased as they ate more nontraditional foods such as donuts and ice cream and less traditional foods. The same trend can be found in Botswana.7 As younger populations shift from traditional to nontraditional lifestyles, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels—signs of metabolic syndrome—rise. The elderly, who are less inclined to change their eating habits, are actually healthier.
According to Sarah Dwyer, program manager at Oldways and the team leader for the African Heritage & Health Initiative, since Africans who eat traditional foods from Africa are healthier than those who adopt a typical Western diet, the research suggests that a healthful African American diet should go back to its roots. To help develop a cultural model for healthful eating based on the traditional diets of the African diaspora, Oldways brought together a team of culinary historians, nutrition scientists, and public health experts to examine foods Africans ate in Africa as well as how they adapted their diet when they were brought to the Americas during the slave trade. #healthyeating #chef #dc #prepared #affordablemeals @thefirstharvestclub #affordable #dcfamily