A few months ago I watched a TV programme entitled the world’s best diet. The show featured presenter Jonathan Maitland and a celebrity spread of made up of Linda Robson, Cheryl Baker, Darren Gough and Carole Malone. Whilst I wouldn’t argue that some of the destinations, for instance, Japan, offered the worlds healthiest lifestyles, I was somewhat disappointed that nowhere in the programme was any part of Africa featured. I cannot blame anyone for this, as much as we would like, Africa in terms of its food still presents itself as the dark continent, where no light has been shed on some of the best recipes it can offer.
Additionally, for those recipes that have emerged as familiar, they do not exactly come across as the healthiest, even to people of African origin. I remember having a conversation with another African lady at a recent ethical fashion event about presenting an afro centric diet as a healthy living way of life. Her immediate comment was, “well, African food does not strike me as healthy.” In today’s post I wish to challenge this idea. The only way to do this is through educating readers out there and letting them know that if we examine African staples and tweak them here and there, we are actually in the running to provide one of the world’s healthiest diets.
Let us examine a very popular dish which one would find easily across east and southern africa. ‘Ugali, irio na nyama’ in other words solids made of maize, millet or sorghum meal, green vegetables such as spinach or the truly divine covo and meat or fish. With the ugali rich in fibre, greens rich in iron and grilled river tilapia rich in healthy protein and some omega 3, you are well on your way to a healthy diet. Take another recipe which is made up of our popular stew. Stews are normally tomato based, with onions, garlic and ginger. Why this comes across as vastly different to pasta sauce, an Italian staple, (Italy “Mediterranean” featured as healthiest diet destination) is beyond me. We only fall short in the preparation of stew, where too much oil used is not uncommon.
Apart from all of this, the afro centric diet abounds with fresh or naturally preserved ingredients. You seldom hear of a diet rich in fast or highly processed foods. And even better is our use of indigenous plants and herbs as natural remedies. There are remedies for controlling diabetes and high blood pressure (dawadawa), cholesterol and even malaria treatment. All of these could benefit from additional research but they have been used for 100’s of years and need not be suddenly “discovered” by some witty Oxbridge scholar, we already know about them.