Go Back to Your Roots for a Healthy Diet

If you're looking for ways to eat healthier, you may need to look no further than your roots. You might be surprised to learn that eating some of the traditional foods of African heritage can help lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and certain cancers. It's true. Unlike the high-calorie fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and greens common to many "soul food" tables, the traditional foods of people of African heritage are actually very healthy.

And you've heard it all before...
  • Four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese.
  • One out of five African-American adults has diabetes.
  • Forty-four percent of African-American women and 39 percent of men have high blood pressure.
  • African-Americans are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease and stroke compared to Whites.

It's no secret that diet and physical activity play a major role in all of these conditions. In comes the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid that provides a model for healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle. This new pyramid brings together the healthy food and traditions of people throughout the African Diaspora -- particularly the American South, the Caribbean, South America and Africa.

African-Americans may find the new pyramid to be particularly helpful but it can be used by anyone desiring a healthier lifestyle. The African Heritage Diet Pyramid emphasizes eating more leafy greens, beans and other vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains and less sugar and animal products. Packaged foods are limited and so is the sodium. This is all supported by a healthy and active lifestyle as the base of the pyramid.

In each category there's an opportunity to try something new or reinvent a family favorite. Add a new whole grain to your pantry; millet, barley and wild rice are all easy to find. You might try your Rice and Beans with brown versus white rice next time. Or dare to leave the meat out of a pot of greens with this recipe for Braised Collard Greens. Tip: I like to add a jalapeno pepper and apple cider vinegar to my greens.

As an African-American and a registered dietitian, I'm pretty excited about this new pyramid. There are so many healthy combinations available and opportunities to experiment with the foods of our ancestors. I love the fact that sweet potatoes, greens and beans are at the base and hope you'll find a way to put more of these on your plate as well.


The African Heritage Diet Pyramid was created and introduced by non-profit organization, Oldways, that gathered a number of experts including registered dietitians, nutrition scientists, community health experts, and culinary historians. Oldways has also created and introduced Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and Vegetarian diet pyramids, along with health/education outreach programs to inspire healthier eating.