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Top 5 Foods from the African Heritage Diet for Preventing and Treating Chronic Illness

African-Americans have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. The African Heritage Diet may reduce several illnesses.

By Jacob DamianPublished 4 months ago 7 min read

Hundreds of healthy fruits, vegetables and grains are indigenous to the African continent, where the cuisines of each nation and area are as unique as the products that thrive there. How Black Food Can Heal the Community delves into the African Heritage Diet, highlighting some of the most nutrient-dense foods native to Africa and cherished by the diaspora. Developed by Oldways, this eating plan prioritises foods that are widely accessible and have been shown to improve health outcomes related with longevity and greater vigour.

Some of us are dealing with a chronic health issue ourselves, and many of us are familiar with someone who does. Chronic diseases include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis disproportionately affect Non-Hispanic Black individuals, according the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH). Although health disparities play a role, so do individual choices in regards to nutrition and exercise when it comes to avoiding or dealing with chronic diseases. Eating foods with roots in the African Heritage Diet offers critical nutrients that may be the key to improved health and the management of chronic medical disorders.

The African Heritage Diet is an organisation devoted to bettering public health via heritage-based diets, and it is centred on foods from Africa and the African diaspora. This diet consists mostly of vegetables and fruits, with some shellfish and fish, and very little red meat. It has provided generations with nourishment and energy. Agricultural expertise, seeds, and foodways from Africa expanded across the diaspora when African people were enslaved, trafficked, and subsequently moved throughout the world. African Americans are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease owing to a combination of biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. However, following the African Heritage Diet might lessen the likelihood of developing such diseases.

Even if you don't eat these 5 items now, you can start reaping the benefits of the African Heritage Diet's anti-disease properties by including them into your diet.

  • Chronic Disease and the Black Population

The National Institutes of Health report that health care, housing, and safety are only some of the areas where inequalities persist. In the United States, persons of African descent, and to a lesser degree those of other racial and ethnic minorities, continue to be disproportionately impacted by chronic health conditions and premature mortality. Repeated racial discrimination against Black individuals has been linked to measures of chronic physiological stress, such as high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, that raise the risk of chronic illness, according to a study published in Psych neuroendocrinology in 2018.

  • The Evidence Suggests

According to 2017 data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, African American Black persons between the ages of 18 and 49 had double the risk of dying from heart disease as White people.

According to data compiled by the Office of Minority Health (OMH), non-Hispanic Black persons are twice as likely as non-Hispanic White adults to die from diabetes. According to a research published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in 2020, Black women are more prone than other racial and gender groups to develop chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

This information emphasises the critical need to spread the word about the nutrient-rich foods included in the African Heritage Diet and promote their adoption as a means of combating chronic illnesses.

(1) Millet

The millet family includes multiple species of naturally gluten-free, whole-grain, ancient cereal crops, the most well-known of which are teff and fonio. In Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking, teff flour is used to produce the popular flatbread injera, which is a good source of iron and calcium. Teff, like many other whole grains, has a nutty flavour, with a hint of hazelnut. For this reason, teff flour is often used in many different kinds of food, including Injera (Ethiopian Flatbread) and these Gluten-Free Fudgy Teff Brownies. Teff has to be cooked for 8-20 minutes, depending on the desired consistency.

According to a 2013 publication in the International Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, fonio, also known as acha, was first grown in West Africa at least 5,000 years ago. Fonio has a texture comparable to couscous, with a rapid cooking time and a nutty flavour great for a savoury side seasoned with your favourite spices and herbs. It may also be used in more sugary dishes, like our Slow-Cooker Overnight Fonio Porridge.

Millet is high in plant-based protein and complex carbs and fibre, so it is slowly digested and does not cause a dramatic increase in blood sugar. People treating type 2 diabetes would do well to avoid situations that cause abrupt increases in blood sugar. Plant phenols included in Fonio help to defend cells against oxidative stress and free radical damage. Chronic illness risk is elevated by oxidative stress, according to a study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2020.

2.Greens, or Veggies

The African Heritage Diet is heavily based on various leafy greens. For instance, there are a variety of greens, including bitter leaf, callaloo (amaranth leaf), collards, Njama Njama, Malabar spinach, oha leaf, ugu, and utazi. Soups, stews, and sautés with peppers and onions might benefit from the addition of these greens. Depending on where you live, the best location to get some of these greens may be a specialist store or a local farm.

The fibre in greens helps maintain a healthy digestive system by providing fuel for the beneficial bacteria already there. Research, such as a 2021 review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows a healthy gut is connected to blood pressure control and lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Focus on eating a lot of greens (fresh or frozen) every day and getting regular physical activity for an effective one-two punch against chronic illness.


The roselle (or hibiscus) plant is used to create a tea that may be served either hot or cold and is known for its vibrant red or pink colour. Ginger, spices, citrus, and pineapple are common additions to the mildly tart drink. In West Africa, it is known as zobo or bissap, in North Africa as karkade, in Jamaica as sorrel, and among Afro-Latinos as agua de Jamaica. The health advantages of hibiscus tea, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, have been supported by scientific studies. If you are currently using medication to control your blood pressure, check your doctor or chemist before adding hibiscus to your diet, since there are possible interactions.


Millions of people have relied on plantains as a main source of nutrition for thousands of years. Plantains, which are similar to bananas but considerably bigger, are native to tropical regions. While you may buy them in many colours, a peel with black tones suggests the plantain is ripe and tastier. Vitamins A and C, fibre, and antioxidants are just some of the many healthful components of plantains. The beneficial effects of these nutrients on health are well documented. In addition to nourishing your good gut flora, fibre may help lessen the risk of cardiovascular illnesses and type 2 diabetes. In addition to protecting you from the harmful effects of oxidative stress, studies have revealed that antioxidants may also shield you against diseases like cancer by preventing the formation of molecules that fuel their growth.

5.Baobab Fruit

The baobab tree, native to Africa, is the source of the baobab fruit. A baobab tree may survive for hundreds of years, and its leaves, pulp, and seeds are all edible, earning it the nickname "tree of life." The fruit's delicious citrus flavour is reflected in its dry, white pulp. In the U.S., it is generally accessible as baobab powder. The antioxidant benefits of baobab powder come from the vitamin C and potassium it contains. Studies demonstrate that foods with antioxidant characteristics are related with decreased levels of chronic inflammation, citing a 2022 article in Plant Antioxidants and Health. Arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke are all made worse by chronic inflammation. According to the USDA, only 1 tablespoon of baobab powder contains more than 6 grammes of dietary fibre. Juice, yoghurt, cereal, and baked products all benefit from the inclusion of baobab.

The Bottom Line

Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, tubers, and spices abound in the African Heritage Diet, as do the nutrients they provide that may help ward against chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. The African Heritage Diet is beneficial to the health of people of all backgrounds. You may get started with a healthy diet by include plantains, millet, baobab, hibiscus, and leafy greens. These foods may be purchased in stores that stock items popular in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, or on the web.


About the Creator

Jacob Damian

Whether you're looking to learn something new, explore different perspectives, or simply satisfy your curiosity, I can offer you insights and perspectives that you may not have considered before. With my ability to process and analyse.

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