Focus On Nutrition

When you think of hearty Southern cooking, mouthwatering staples like collard greens, corn bread and yams come to mind. But did you know that many of these foods had their origins in the healthy food traditions of West and Central Africa and the Caribbean? The African Heritage Diet, a plant-based meal plan featured in recipes from the March/April 2020 issue of TOPS News, reclaims foods that are part of these original traditions and brings them to today’s table. Whether you’re looking for healthier, more diabetes-friendly Southern dishes or want more meatless meals, these recipes, provided by nonprofit organization Oldways, offer delicious support for your weight-loss goals. But before you get cooking, we invited Constance Brown-Riggs, author of Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World and The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, to weigh in on the health benefits of these heritage meals.

Q: What are some benefits of following the African Heritage Diet?

This way of eating and cooking focuses on the history, nutrition and techniques of healthy food traditions. Those who follow this “diet” have experienced weight loss and reduced blood pressure.

Q: What would you suggest to someone who thinks eating healthy is too expensive or too boring?

When someone says it’s too expensive to eat healthy, my typical response is, “You either pay now, or you’ll pay later.” There’s evidence that plant-based meal patterns, like the African Heritage Diet, can prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. And it’s less expensive than meat-centric diets. Most importantly, these recipes have been tested for deliciousness.

Q: Can you share some tips for making popular soul food dishes a little healthier?

Collard Greens: Use smoked, skinless turkey breast instead of high-sodium, high-fat meats like ham hocks and fatback.

Corn Bread: Substitute fat-free or low-fat buttermilk for whole milk and use tub margarine instead of butter.

Sweet Potato Pie: Instead of whole milk and butter, use fat-free evaporated milk and butter flavoring.

Fried Chicken: Try “oven-fried” chicken to reduce fat and calories. Instead of flour, use crushed cornflakes or panko breadcrumbs for your batter and bake in the oven. For crispiness, spritz the chicken with canola oil before baking.

Macaroni and Cheese: Use fat-free milk to lower the fat content. Replace half the cheese with 2% cheese.


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