African-American Food Pyramid Seeks to Change Habits

A food and nutrition nonprofit feels that African-Americans can solve health issues by adopting the diet choices of their ancestors.

Posted: 11/09/2011 01:40 PM EST
Filed Under hypertension, diabetes

(Photo: Max Oppenheim/ Gettyimages)

It is well known that food choices are at the heart of many health concerns, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, that disproportionately affect African-Americans. Now, a nonprofit food and nutrition organization, Oldways, has adapted the concept of the food pyramid for African-Americans in an attempt to put an end to diet-related diseases.


The pyramid corresponds to a regimen the group calls The African Heritage Diet that they say is based on the traditional diets of people of African descent that are healthier than what many Blacks consume today. The diet draws inspiration from the culinary traditions of the American South, the Caribbean, South America and Africa that the group says can all be accommodated by eating within the guidelines.


“In my work with the African-American community, I see a general lack of education in terms of the foods their ancestors prepared and enjoyed; today these food connections are all but lost,” Constance Brown-Riggs, MSED, RD and author of The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes, said in an Oldways press release. "This pyramid is an important new educational tool; it is an innovative way that we, as health professionals, can communicate with, connect to and educate African-Americans."


The African Heritage Diet Pyramid emphasizes the consumption of leafy greens in addition to varied amounts of vegetables, grains and starches. According to the pyramid, meats, poultry, seafood and dairy are suggested in moderation. The pyramid differs from the USDA’s new suggested dietary guidelines in that it prioritizes greens as the base of the African-American diet and suggests how often certain items should be consumed within the week. Instead of the ever-scrutinized food pyramid, the USDA now promotes the MyPlate guidelines that aim to help Americans make more practical choices at each meal.


In creating the pyramid, Oldways called upon the expertise of nutrition scientists, community health experts and culinary historians, whose work was made possible through a grant from the Walmart Foundation. Oldways has also created and introduced four other healthy-eating pyramids (Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and Vegetarian), along with health/education outreach programs.