Commentary: The Myth of Unhealthy Soul Food

Commentary: The Myth of Unhealthy Soul Food

Soul food -- fried, drenched in butter or otherwise nutritionally incorrect, supposedly -- can actually be prepared and consumed in healthy ways, which is good news for those concerned about obesity and related ills, or who just plain want to eat tasty down-home cooking.

Published December 22, 2011

When most people hear the term “soul food,” they don’t normally consider it something that can be described as healthy. Macaroni and cheese, cornbread drenched in butter, meats of all kinds, often fried or cooked with lard. In general, soul food is delicious and comforting, but healthy? Hardly.

But now a team of nutritionists and health experts is hoping to change that old stereotype. They say that with a little work, the traditional staples of African-American cuisine can be reworked to be healthier. Their thinking comes right in time. Black women currently have the highest rates of obesity in the United States, an affliction that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and premature death.

Say hello to the Oldways African Heritage Diet Pyramid. The pyramid, an accompanying guide to the USDA’s standard food pyramid, is a visual exploration of the foods traditional to African and Caribbean cuisine that are also delicious and healthy. For instance, things like collard greens, sweet potatoes, and beans are all a major part of the African-American diet, and they’re all quite healthy. It’s not soul food that’s spreading illness in the Black community; it’s the wrong kind of soul food.

Writes NPR:

According to Jessica Harris, a culinary historian and cookbook author who helped design the pyramid, soul food "has been demonized as too sweet, too rich, too this, too that," when in reality, Africans and their descendants have just as many healthful food options to draw from as people from Asia or the Mediterranean region.

In other words, as with all cultures, African-Americans’ historical diet has a lot of depth and breadth to it. Eating healthy isn’t a white tradition any more than jogging can be considered a white tradition. And when it comes to those family dinners on Sundays, having a second helping of healthy beans and rice instead of mac and cheese doesn’t mean you’re missing out on traditional soul food. It just means you may be alive to enjoy it longer.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

(Photo: Fresno Bee/MCT/Landov)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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