Are traditional African foods as healthy as they are delicious?

February 1, 2013

It's not news to say that African Americans suffer from higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity than members of other racial or ethnic groups. The CDC lays out the alarming statistics in black and white right here.

It's also not news to say that many believe the Western diet -- that steady supply of high-calorie, high-fat and high-sodium foods -- is the culprit responsible for most of the health woes in African American communities, especially poorer ones. But it is still a relatively novel idea to believe that the solution to these chronic problems is to return to traditional African foods.


Ethiopian cuisine boasts many vegetable dishes with few of the saturated fats of the Western diet. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

As part of the first African Heritage and Health Week, which starts today, the Boston-based Oldways is encouraging all eaters, African Americans or not, to sample the traditional cuisines from countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Somalia, Sudan and others. The promotion fits comfortably into the non-profit's mission to, among other things, help "people make healthy connections to their food (cooking and eating real foods) and their heritage." Oldways even lists a number of restaurants around the United States worthy of a visit (although its D.C. recommendations include an establishment, Kendejah, that has since closed). Notes Oldways:

“Part of history is, of course, the foods that have sustained a culture,” said Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways. “We are seeing a rise in the popularity of the vibrant flavors and delicious foods that offer a key to better health in the African community. African Heritage & Health Week is an opportunity to raise awareness and elevate this cuisine, which is far from the unhealthy soul food some might think of. What better time to dedicate a week to African Heritage and Health than during Black History Month.”.

I can't speak to the health qualities of African food and its many offshoots, but I can attest to its deliciousness. I can also tell you there are many more fine African, soul food and/or Caribbean restaurants in the area than those listed on the Oldways site. A few of my favorites include Ethiopic, Sweet Mango Cafe, Meaza Ethiopian Cuisine & Cafe, Teddy's Roti Shop, Etete, Queen Makeda, Abol, Ghana Cafe and Bukom Cafe.

How about you? Where would you go in the area to toast your health with a plate of African food?

Further reading:

The Root: Mixing food and black power to teach about health

• The oily charms of West African cuisine

Best Ethiopian food in D.C.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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