A guide to the African Heritage Diet Pyramid

Any foodie or serious eater will have heard about the Mediterranean Diet which gains in popularity by the day. But have you heard of the African Heritage Diet Pyramid?

In the Americas Africans who were transported through slavery brought with them, many food traditions and these African traditions were often combined with the fruits, vegetables and indigenous foods of the regions they were brought to. Africans in the Americas were often left with only table scraps and the lowest greens and produce left after the elite ate the best. However, some of the best-loved food in the US is still based on this African heritage.

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What is the African Heritage Diet Pyramid?

The African Heritage Food Pyramid illustrates that the diet that Africans ate was based on whole fresh, plants like yams, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, nuts and peanuts, rice, flatbreads and other healthy whole grains. The diet is naturally low in processed sugar and unhealthy fats and salt. Almost vegetarian the African diet includes very small amounts of red meat.

Nigerian man selling yams out of a wheelbarrow in Nigeria African Food Heritage Pyramid
a wheelbarrow full of yams in Nigeria

In N. America yams and sweet potatoes are often confused and go by the same name. Sweet potatoes are not yams, and yams are not sweet potatoes. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related.

pile of red skinned sweet potatoes AFrican food heritage pyramid
Sweet Potatoes

Over the centuries the African diet was influenced by the role played by colonialism and prior to that, the Arabic cultures had a great influence on local ingredients. The Arabs introduced dried fruits, rice, and spices. They also brought with them fruits from China and India including oranges, lemons and limes as well as domestic pigs. The British were the next to influence local foods with their importation of goats, cattle and sheep along with asparagus and strawberries. The British also planted very high-quality coffee trees.

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Traders and explorers also introduced to Africa the staples found within the indigenous groups of North and South America: beans, groundnuts, corn, tomatoes and sweet potatoes were all introduced by traders. Asian influences such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon and curry were also brought to Africa by the traders. In later years wheat and rice was brought in on a wider scale as the climate allowed for wide-scale growing of these basics.

Cupboard staples in Africa include yams, plantains, green bananas and cassava are the essentials. Root crops such as manioc, cocoyams (Ghanaian word for edo, taro or tubers of the elephant’s ear plant), sweet potato, yams, and onion are also important.

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Many households will grow their own vegetables and a variety of herbs and spices sometimes for their personal use and they can also be sold at the local markets. Green vegetables include Greens, Spinach (greens), Sweet Potato Leaves, Cocoyam Leaves, Pumpkin Leaves, Jute leaves, and okra to name a few.

Meat, on the other hand, is often used merely as one of a number of flavourings, rather than as the main ingredient in cooking. Vegetables, beans and lentils are definitely the most popular food staples throughout the continent, although animal products are used whenever available.

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If you would like to learn more about the African Heritage Pyramid and why the diet is so good for you Oldways Cultural Food Traditions has a series of brochures you can download and lots of recipes and information to check out.

Oldways has worked the past few years to create content that gears communities of colour toward better eating habits and health patterns based in and on the traditional diets of Latin America, South and East Asia, Africa and her Diaspora and the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

The African Diet Heritage Pyramid is a very healthy way of eating and it is affordable as well. It is based on nutritious, healthy foods and traditions that stretch back for centuries.

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