Healthy Eating Tips for African and Caribbean Diets
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Most individuals of African Caribbean descent are at higher risk of chronic diseases such as stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some heart-related diseases than individuals from other ethnic backgrounds. Even though there are many factors that contribute to the development of diseases, there is strong evidence that diet can play a significant role in the prevention and management of diseases.
Making small dietary changes, such as being more mindful of food portion sizes, incorporating a variety of foods from main food groups into your diet, changing cooking methods, and limiting consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, can help to ensure a healthy traditional diet.
Check out these six healthy eating tips for African and Caribbean diets:
1. Add more fruit and vegetables to your diet.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, a variety of phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant substances), and fibre—all of which are important for general good health and well-being.
Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit & vegetables a day. One portion is equal to 80 grams and is roughly the amount you can fit into the palm of your hand. Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day!
Here's how to achieve 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day:
Choose a rainbow of colours when it comes to fruits and vegetables, like cho cho, mango, pineapple, ackee, jackfruit, eggplant or green vegetables like callaloo, okra and spinach.
Add a handful of vegetables to rice dishes, soups and stews.
Have a piece of fruit as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.
Steam vegetables instead of boiling them to preserve flavour and nutrients.
2. Include starchy carbohydrate foods.
Starchy carbohydrates should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Choose wholegrain or higher fibre versions where possible, as it has good gut health benefits, can help to stabilise blood sugar levels, and lowers cholesterol levels.
Keep in mind the following when incorporating starchy carbs:
Consider having basmati rice, brown rice, wild rice, ofada rice or bulgar wheat, all of which are high in fibre and ultimately helps to keep your digestive system working well.
Have boiled or baked yam instead of fried yam (also be mindful of portion sizes).
Reduce the portion size of eba, pounded yam, ugali, banku, fufu or plakali. Have more stew or soups instead (bulk it up with veggies or pulses).
Bake or grill plantain rather than frying it. If you decide to fry, use kitchen roll to remove excess oil.
Leave the skin on potatoes to up your fibre intake!
3. Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat & other protein.
These types of foods are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. If you eat fish, try to aim for at least two portions every week, one of which should be oily, such as salmon and sardines. Also follow these tips:
Swap salted codfish with other flavoursome fish like snapper or mackerel.
Use beans & pulses in a stew to replace some (or all) of the red meat.
Add ground egusi seeds to your stews & soups.
Cut off any visible or excess fat and skin from meat before cooking.
Grill or roast chicken instead of frying.
4. Include some dairy or dairy alternative products in your diet.
These are good sources of protein and some vitamins, and they’re also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones strong.
Aim to have some dairy or dairy alternatives every day. Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar versions.
Be mindful of the sugar content of traditional milky drinks like Milo. Moderation is key!
Use low-fat coconut milk for rice and peas dishes.
Evaporated milk has more calories than regular whole milk. Opt for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk instead.
Have low-fat dairy/dairy alternative snacks like yoghurt/soya yoghurt.
5. Be mindful of your oils and spreads.
Oils and spreads that contain unsaturated fats (‘healthier fats’) are better for your heart health. Too much saturated fat intake can lead to health issues like cardiovascular disease. Follow our tips when using oils and spreads:
Choose unsaturated oils and spreads like rapeseed, olive and sunflower instead of palm oil, coconut oil, ghee and lard (as these contain saturated fat).
If you want to add palm oil or coconut oil, try measuring a very small amount of oil instead of free pouring.
Consider choosing fat spreads fortified with plant sterols and stanols (natural plant substances which reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut). Be sure to speak to a dietitian to discuss if this is appropriate for you.
All types of fat are high in energy and should be consumed sparingly.
6. Limit intake of foods high in fat, sugar & salt (HFSS)
Regular intake of HFSS food products is linked with increased risk of certain diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, all of which are prevalent among the Black, African and Caribbean communities. To reduce consumption of these type of foods, follow the below tips:
Have traditional snacks like plantain crisps, puff puff, chin chin, vetkoek, spice bun and festivals less often and in small amounts.
Use fresh herbs & spices instead of salt.
Make your own stock rather than using ready-made stock cubes like Maggi, which are usually very high in salt.
Boiling vegetables, any meat or fish bones with spices and herbs are ways you can make your own stock.
Avoid malt drinks, full-sugar punch drinks and fizzy drinks.
To speak to a dietitian about how you can improve your African or Caribbean diet, contact us today for a consultation.