African Heritage Diet Pyramid

African Heritage Pyramid

Oldways has created the African Heritage Diet Pyramid with the help and knowledge of experts in African American and African Diasporan history, cuisine, nutrition, and public health. This healthy eating model was designed specifically for African Americans, and African descendant populations everywhere, to introduce them to their Healthy Heritage. It can also be used by anyone wanting to use heritage as a guide to eating well. The Pyramid celebrates the individual foods and the traditional healthy eating patterns of African Heritage, with roots in America, Africa, the Caribbean, or South America. 

The foods of African Heritage contain lots to be celebrated, and they begin with the main ingredient of African American cooking today—flavor! Heaps of herbs, spices, and savory sauces jazz up simple, healthful vegetable-focused meals, showing us that “healthy eating” also means great taste. Traditional African Heritage meals are based on an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens; tubers like sweet potatoes; beans of all kinds; nuts and peanuts; rice, flatbreads and other grain foods, especially whole grains; healthy oils; homemade sauces and marinades of herbs and spices; fish, eggs, poultry and yogurt; and minimal consumption of meat and sweets.

The African Heritage Pyramid also promotes uplifting activities for the body, mind, and soul. Many things are nourishing and healthy, including exercise, favorite pastimes, and relationships. Traditionally, people put their bodies to hard work all day, outside or in the kitchen or just walking to where they needed to go. Devoting time to family and community gatherings have been long-time traditions throughout the African Heritage cultures. Music has been a key ingredient throughout the regions, too—both enjoying music and making it. Sleep and sunlight are important factors for recharging, especially when accompanied by exercise. Activate your body, mind, and heart each day to keep your body working at its best.

Download a color illustration of the African Heritage Diet Pyramid

The African Heritage Pyramid is a guide to the healthy traditional diets of African American ancestors. Base your meals mostly on a variety of foods nearest the base of the pyramid.

  • Go For Greens. Greens like spinach, collards, mustards and turnip greens are a big part of African heritage cuisine; they help keep your blood, liver, and kidneys in top health. Cook them lightly to retain all of their extraordinary nutrients!
  • Every day, enjoy vegetables, fruits, mostly whole grains and cereals, beans, herbs and spices, peanuts and nuts, and healthy tubers like sweet potatoes. These are the core African Heritage foods to shop for, prepare, and eat most often. 

  • Tuna, mackerel, and salmon are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines and other small, bony fish are rich sources of calcium and vitamin D. Enjoy them grilled, broiled, or lightly pan cooked in water and a tiny bit of healthy oil.

  • Use small amounts of healthy oils, like sesame or olive oil for dressings, and canola, red palm oil, or extra virgin coconut oil for cooking.

  • Eat eggs, poultry and other meats moderately, in small portions, or use as garnishes for other dishes. 

  • Consume dairy in small portions, and if you are lactose intolerant, enjoy other calcium-rich foods like greens, beans, and almonds. 

  • Sweets, at the top of the pyramid, are foods to eat less often, limiting them to once a week or at special meals.

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one glass per day for women, two for men.

For a list of common foods of African Heritage and their food groups, click here.

Recent Blog Posts

April 16 was a day full of appreciation for raw milk cheeses! We loved look...
Ask any chef or home cook for a list of ingredients they couldn’t li...
Cooks around the world have used the seeds, roots, barks and leaves of pla...

E-Newsletter Sign-up

Sign up for one or more of our Oldways newsletters. After you enter your email and click Submit you’ll be given a chance to choose which newsletter(s) you want.