African American ancestors brought a huge array of food traditions to the Caribbean, South America, and the southern states of the U.S. Many of these traditions were lost with the inﬂuences of American eating habits, and health has suﬀered. Scientiﬁc studies show that the diseases aﬀecting many African Americans today — like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity — typically skyrocket as traditional diets are left behind.
But chronic disease was not always part of African heritage. To educate people about the healthful roots of African heritage cuisine, we developed our African Heritage & Health Program. The African Heritage Diet Pyramid guides people to healthy traditions and foods, and our volunteer-driven class series, A Taste of African Heritage, is having huge impacts on participants around the country.
We’re celebrating our Fifth Annual African Heritage & Health Week Feb. 1 to 7, which also marks the start of Black History Month. The best way to join the AH&H Week Party is to eat African heritage foods and share your experiences with friends, family, or on social media with the tag #EatAfricanHeritage365. Visit the AH&H Week page for complete details, and check out our recipe database to get cooking. And be sure to check out our Sweet Potato Peanut Stew, or Mafe in West Africa, recipe below.
8 Easy Steps to Add African Heritage to Your Diet and #EatAfricanHeritage365:
1. 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.
2. Savor the Staples. 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.
3. Favor Fish. For a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, enjoy tuna, mackerel, and salmon. 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 oil.
4. Use Healthy Oils. 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.
5. Lessen Animal Protein. Eat eggs, poultry, and other meats moderately, in small portions, or use as garnishes for other dishes.
6. Downplay Dairy. Consume dairy in small portions, and if you are lactose intolerant, enjoy other calcium-rich foods like greens , beans , and almonds.
7. Slow the Sweets. at the top of the pyramid, are foods to eat less often , limiting them to once a week or at special meals.
8. Hydration is Key. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one glass per day for women, two for men.
Mafe, or Groundnut Stew, is common throughout West and Central Africa. This traditional stew can feature meat, vegetables, or seafood, and it is always based on a savory sauce made from peanut butter and tomatoes. This Mafe recipe is featured recipes in our A Taste of African Heritage cooking program and it centers around a much loved African heritage food — the sweet potato.
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large sweet potato, chopped into medium-size cubes
2 large carrots, cut into thin rounds
2 green zucchini, cut into thin half-rounds
1 small can (15oz) of diced tomatoes, no salt added
2 cups water
1 teaspoon or small cube of vegetable bullion powder
1 tablespoon Berbere spice
¼ cup natural peanut butter
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Sea salt to taste
1. Heat the oil in one of the soup pots on medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent (3-4 minutes).
2. While the onions and garlic cook, chop up the sweet potato, carrots, and zucchini.
3. Add sweet potato and vegetables to the pot; saute for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the diced tomatoes, water, bullion, and Berbere spice, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. After 10 minutes, add the peanut butter and the thyme to the stew. Let it cook, covered, for another 3-5 minutes.
6. Salt to taste, serve and enjoy.