For many African-Americans, food is associated with comfort for the soul. But the history of “soul food” is not that comforting, and it’s not as nutritious as it is delicious.
The birth of “soul food” happened during the time of slavery. When slaves were brought to the states, they imported certain foods – such as yams or sweet potatoes—which originated in their motherland, Africa.
Foods such as corn and pork—which were mostly available—were cooked for the masters, and anything left over was given to the slaves. Since slaves had to work long hours and needed high-calorie foods to hold them over for the day, “soul food” was rich in fat and calories. The dishes didn’t just contain pork and yams but also greens – such as collard greens and kale, and legumes such as black-eyed-peas.
But new studies have found that because “soul food” is high in fat—especially saturated fat—the high amount of cholesterol leaves many African-Americans with diabetes type-2, hypertension or early death. The problem is not that African-Americans don’t like to eat a healthier diet, but that healthier food is often considered “White people’s food.”
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that was originated by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention in 2017, African-American women ranked among the highest with obesity, with 82 percent in comparison to African-American men with 69.6 percent. White women reached 63.5 percent and men reached 73.3 percent.
The problem is that “soul food” is culturally ingrained in the Black culture, and many African-Americans are unaware of the health issues “soul food” – or too much of it – can cause. Portion control is as important as the nutritional aspect of any type of food consumed.
There are many reasons why healthy food might be considered “White people’s food.”
In marketing, it’s mostly advertised to the White population, therefore healthier food is also pricier—even at McDonald’s. Healthier food is also less available in low income- and predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. The so-called “food desert” areas only offer a limited amount of fresh produce, and it’s usually overpriced.
“My clients absolutely associate healthy eating with eating like White folk,” said Natalie Webb, a Washington D.C.-area nutritionist and dietician in an interview. “I think it stems from what people see in marketing and what they associate healthful eating with, and it often doesn’t include foods they’re familiar with.”
However, there are farmers’ markets in every city that offer better produce for cheap. Another way to live healthier is to check health guidelines on government websites and adopt healthier eating habits with the entire family.
“When you change folks’ food—especially people of color—it’s like you’re asking them to change who they are,” Webb continued. “That’s why it’s so important as a dietician to start where folks are and introduce foods that are going to be familiar but maybe in a little different way.”
According to a new health guide released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf, it’s suggested that “All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.”
The guide also suggests to “Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts,” as well as “Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.”
Healthy living doesn’t have to be hard or expensive, there are ways to be cautious about what to eat, how much of it and what other—better—choices are available to provide the body with nutritions, and less fat and sugar. Exercise is another crucial aspect to keep in mind and to incorporate into a daily routine.