28 | THE VOICE NOVEMBER 1 - 7, 2012
The Amazing properties of African Caribbean food
ngela Tella is a registered dietitan, lifestyle expert, founder of Illumina Lifestyle Consulting and author of two successful books: Healthy West African & Wise™, which contains healthy recipes and Healthy West African & Wise Food Guide™, which provides nutritional information on foods eaten in both African and Caribbean communities. Yinka Sunmonu asks her about the health benefits of our food and why it pays to eat healthily. Yam, for instance, is a versatile starchy food that provides readily available energy and aids bowel health due to its fibre content. Okra is a vegetable with soluble fibre that can reduce cholesterol levels and also aids bowel health, while Callaloo (also known as African Spinach) is high in fibre as well as calcium, which is needed for bone and tooth health. Plantain is a good source of iron and also contains vitamins A and C, both powerful antioxidants.
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Yinka “ Sunmonu: With
shopping list in hand, am off to the market but have no idea about the nutritional value of staples such as yam, okra, callaloo or plantain. Help.
YS: What are some of the most nutritious African and Caribbean fruits and vegetables? AT: Cassava leaves, sweet peppers, African spinach (callaloo), chocho (christophine), mangoes, guava and bananas are examples of popularly eaten African and Caribbean fruits and vegetables which can all aid good health. YS: What are your top 5 vegetables? AT: African spinach/callaloo is rich in iron and folic acid, both essential for a healthy pregnancy. Baobab leaves are high in calcium which is particularly significant as dairy foods (which are known to be calcium sources) do not feature much in some African diets. They also contain beta-carotene (the plant version of vitamin A) which is essential for eye health. Cassava leaves are rich in protein which is required for growth and tissue repair. Okra is rich in soluble fibre which aids bowel health and
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the seeds contain an oil, which is similar to olive oil making it a very heart-healthy food. Scotch bonnet peppers are rich in vitamin C which can substantially boost iron absorption from other ingredients in a meal. YS: What tips would you give to somebody planning a healthy diet and is it the end of fried plantain or salt cod fritters? AT: A healthy diet is about balance, variety and proportion. It’s also about enjoying food and making informed choices. This means including foods from all food groups, watching portion size and considering how frequently you eat certain foods. Fried plantain and salt cod fritters would feature in a healthy diet but in small quantities and eaten occasionally, as both these dishes are fried. It would also mean perhaps using healthier cooking methods, such as grilling plantain instead of frying. YS: How can we ensure that we, children especially, get enough vitamin D in our diets and why is it an important vitamin? AT: Vitamin D is required for bone health and the few good dietary sources include oily fish (like mackerel, sardines, herring), eggs and foods with added vitamin D, such as some margarines and breakfast cereals. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight which reacts with exposed skin to produce vitamin D. There has been concern that about 25% of the UK population have low vitamin D levels. In severe cases this can lead to bone problems, such as rickets in children, and weak, painful and tender legs in adults (a condition known as osteomalacia). Due to darker skin tones, Africans and Caribbeans are an at-risk group for vitamin D deficiency. As such, the
Angela Tella: “Many African
and Caribbean foods including the ones you mentioned have amazing, yet unsung health benefits.
Department of Health recommends a daily vitamin D supplement. People on lower incomes may be eligible for free vitamin supplements through the Healthy Start scheme. YS: What are the benefits of a healthy diet and is it dependent on income? AT: A healthy diet is one which ensures your body gets all the nutrients it needs and has many benefits including better energy levels, improved concentration/mood, and better immunity. Eating healthily also reduces your risk of disease conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers, all of which have a high prevalence in African and Caribbean communities. There is a misconception that healthy eating is expensive. It is possible to eat healthily on a budget and here are a few top tips:
Frozen fruit and vegetables are as healthy as fresh varieties, cost less and count towards your 5-a-day intake. Beans and pulses are excellent sources of protein, don’t contain saturated fat and are cheaper than meat. Base meals on starchy foods like rice and pasta, which are relatively cheap and filling just mind portion sizes.