How to Create a Healthy Soul Food Plate — Guide and Recipes 2022

Soul food is African American cuisine.

Soul food, sometimes known as “Southern cuisine,” was brought to the North and rest of the United States by African Americans fleeing the South during the Great Migration of the early to mid-twentieth century.

Simple family meals of rice and beans, fried chicken, and collard greens with ham hocks give way to tables piled high with candied yams, smothered pork chops, gumbo, black-eyed peas, Macaroni and cheese, cornbread, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler are all on the menu.

Soul food is an essential component of Black cuisine culture, evoking strong sentiments of home, family, and togetherness.

This article defines soul food, investigates if it is nutritious, and offers easy suggestions to improve the nutrition of soul food meals.

How to Create a Healthy Soul Food Plate — Guide and Recipes 2022
How to Create a Healthy Soul Food Plate — Guide and Recipes 2022

Is soul food healthy?

Organ meats, processed meats, eggs, fried dishes, added fats, and sweetened drinks are all part of the Southern diet, which is generally linked with soul cuisine.

This eating habit has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, renal disease, cancer, stroke, and mental decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans aged 18 to 49 are twice as likely as white Americans to die from heart disease. Black Americans aged 35-54 are also 50% more likely than white Americans to have high blood pressure.

While social and economic inequities are important factors in these unequal illness rates, food choices may also play a role.

This isn’t to argue that all soul food is bad for you. Soul food also comprises nutrient-dense dishes and a variety of lush green vegetables.

A guide to preserving culinary culture while also increasing health

Soul cuisine encompasses a variety of legacies, traditions, and practices that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Making a healthy soul food plate does not imply giving up on this rich tradition.

In reality, minor changes to recipes and cooking methods can significantly enhance nutritional profiles while preserving flavor, richness, and cultural traditions.

1. Choose more plant-based foods

Traditional African diets were plant-based and consisted of a broad range of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, okra, watermelon, complete grains, and black-eyed peas.

The meat was consumed in relatively tiny quantities and was frequently used as a spice in early communities.

Plant-based diets are related to more reasonable body weights and a lower risk of illness.

Furthermore, as compared to a control group, persons who ate leafy green and cruciferous vegetables such as collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and cabbage had a 15.8% lower risk of heart disease.

2. Favor whole grains

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that consumers consume at least half of their cereals as whole grains.

Whole grains include the grain’s bran, germ, and endosperm. They might help with weight loss, intestinal health, and the prevention of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even colorectal, pancreatic, and stomach cancer.

Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, sorghum, millet, fonio, and barley are examples of whole grains.

Some soul food entrées, such as macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and rice dishes, are produced with refined grains, which have had their nutrient-dense bran and germ removed during processing and are thus less nutritious than whole grains.

3. Season with veggies, herbs, and spices

Soul food frequently incorporates seasoned salt, garlic salt, and cajun flavor, in addition to high sodium processed meats such ham hocks. These foods and spices contribute to your overall salt intake.

Excess salt consumption is linked to an increased risk of hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and early mortality.

African Americans appear to be more susceptible to the blood-pressure-lowering effects of salt restriction. Reduced salt consumption may result in a 4-8 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure — the highest number on a measurement.

Seasoning dishes with aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic, and celery, as well as herbs and spices, not only decrease salt content but also increases antioxidant and taste content.

4. Change your cooking methods

Cooking methods influence both the nutritious makeup of a meal and the risk of illness.

Fried meals including fried chicken, fried fish, and fried potatoes have been linked to an increased risk of all-cause and heart-related death in postmenopausal women, according to observational studies.

High-temperature cooking methods such as frying, baking, roasting, and grilling may introduce chemicals such as acrylamide heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (PAHs).

HCAs and PAHs have been related to increased cancer risk. They may also raise the risk of diabetes.

While boiling and stewing are nutritious ways to cook meats, cereals, and vegetables, they may result in nutritional loss such as vitamin C, lutein, and beta carotene.

If you choose to boil or stew, you may still salvage some of the nutrients by incorporating the nutrient-rich liquid — or potlikker — into other meals.

5. Make healthy swaps

Make healthy substitutions

Recipes may be modified by swapping healthy components for high fat, high calorie, high salt ones. This is an excellent method to honor family traditions while maintaining flavor.

Food is inextricably linked to celebration, family, emotion, heritage, and identity.

Allow yourself to indulge in your favorite foods on occasion.

Watch your serving amounts when you have numerous favorite foods. Make non-starchy vegetable half of your meal, carbs a quarter of your dish, and protein sources the remaining quarter of your plate.

Recipes to try

If you want to spice up your soul food plate, check out this recipe booklet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It features recipes for veggie stew, chicken gumbo, smothered greens, cornbread, sweet potato pie, macaroni and cheese, and other heart-healthy dishes.

The bottom line

Traditional African American cuisine, commonly known as soul food, is rich and tasty and embraces multiple cultural legacies.

While certain soul food meals are rich in fat, salt, and added sugar, many other dishes are high in nutrient-dense vegetables such as leafy greens and legumes. As a result, it’s simple to create a hearty soul food plate by emphasizing some foods over others.

Furthermore, changing your cooking methods and substituting healthier ingredients may make your favorite soul food meals even healthier.

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