I know for some of us, we didn’t grow up with teachings on how food fuels our bodies or how food can affect them. At the same time, we may have witnessed how family members were affected by diseases brought on by the foods that we eat. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one cause of death for Black men and women is heart disease.
People at risk for heart disease include those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those who are overweight or obese. Food groups that contribute to the above conditions are highly processed carbohydrates, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated and trans fats, and red and processed meats. When I think of family gatherings, I think of at least one dish from each food group. The mac and cheese, the sweeeeeeet tea/lemonade/Kool-Aid, the meats (with an emphasis on pork and beef), all of the lovely deserts, and the cornbread. When we have greens, you know they’re not right without some sort of bacon grease. Many of the foods that we love and attribute to our family and background are the same foods that are the leading cause of death amongst Black people. Coincidence? I think not.
This is not a conversation to take lightly. Many of the foods that have been passed down through generations and are ingrained in our culture stem from our roots in the South. Back then, Black people did not have access to many food choices. So, they did what they do best—whatever they had, they made it golden. This is why some of us have a love for chitlins (aka chitterlings), pigs feet, pork rinds, etc. Even to this day, there are many communities that do not have access to nutritious foods. This results in families relying on foods in the categories above, which makes it hard to have a balanced diet.
So, what can we do? The first step is to acknowledge and take a look at our diets and what we’re eating now. I challenge you for the next two weeks to log your foods and take note of how many of your meals fall within the above categories. For instance, if you have a meal that falls into two categories, you would put a tally under both categories. At the end of the two weeks, look over your eating log and see how many meals fall into to the following food groups:
We can also look for ways to substitute and/or cut back on foods and items in these groups. For instance, consider replacing cow milk with a nut milk such as almond, cashew, or hemp seed milk. You could also season your greens without using meat. In the age of 2021, there are many “meatless” options in grocery stores, such as Impossible Burgers, Beyond Meat, and Plant Provisions. There are also vegan egg substitutes such as Just Egg. When eating out and ordering a salad, consider ordering a vinaigrette instead of a blue cheese dressing. Smaller portioned, healthier choices in our day-to-day diets can have lasting impacts not only on our lives, but also on future generations.
Here is a list of heart-healthy foods you can incorporate in your diet:
Am I asking you to drastically change your lifestyle right now? Absolutely not. I just challenge you to consider making choices for you and your family that can positively impact your health. With this, we may have new recipes we can pass down to generations to nurture and heal their bodies.