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African Cuisine: A Culprit in Chronic Diseases?

Populations in Italy and Greece have one of the lowest rates of obesity, chronic diseases and higher life expectancy. As surprising as it might be, for a country (Italy in particular) renowned for its pastas, pizzas and so on, it is a fact. Apparently the Mediterranean diet is best for preventing some types chronic diseases

One of the main benefits of the Mediterranean diets is its olive based cooking tradition. Now, getting access to olive oil to cook everyday in sub-Saharan Africa is not in everyone’s reach. Not only is it expensive, but also it is somehow ill equipped to the way we cook. By that last point, I mean the 20 persons meals that your mother or grandmother cook more often than not, because you may have 6 siblings and your third cousins always manage to come around at lunch time… does that ring a bell? It certainly does for me.

So then what’s the solution one might ask? Is it even that important? The answer is YES; it matters greatly to watch out for what is in your cooking pan. According to WHO’s experts, there are overwhelming issues between diet (and physical activity) patterns and some types of chronic diseases. Below is a selected summary of what was said during the 2002 WHO/FAO Geneva conference regarding two of the major chronic diseases that are increasingly affecting Africa:

Diabetes: excess weight gain, overweight and obesity and physical inactivity account for the escalating rates of type 2 diabetes, worldwide. Diabetes leads to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and infections. Increased physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight play critical roles in the prevention and treatment of diabetes

Cardiovascular diseases: cardiovascular diseases, the major killers worldwide, are to a great extent due to unbalanced diets and physical inactivity. Risk of their main forms, heart disease and stroke, is reduced by eating less saturated and trans fats, and sufficient amounts of (n-3 and n-6) polyunsaturated fats, fruits and vegetables and less salt, as well as by physical activity and controlling weight. Reduction of salt intake helps reduce blood pressure, a major cause of cardiovascular diseases.

Now we have to ask ourselves, is African cuisine at fault in the increase of chronic diseases on the continent? After all, palm oil is our primary oil and is basically used in everything. The thickness of it, its rich taste and even its colour can lead to believe that it is the deadliest of all oils. However, we can rest assured and continue to enjoy our cassava without any guilt. Indeed, some researches have actually praised the benefits of red palm oil in fighting chronic diseases. Other researches have concluded that there were insufficient proofs that linked red palm oil to a decrease in cardiovascular diseases risks. Skeptical in its benefits or not, the most important thing is that NOTHING says that it is bad for you.

This is not a green light to go overboard with it. Like anything else, moderation is the key. There are no secrets; nobody is asking anyone to deprive from loved food, but to balance it out. The earlier you get into a healthy routine, the easier it is to stick to it. So, plantains, cassava, and all the rest can stay on the menu as long as it is portion controlled.

Tamara Kinja Nyakabasa is a volunteer blogger who likes to write, tweet and blog in various places about health issues, fitness, women's rights/human rights, books and education.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Engage Africa Foundation's Staff.


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