More than Just Soul Food…

Originally posted in the Huffington Post Black Voices.

If you’re looking for ways to eat healthier, you may need to look no further than your roots. You might be surprised to learn that eating the traditional foods of African heritage can help lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and certain cancers. It’s true. Unlike the high-calorie fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and greens common to many “soul food” tables, the traditional foods of people of African heritage are actually very healthy.

And you’ve heard it all before…

  • One out of five African American adults has diabetes.
  • Forty-four percent of African American women and thirty-nine percent of men have high blood pressure.

It’s no secret that diet and physical activity play a major role in all of these conditions. In comes the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid that provides a model for healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle. This new pyramid brings together the healthy food and traditions of people throughout the African Diaspora – particularly the American South, the Caribbean, South America and Africa.

The African Heritage Diet Pyramid emphasizes eating more leafy greens, beans and other vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains and less sugar and animal products. Packaged foods are limited and so is the sodium. This is all supported by a healthy and active lifestyle as the base of the pyramid.

In each category there’s an opportunity to try something new or reinvent a family favorite. Add a new whole grain to your pantry; millet, barley and wild rice are all easy to find. You might try your Rice and Beans with brown versus white rice next time. Or dare to leave the meat out of a pot of greens with this recipe for Braised Collard Greens. Tip: I like to add a jalapeno pepper and apple cider vinegar to my greens.

As an African American and a registered dietitian, I’m pretty excited about this new pyramid. There are so many healthy combinations available and opportunities to experiment with the foods of our ancestors. I love the fact that sweet potatoes, greens and beans are at the base and hope you’ll find a way to put more of these on your plate as well.


African Heritage Diet PyramidThe African Heritage Diet Pyramid was created and introduced by non-profit organization, Oldways, that gathered a number of experts including registered dietitians, nutrition scientists, community health experts, and culinary historians. Oldways has also created and introduced Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and Vegetarian diet pyramids, along with health/education outreach programs to inspire healthier eating.


8 Comments on More than Just Soul Food…

  1. Erin Johnson
    January 30, 2017 at 9:56 AM (10 months ago)
    I'm an a young black woman has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I need help with losing weight & learning to eat healthy & living with my diagnosis. Please call me.323-710-4895 Can you refer me to a black Dietian in the Los Angeles area. Reply
    • Marisa
      January 30, 2017 at 2:32 PM (10 months ago)
      Hi Erin, I don't personally know any black RDs with a private practice in LA and I don't feel comfortable referring anyone I can't personally vouch for. However, you might start your search at to find someone with the expertise you need. There are also many RDs who provide online/virtual nutrition counseling. This may be another option but only you can decide if that would be a good fit for you. Feel free to email me offline if you have more specific RD questions. Reply
  2. Pete Smith
    March 8, 2017 at 9:31 PM (8 months ago)
    Hi Marisa, Do you have any referrals for a black RD in Charlotte, NC? I would like to get my overall nosy fat percentage down to a reasonable number without losing a good deal of muscle in collateral loss. Looking forward to hearing back from you. Thanks in advance. Pete Smith Reply
    • Marisa
      March 9, 2017 at 9:03 AM (8 months ago)
      Hi Pete, I don't have any referrals at the moment. I will ask around though and let you know if I find a good referral for you. In the meantime, I suggest you consider working with a sports dietitian in Charlotte using this link: Reply
  3. Tracy Hill
    March 20, 2017 at 5:10 PM (8 months ago)
    Marisa are you located in tge south sector? Arlington or Mansfield. As you privude counaeling into tge habits and emotional why's of what and when we eat. Lastly do you accept insurance. Reply
    • Marisa
      March 20, 2017 at 5:26 PM (8 months ago)
      Hi Tracy. I am in Atlanta and not familiar with those areas. I'm not able to accept new clients at present. To find an RD in your area, try this tool: And let me know if there's anything I can help with in the meantime. Reply
  4. Andrea Cowart
    August 3, 2017 at 9:51 AM (4 months ago)
    HI I have just discovered some amazing things about the food i eat, and dont. I was very interested in knowing what, as well as how long it took to go to school and get into this particular professional. ALSO I WAS TOLD ABOUT THE DIFFERENT types of nuttiness specialist and i want to know which was your decision and why Reply
    • Marisa
      August 4, 2017 at 11:21 AM (4 months ago)
      I am a registered dietitian and love it. To find out more about the profession, you might start here: Reply

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