Good Eats? The New African Heritage Diet Pyramid

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OldwaysAccording to the Office of Minority Health, in 2009, African Americans were 1.5 times as likely to be as obese as non-Hispanic Whites. So it goes without saying that African-American should be concerned with their diet. And according to the many nutritionists, the food pyramid is the way to go. A guide pyramid is a triangular or pyramid-shaped nutrition guide divided into sections showing the recommended intake for each food group. The United States Department of Agriculture issues the standard pyramid for American consumers.  



But a Boston nutrition group has come up with a controversial pyramid targeting African-Americans. The new African Heritage Diet Pyramid was created last year by a nonprofit nutrition education organization called Oldways. Created by a panel of nutritionists, historians, and sociologists, it isn’t the first ethnic or specialty diet pyramid put together by the organization. Oldways introduced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993; the Asian Diet Pyramid in 1995; the Latin American Diet Pyramid in 1996, and the Vegetarian Pyramid in 1997. And according to Oldways, the pyramids are not food pyramids. They are diet pyramids. 



“It’s not that each ethnic group should have their own food pyramid, but rather that there are great advantages in having different cultural models for healthy eating. America is a melting pot. No one size fits all. Oldways has developed and introduced all five of the Pyramids as these cultural models for healthy eating,” explains Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways.  



Why has a separate food-grouping pyramid been designed for African- Americans? “There are several wonderful reasons to have an African Heritage Pyramid. First, African Heritage culinary traditions are healthy, delicious, affordable and not difficult to prepare,” says Baer-Sinnott. “Second, heritage can be a motivator for change — a change toward healthy eating and lifestyles.”


The pyramid is centered on staples from the American South, Caribbean, South America and Africa. There is emphasis on consuming fewer dairy products, as up to 75 percent of African-Americans are lactose intolerant, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. “Oldways believes in the power of traditional diets. Scientific research repeatedly and overwhelmingly confirms the healthfulness of traditional diets — for the prevention of chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, for example) and longer living. Oldways’ traditional diet pyramids are guides about an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. For example, the African Heritage Diet Pyramid provides information to consumers about foods to eat for good health, and how often to eat them. The pyramid also includes lifestyle attributes — eating with family and/or friends and physical activity. A good reason to follow the African Heritage Diet Pyramid is as a guide for overall healthy eating and living — and to enjoy the great pleasure of delicious foods,” says Baer-Sinnott. “And then, of course, there is the all important taste factor. Traditional diets like the African Heritage Diet are not just healthy. They are incredibly delicious.”

Oldways recently received a $100,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to promote the new pyramid through supermarket tours, cooking classes and nutrition lectures. “We’ve had a great reaction from dietitians and health professionals, from media, and scientists. With the awareness that African-Americans have higher rates of overweight and obesity and diabetes, we’ve heard that this African Heritage Diet Pyramid is a wonderful, new approach for improving health,” says Baer-Sinnott.

“Oldways is a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization with a mission to guide people to better health through heritage,” says Baer-Sinnott.