What Is Soul Food? Cultural Importance and Nutrition Tips

Soul meals is the normal delicacies of African Individuals (1).

Generally merely known as “Southern meals,” soul meals was carried to the North and remainder of america by African Individuals leaving the South through the Nice Migration of the early to mid-Twentieth century.

Meals vary from easy household dinners of rice and beans, fried rooster, and collard greens with ham hocks to tables loaded with candied yams, smothered pork chops, gumbo, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, candy potato pie, and peach cobbler.

Soul meals is an integral a part of Black meals tradition and sometimes evokes sturdy emotions of house, household, and togetherness.

This text explains the fundamentals of soul meals, explores whether or not it’s wholesome, and gives easy tricks to enhance the diet of soul meals dishes.

The Southern weight-reduction plan, which is usually related to soul meals, accommodates organ meats, processed meats, eggs, fried meals, added fat, and sweetened drinks.

This consuming sample is tied to an elevated danger of coronary heart illness, diabetes, kidney illness, most cancers, stroke, and psychological decline (2, 3).

Based on the Facilities for Illness Management (CDC), African Individuals ages 18–49 are twice as more likely to die from coronary heart illness as white Individuals. Black Individuals ages 35–54 even have a 50% larger probability of hypertension than white Individuals (4).

Whereas social and financial disparities play a major function in these disproportionate illness charges, dietary selections might also contribute.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that each one soul meals is unhealthy. Nutrient-rich dishes and leafy inexperienced greens are additionally staples of soul meals.


Many gadgets generally related to soul meals are linked to an elevated danger of a number of diseases, together with coronary heart illness. But, soul meals might be made a lot more healthy by emphasizing the custom’s nutritious dishes.

Soul meals embodies quite a few legacies, traditions, and practices handed down from era to era.

Making a more healthy soul meals plate doesn’t imply abandoning this wealthy heritage.

The truth is, making small modifications to recipes and cooking strategies might assist enhance dishes’ nutrient profiles whereas sustaining taste, richness, and cultural traditions.

Select extra plant-based meals

Conventional African diets are plant-based and included all kinds of vegatables and fruits, comparable to leafy greens, okra, watermelon, complete grains, and black-eyed peas (5, 6).

In conventional societies, meat — when consumed in any respect — was eaten in very small portions and sometimes as a seasoning (7).

Diets that embody loads of plant meals are related to extra average physique weights and decreased illness danger (5).

Moreover, a meta-analysis in individuals who ate leafy inexperienced and cruciferous greens, comparable to collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and cabbage, indicated a 15.8% lowered danger of coronary heart illness, in contrast with a management group (8).

Tricks to improve your consumption of plant meals

  • Make certain half of your plate includes non-starchy greens, comparable to greens, eggplant, okra, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and turnips.
  • Swap out meat for legumes, nuts, or seeds as your most important protein supply. Examples of those plant meals embody lentils, beans, peanuts, and black-eyed peas.
  • Diversify your weight-reduction plan by consuming roots and tubers, comparable to candy potato, taro, plantain, and pumpkin.
  • Snack on uncooked veggies, nuts, and seeds as an alternative of excessive fats, excessive sugar choices like chips and cookies.
  • Intention for at the least two colourful plant-based meals on every plate — for instance, collard greens and roasted pumpkin or an apple with a handful of nuts.

Favor complete grains

The U.S. Division of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that folks make at the least half of the grains they eat complete grains (9).

Complete grains are the whole grain, together with the bran, germ, and endosperm. They could play a job in weight administration, intestine well being, and the prevention of sort 2 diabetes, coronary heart illness, and even colorectal, pancreatic, and abdomen cancers (10).

Examples of complete grains are complete wheat, brown rice, oats, sorghum, millet, fonio, and barley.

Some soul meals entrées like macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and rice dishes are constituted of refined grains, which have had their nutrient-dense bran and germ eliminated throughout processing and are thus not as nutritious as their complete grain counterparts.

Tricks to take pleasure in extra complete grains

  • Change refined grains with their complete grain counterparts. For instance, select complete wheat flour as an alternative of white flour or complete grain cornmeal as an alternative of degerminated.
  • Use brown rice, sorghum, millet, or fonio rather than white rice.
  • When baking, swap refined flour with complete grain flours like teff, complete wheat, and sorghum flours.
  • Select packaged meals during which complete grains are the primary or second merchandise on the ingredient record.

Season with veggies, herbs, and spices

Along with containing excessive sodium processed meats like ham hocks, soul meals typically makes use of seasoned salt, garlic salt, and cajun seasoning. These meals and spices contribute to the general quantity of sodium you eat.

Extreme sodium consumption is related to an elevated danger of hypertension, stroke, coronary heart illness, and untimely demise (11, 12).

Proof means that African Individuals are extra delicate to the blood-pressure-lowering results of decreased salt consumption. Decreasing your dietary sodium consumption might end in a 4–8 mmHg discount in systolic blood strain — the highest quantity on a studying (11).

Seasoning meals with fragrant veggies like onions, garlic, and celery, in addition to herbs and spices, not solely reduces sodium content material but additionally boosts the antioxidant content material and taste (13).

Tricks to change salt

  • Experiment with daring, low sodium spices, comparable to Ethiopian berbere or Tunisian harissa.
  • Use herbs and spices as an alternative of salt. Add contemporary herbs towards the top of cooking and dry herbs at first.
  • Purchase contemporary, frozen, or salt-free canned greens, or rinse excessive sodium canned greens earlier than utilizing.
  • Keep away from salting your meal on the desk, particularly earlier than tasting it.
  • Make your personal seasoning mix by mixing:
    • 2 tablespoons (14 grams) of black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon (5.5 grams) of cayenne pepper
    • 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of paprika
    • 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of onion powder
    • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of garlic powder
    • 1 floor bay leaf

Change your cooking strategies

Cooking strategies have an effect on each the nutrient composition of a meal and illness danger.

Observational research in postmenopausal girls affiliate fried meals like fried rooster, fried fish, and fried potatoes with a better danger of all-cause and heart-related mortality (14).

Excessive warmth cooking strategies, comparable to frying, baking, roasting, and grilling, might introduce chemical compounds like acrylamide heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic fragrant hydrocarbons (PAHs) (15, 16, 17).

HCAs and PAHs are related to an elevated danger of most cancers. They could additionally improve diabetes danger (17, 18).

Whereas boiling and stewing are wholesome alternate options for cooking meats, grains, and greens, they might end in a lack of vitamins like vitamin C, lutein, and beta carotene (19).

When you go for boiling or stewing, you may nonetheless glean a few of the misplaced vitamins by including the nutrient-rich liquid — or potlikker — into different dishes.

Suggestions for wholesome cooking strategies

  • Trim away any seen fats and take away any charred components of meals earlier than consuming.
  • When cooking starchy meals, purpose for a golden brown shade slightly than a darkish brown shade or closely crisped exterior.
  • Marinate meats in citrus fruits or juices, vinegar, or onions, herbs, and spices.
  • Steam, sauté, stir-fry, or blanch greens as an alternative of frying them.
  • When you stew greens, use the nutrient-rich, leftover potlikker as a gravy or dipping sauce for cornbread. It’s also possible to incorporate this liquid into different dishes.
  • Precook meats within the microwave and end them on the grill.
  • Ditch the deep fryer and recreate favourite recipes by oven-frying or utilizing an air fryer.
  • When you should deep-fry meals, select an oil with a excessive smoke level, comparable to canola, peanut, or avocado oil.

Make wholesome swaps

Modifying recipes by substituting more healthy substances for top fats, excessive calorie, excessive sodium choices is an efficient strategy to honor household traditions with out giving up on taste.

Easy swap concepts

  • Select heart-healthy oils like olive, peanut, or canola oils as an alternative of strong fat, comparable to lard, that are excessive in saturated fats.
  • Go for lowered fats cheese and lowered fats or nonfat milk as an alternative of full fats cheeses and milk.
  • In greens and different dishes, change excessive sodium, excessive fats meats like ham hocks with smoked, skinless turkey breast.
  • Ditch the marshmallows or brown sugar on yams for cinnamon, vanilla, or a splash of orange juice.
  • Marinate meats and poultry in herbs and spices as an alternative of smothering them in gravy.
  • Lighten mayonnaise by mixing half of it with plain nonfat Greek yogurt.
  • Substitute lard or butter in baked desserts with fruit purées like applesauce.

Meals is deeply intertwined with celebration, household, emotion, legacy, and id.

Once in a while, give your self permission to take pleasure in your favourite dishes.

In conditions with a number of favourite dishes, watch your portion sizes. A great rule of thumb is to make non-starchy veggies half of your plate, starches 1 / 4 of your plate, and protein sources the final quarter of your plate.


You’ll be able to improve the nutrient content material of soul meals by favoring nutrient-rich dishes, swapping out unhealthy substances for wholesome ones, selecting cooking strategies apart from frying, slicing again on salt, and consuming extra complete grains and plant meals.

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