Health Through Heritage

It’s February, and already you’re tired of the dining hall (mostly just walking through the cold to get there). Luckily, the first week of February provides some foodspiration in the form of African Heritage and Health Week.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

African Heritage and Health Week (Feb. 1 – 7) celebrates the foods, flavors, and healthy cooking techniques that were key to the wellbeing of ancestors from African diaspora cultures in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and the American South, each with distinct local foods and cooking styles.

Food and nutrition nonprofit, Oldways created the celebration, with its overall mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. The basic premise of African Heritage and Health Week is to bring people together to support one another in healthy eating practices. A fringe benefit: developing multicultural sensitivity and experience.

African Heritage and Health Week also purposely coincides with the beginning of Black History Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are more prevalent in African American communities.With traditional diets waning in popularity, this week is a way to link African American heritage to historically healthy eating and lifestyle practices.

So what makes these diets so healthy? The African Heritage Diet Pyramid shows a framework for these traditional ingredients.

The diet is based on fresh, natural plant foods: fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens (chard, collards, kale, spinach, turnip, greens), tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, plantains), beans and nuts, rice and whole grains, healthy oils, and homemade sauces of herbs and spices. These are the core group to shop for. There is minimal consumption of eggs, poultry, other meats, and sweets. (Hey, saving some money!)

There is a great variety of high-nutrient foods, and those naturally low in processed sugar and unhealthy fats.

So, here’s how you celebrate African Heritage and Health Week: 

COOK: Plates of Expression dishes and foods from all four distinct regions of African heritage (click on the food for the recipe!)


Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

LEARN: Taste of Heritage Cooking Classeshands-on experience showing people how to eat and cook with traditional ingredients, reconnecting participants with the way of eating and living that promoted the health of African American ancestors everywhere.


DINE: African Heritage Dine Around Townchallenge yourself to experience something new (or old!) – alphabetical index, by state, of cultural restaurants near you that offer widest variety of nutritious, plant-based dishes, preparing all the traditional ingredients and dishes in delicious new ways.

For a quick guide, check out this African Heritage Diet 101 brochure and dive deeper into African Heritage and Health Week.CALLING ALL PANTHERS FANS! ITS SUPER BOWL WEEK. , “It wasn’t going to be instant grits. It was going to be like long, slow-cooked collard greens. I think those collard greens are brewing right now. You can smell them from 100 miles away.” Imagine Cam throwing this Collard Greens recipe to you. Eat them at your Super Bowl party, or save them for your Monday lunch – clearly a win-win situation.

Angelica Arnold is the Program Assistant for Health and Wellness at Student Wellness. She is a first year Master of Public Administration candidate at the UNC School of Government. Her focus is on state, local, and nonprofit programs for nutrition education and walkable communities. She also a volunteer instructor for UNC Fitness Breaks and a youth basketball coach.

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