As a society our culture has a lot to do with our food habits and customs. This is true of almost every culture in America including the African American culture. African Americans are one of the largest cultural groups in the United States composed of about 30 million people. This is more than 12 percent of the total population in America. Many historical and cultural factors influenced how the African American diet evolved into what it is today including a long history of persecution and segregation. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, before Africans were brought to the United States, food habits were influenced by New World foods such as cassava, maize, chiles, peanuts, pumpkins, and tomatoes. African cooks adapted their cooking techniques to American, British, French, and Spanish cuisines to develop the American southern cuisine styles. These styles emphasized frying, boiling, and roasting dishes using pork, pork fat, corn, sweet potatoes, rice, and local green leafy vegetables.
The Traditional Diet
The traditional African American diet includes all of the foods mentioned above, as well as sausage, chicken, many kinds of fish, greens (mixtures of chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens), black-eyed peas, okra, grits, peas, tomatoes, and squash. The typical meal pattern of the African American community included a large breakfast consisting of grits, eggs, ham, bacon, and even fried sweet potatoes. Coffee and tea were more common beverages than milk or juice. Lunch, which was commonly called dinner, usually featured a boiled entrée, such as legumes or greens with ham or a stew-type dish. Dessert was usually included.
Current Dietary Practices
Today few people follow this meal pattern. Sunday dinner was particularly important to the African American culture; this is still true today in many African American homes. The role of food in the African American culture has traditionally been centered on social interaction. Currently, food habits show that African Americans typically choose items such as: fried chicken, barbecued ribs, corn bread, sweet potato pie, collard greens, and fruit-flavored drinks much more than Caucasians do. Lactose intolerance is also more common among African Americans. This results in a lower intake of dairy foods in the diet. While food habits have changed throughout the years, there are still food preparation practices that persist among the African American community such as frying foods. Frying is more popular than boiling or baking foods.
Senior Food Guide Pyramid
Tools such as the food guide pyramid are valuable for all cultures to use. The difference in what other cultures eat just needs to be related in the food guide pyramid. For example, the serving sizes and groups remain the same in the basic African American diet. However, foods listed in the typical food guide pyramid have to be related to the African American diet. For example, the bread and cereal group might include grits, macaroni, corn bread, biscuits, hominy, rice, or hush puppies. The vegetable group would include greens, turnips, succotash, sweet potatoes, coleslaw, and okra. Use of a culturally appropriate food guide pyramid is important since recent studies have shown nutritional deficiencies and health complications related to the African American diet and lifestyle. African American diets are low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. Sodium intake is also higher in the African American diet. There are noted deficiencies in calories, iron, and calcium in many African Americans. Obesity is a common problem among African Americans. Non-insulin dependent diabetes affects almost 20 percent of the African American population in the United States. Our diets are definitely influenced by our cultures. The African American community is not any different. It would be desirable to show how to consume a typical African American diet and how to modify different aspects of it to promote healthy nutrition. Understanding portion sizes and preparation methods is essential to promote a healthy lifestyle while including traditional foods.