Friday, November 14, 2008

Diet, Diabetes and Health in Africa

November is "Diabetes Month" and in recognition of "World Diabetes Day" (today, Nov. 14)," BBC Africa has been discussing the topic "Is diet the key to good health?" (in Africa) at their website and also on their program "Have your say." Diabetes is, as is true throughout the world, rapidly on the rise in Africa. Yesterday (Nov. 13), I joined the BBC's hour-long discussion program, where I mentioned the role of aggressive multinational advertising in influencing the tastes and choices of Africans (especially of imported foods), the role of convenience and time constraints on eating habits, and traditional-"modern" and rural-urban differences in what people eat. Also, you can hear interviews with people ordering rice and a beef stir-fry and fried chicken and French fries ("chips" from potatoes) in a restaurant in Accra, or a rural family from Malawi eating nshima (made from corn flour) and a fish relish, as well as practical advice on diet and health from Dr. Ndawula in Kampala, Uganda, and the experiences of diabetes patient Joseph Kibuuka.

Just as a couple of minor comments: the husband in Malawi, describing their meal said "but, unfortunately we don't have any vegetables" with the nshima. He knew the meal contained protein (the fish) and carbohydrates (corn). However, later he mentioned the sauce "to make it more appetizing" included onions and tomatoes. Onions and tomatoes qualify as vegetables. Also, as a minor point of clarification: one of the commentators mentioned that ugali, sadza, and nisma or nshima are all basically the same, and banku is the version in Ghana. It is my understanding that banku is the only one of those that is made from fermented corn dough, which is a notable distinction between them.

The BBC program touches on many important points: the role of exercise and physical activity, controlling portion sizes, advantages and disadvantages of processed and unprocessed foods, different effects of different types of cooking techniques (frying, boiling, steaming, etc.), role of convenience and cost in choosing foods, importance of fruits, vegetables, and drinking water, different types of protein resources. . .This is a very timely and urgent topic throughout Africa. I recommend checking these BBC resources out.

I wish I'd had time to talk about the positive traditional cultural image in Western Africa of the literally "big man" or "big woman," a nurturing, generous, successful, healthy, wealthy person, vs. the image of a "skinny" person as stingy, poor, and likely unhealthy. To be "fat" has historically been a good thing. That image is changing, but it still had a role in the fight against diabetes.

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At 4:09 PM, Blogger Nina said...

Hi Fran, Glad you put a post on the subject, and just wanted to let you know that I did hear you - I was driving home at the time! Part of the problem for those with diabetes is knowing what to eat, and feel "satisfied" as many will say. Regards, Nina

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Fran said...

Thanks for the comment, Nina. Yes, as the proverb says "It takes a 'heavy' stomach to blow the trumpet." People don't feel like they've REALLY eaten until they feel full. When I was doing my doctoral research back in the 1980s, I first made the mistake of asking people if they'd eaten. They often said "no," but when we did a 24-hr. recall, they'd had lots of stuff, like peanuts and bananas, or pineapple or mangoes, or other snacks they didn't count as real food.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Bajo Seasoned Salts said...

very cool.

A little recommendation, I found these to be so delicious and useful in my kitchen:



At 8:57 AM, Blogger Gnu Guru said...

Ah those peppers and tubers. Do you know these resources?
Lost crops of Africa [can access free online or as pdf
To my mind traditional methods of processing = skillful know-how which has significant nutritional dietary and medicinal benefits. eg enzyme factor when ferment and wet mill corn for kenkey. Personally find legumes, dried beans which will not germinate quite tasteless/lifeless. Are they genetically modified? or iradiated to deter bugs?
Alero experimented in marketing 'Black Palm' from Shea butter and we found yellow cake produced by traditional method [labor intensive] fermenting the nuts in pulp of fruit before drying retained curative properties not found in industrially produced products using chemicals.
Found these sites informative and wonder: what are your insights?
Best regards

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Fran said...

Thank you for your comment. Yes, I do know about the National Academy's "Lost Crops" series (I picked up my own copies of the first 3 vol. they've done, on grains, vegetables, and fruits, and am eagerly awaiting the next vols. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to the baobab site you listed--is the url correct?
You listed a lot of questions: I'll try and get to them as time goes by. This year I had a very interesting conversation with the head of the engineering school at Univ. of Ghana, Legon, (Prof. S. Sefa-Dedeh) about kenkey, corn, and fermentation. I'll look up my notes from that and try to share them soon.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Gnu Guru said...

Oooop! Try
Has some nice videos using song - involving children in propagating new plants.

Millennium Seed Bank Project
See Kew Garden has program in Mali and Burkino Faso. Would be great if educational program could be extended to Ghana:inspire and empower children particularly in rural areas to be curious and informed about their environment - a scientific interest in the flora - the rich vegetable resources available.

Subscribers to this blog: any networking possible to be catalysts for change that affect ordinary peoples' lives in real practical ways?
Embracing the Yes We Can mantra.

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