Creating A Healthier Diet On Nigerian Cuisine


Published: May 12, 2014

From the savory meats to rich rice dishes, food is definitely a staple in Nigerian culture. However, a diet heavy in meat and carbohydrates can become a huge barrier when it comes to weight loss and healthy living. You’ve probably been to a doctor or personal trainer who told you to cut out those carbohydrates and essentially get rid of your ethnic diet.  Many women find themselves in a difficult place having to sacrifice the tasty Nigerian foods they love in order to achieve their fitness goals.  The good thing is that you don’t have to completely punish your taste buds to become healthier.  A healthy diet can still be achieved by applying a few easy tips to the Nigerian meals you cherish.

1. Drop the cans and blend the fresh tomatoes

Canned vegetables may be more convenient because they are easy to handle and have a longer shelf life.  However, lots of canned tomato products have significant amounts of unnecessary salt and sugar to help preserve taste.  Canned products may also contain BPA, which is a chemical that can interfere with your body’s hormonal balance and can also be harmful in the development of young children.

2. Don’t hold back on the leafy greens

Leafy greens such as spinach, bitter leaves, jute leaves, water leaf, “greens” (African spinach/efo tete) and pumpkin leaves are nutritional powerhouses that are frequently incorporated into Nigerian stews. They tend to include vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and phytochemicals, which help with cardiovascular and bone health, vision, growth and repair of tissues, and weight loss. They also can promote beautiful skin and hair. To add some variety and expand your palate, substitute other leafy greens such as collards, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard, turnip greens, or radicchio, if you have access to them.


3. Exercise Portion control

Nigerian meals tend to make the carbohydrate the star of the show. There is always a mountain of rice or heavy mound of fufu next to the stew. Instead, make the carbohydrate on your plate about the size of your fist, and make the protein and vegetable the premier. This will help with your body’s sugar control and help prevent type II diabetes and obesity. Most importantly, learn to stop eating at the exact point that your body is no longer hungry. Don’t wait until you are stuffed or too full.

4. The browner the better

Brown carbohydrates refer to whole grain foods such as brown rice, oats, and wheat. Foods like ofada rice and semolina are also good examples of whole grain foods in Nigerian cuisine which are generally more nutritious than starchy white carbohydrates such as yam, cassava, and white rice. Brown carbohydrates are also categorized as complex carbohydrates because they have a low glycemic index, high satiety index, and lots of fiber to help prevent type II diabetes and obesity. Other great carbohydrate alternatives that you can easily substitute into your Nigerian dish include quinoa, beans, and spaghetti squash.

5. Try not to fry

Boil, bake and broil! You can still get the tender and crispy meat you desire by going in that order. This method will melt off some of the animal fat and spare the use of extra oil.  If you do succumb to frying, make sure you use the right oil. Olive oil is recognized as a great oil choice because it is low in saturated fat and has high levels of good unsaturated fats. However, it tends to be relatively expensive. Canola oil is way more affordable and is just as good as olive oil in nutritional quality. Be wary of palm oil and coconut oil. While they may have small benefits, they are extremely high in saturated fat and should be avoided in daily cooking. In general, good oils increase the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol, which helps prevent coronary heart disease. Bad oils do the exact reverse.

6. Snack in moderation

Chin chin, puff puff, meat pie, fish roll, and fried plantain are fun favorites on any occasion, but can really pack on the pounds if you use them to snack at home.  These foods are high in sugar and fat and lack healthy nutrients.  Nuts such as cashews and peanuts, and fresh fruits such as bananas and oranges are great familiar alternatives that can also quiet your stomach.  Nuts and fruits contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, and also contain large amounts of fiber which help tremendously with weight loss and digestion.  To add more variety in snacking, take advantage of the many types of fruits and nuts that nature has to offer. Additionally strive to front load snacking during the day time while your activity is high and your metabolism is up and running.

There are endless ways to create a healthy diet on Nigerian cuisine and the next idea can start with you. Be creative with your cooking and inspire others to incorporate healthy changes into their diet as well. Bring your dish to a party or share your recipe with family and friends. A healthy community is a strong community.

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About Nofisat Sonekan

Nafi is a health educator, youth mentor, social justice advocate, performing artist and co-executive of a cause-minded online company, Jamboroo. She is an honors scholar and graduate of New York University, and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine. She has a strong desire to promote health and wellness in communities all over the globe through various modalities. Follow her on instagram @love_nafi and visit

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