Soul Food for Healthy Living: Ask A Nutritionist – And a Soul Food Historian. February 2, 2021

“In addition to the traditional soul food, one is called down-home healthy. The idea there is that you take traditional soul food preparations and you try to lighten them up on the calories, the salt, the fat. For example, instead of using smoked or salted pork, you would use smoked turkey. You might grill or bake instead of the traditional fry. ” 

– Adrian E. Miller

As Adrian E. Miller,  author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, states in an interview with Epicurious, “Lots of people, when they hear ‘soul food’ they just think, really unhealthy, fried. And there’s some justification for that. But I’m encouraging people to reassess soul food, because if you look at what nutritionists are telling us to eat these days, it’s leafy greens, sweet potatoes, more fish, more legumes. All of those things are the building blocks of soul food.” [READ: The History of Soul Food by Adrian E. Miller]

Studies show that African Americans suffer from higher rates of serious diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer, including increased mortality at an earlier age due to these diseases. Many factors contribute to these alarming statistics, including environmental factors, social and national policies, and racial health disparities.

Nutrition plays a critical role in lessoning the instance of disease. Eating a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle promote good health and lowers the chances for getting these illnesses, and can be incorporated into many of the foods we already enjoy. A healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and low-fat or nonfat dairy – and is also low in saturated fat, salt and added sugar. Many soul food recipes offer an abundance of healthy staples: for example, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and high fiber black eyed peas to name a few. Preparation is key – often, many of our favorite recipes are prepared with ingredients that may ultimately add too much saturated fat, calories and salt to your diet.

Importantly, enjoy that dish when it’s cooked with love, seasoned and fried, and shared with family and friends at a gathering. But for more frequent weekly consumption, a few simple changes may help you and your family enjoy healthy and tasty soul food regularly. Making healthy choices is critical to improving our health – but eating healthy doesn’t mean giving up on the foods you love. Below are some potential ingredient swaps and tips to help you get started, including some delicious soul food recipes to enjoy.

Substitute this:                                                  For this:
Ham hocks, fat back                                           Turkey thighs
Pork bacon                                                         Lean Ham, turkey or Canadian bacon
Lard                                                                   Vegetable oil
Neck bone                                                          Skinless chicken thigh
Cream                                                                 Evaporated skim milk
Regular bouillon or broth                                    Low sodium bouillon or broth
High fat cut of beef                                             Extra lean beef, round steak, pot roast
High fat cut of pork                                             Tenderloin, center cut pork chop

Other tips:

-Steam or roast your vegetables. Use garlic or onions and  herbs for flavor.
-Use lots of herbs and spices to cut down on salt.
-Try using low fat or skim milk instead of whole milk or cream.
-Instead of frying, try roasting, grilling, baking or stir frying with a little oil instead. Air frying can also cut down on the amount of oil used to achieve a crisp texture.

Here’s an entire PDF of the soul food cookbook, Down Home Healthy Cooking, to try from the National Cancer Institute. Enjoy!

Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D.N. is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She served as the Director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) in the Office of Communication and Public Liaison for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1997-2016.  Previously, Ms. Gallivan has served as project manager for NIDDK’s Weight-Control Information Network (WIN), a national source of information on weight control, obesity, and weight-related nutritional disorders for health professionals and the public; as Contract Manager for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s National Cholesterol Education Program and Obesity Education Initiative, and as Director of the Prince George’s County Health Department Nutrition Division located in Maryland.

Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, that provides free medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist. The Free Clinic serves uninsured adults living at or below 299 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, James, & Wadmalaw Island or Folly Beach, or serve the Hospitality Industry of Downtown Charleston. You can follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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