NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 9 – When was the last time you had ndumas, ngwacis or cassava for breakfast as opposed to the usual two slices of bread, a cup of tea… and if you come from a well-heeled family, perhaps some fruits?
With the increase in the numbers of people suffering from lifestyle diseases; with children as young as 10 suffering from diabetes, nutritional experts are now asking Kenyans to turn back to traditional foods for a longer and healthier life.
Esther Bosibori is a nutritionist who strongly believes that traditional foods are more beneficial compared to conventional foods. She states they are rich in vitamins, fibre and minerals and do not contain high concentrations of fats.
"Nduma which is a yam is very high in vitamin A and iron. It is a good breakfast accompaniment compared to the usual loaf of bread. Its high carbohydrates take long before they release glucose into the body so you will not go hungry fast, compared to bread which is highly polished and quickly absorbed by the body system," she observes.
Mrs Bosibori further explains that traditional foods have low rates of releasing blood sugar into the body which regulates blood sugar levels and manages diabetes. She gives an example of finger millet ugali which has complex carbohydrates and is recommended for diabetics as it has low glycemic index.
"Glycemic index is the rate at which blood sugar is released into the body. Type 2 diabetics are advised to take foods that do not contain high sugar content. Therefore traditional yams would be ideal as they have low sugar content. They are also low in fats and are not polished so they prevent heart conditions," she notes.
She adds that the fiber in the foods helps bind cholesterol and controls cholesterol levels in the body. She says the fiber helps manage obesity as it gives a feeling of fullness (satiety) so there is less urge to eat.
"This therefore contributes to reduced caloric intake and helps manage weight. Foods like ndumas or other yams are ideal for people who are concerned about their weight," holds Mrs Bosibori.
She also states that African leafy vegetables such as terere, managu, spider plant or saga are very rich in micronutrients like iron which is good in the production of blood in the body and Vitamin A good in boosting immunity. She points out that they provide an opportunity for dietary diversity where people get more nutrients compared to monotonous diets.
"We recommend these leafy vegetables for people living with HIV and AIDS where their immunity is already compromised. These vegetables improve the immune system," she adds.
Mrs Bosibori also recommends whole grain flours and cereals opposed to sifted ones. She says the former has high nutritional value compared to the latter. Whole grain maize flour for instance is more nutritious than polished or sifted flour because the whole flour is milled together with its bran and endosperm which has oil.
"When a grain is highly polished then it means the bran or the outer skin is removed therefore losing vital micronutrients and fibers which reduces constipation. So it is advisable to consume whole grain foods," she says.
She holds that traditional foods are better adapted to erratic weather changes and would be best to avert future food crisis especially if the current unstable weather conditions persist. She states that they are able to stand both biotic and abiotic stress.
"If there are adverse weather changes, traditional foods are able to survive compared to the horticultural products where once there is a change in the weather patterns they all fail," notes Mrs Bosibori.
She says there is need for the government to educate Kenyans on the importance of traditional foods as well as finance research into these foods.
"Traditional foods have not been a priority area for research and it has actually been neglected. We need to direct funds to traditional foods so that we do more research and make it available to people so that they appreciate their production and consumption," she states.
Kenya’s tribes are diverse and so is its cultural diversity. The diversity comes in different forms and traditional foods are part of this rich heritage. Traditional foods not only reflect the country’s culture but also promote a healthy nation.