reclaiming health and Heritage
" I'm the one, not the two
and my name is "
Sijuade Oluwanifemi Adeboyejo.
After an interesting and new age birthing experience involving a yoga ball, hot showers, and hair braiding, my first grandson, Sijuade, entered this world on July 31. His name is steeped in history and a Yoruba tradition that instills in him the hope for a bright and prosperous future that centers God and family. The joyful and loving celebrations from his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends from around the globe added to this unforgettable day.
The youngest member of our family was born on July 31 and within a week, his naming ceremony was held at the home of his proud Nigerian grandparents. This was my first tie attending a naming ceremony, and the experience reinforced the need for community celebrations of life. Naming ceremonies do just that. They continue a tradition that showers children with love, and welcomes them to a growing community.
Family and friends gathered to celebrate the blessing of Siju's ( She-ju) life and to speak into existence our hopes for a future filled with love, health, purpose and joy. During the naming ceremony , he was given at least 10 names, including Oke, which in the Yoruba language describes his veiled birth also known by the medical phrase of en caul. And after the ceremony, like in most cultures, a celebratory feast and music followed to welcome and thank the invited guests.
Now to the food.
The feast included jollof rice, efo riro, baked chicken, moi moi, plantains, puff puff and stewed fish. For me, the efo riro was the hidden gem on the menu, The ripe tomatoes, hot peppers, fish, dried crayfish and onions transformed the spinach into a spicy and smoky melt -in -your -mouth dish. After searching and practicing with multiple recipes, efo riro has become a staple in our home and will become a staple during our New Years' dinners along with black eyed peas.
To help the new and sleep deprived parents, for the first few months I became personal chef to Siju's father , big sister and ,especially Siju's mom, Chima, to help her produce the healthiest breastmilk possible. This experience reinforced my belief that most parents, with children, especially the parents of newborns, need the support of their extended family and friends. Baby showers, and gender reveal parties are fun, but in most countries around the world, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other functional members of the village continue to support new parents with meals and household chores.
Cooking for my growing family has been a joy, an opportunity to cook familiar and new recipes, and an opportunity to taste and learn about new foods. Friends and family generously contributed fresh, homemade meals which were greatly appreciated. From egusi soup to Chapman cocktail, I became familiar with more and more traditional Nigerian cuisine - all packed with spices, antioxidants, lean meats, fish, leafy greens and vegetables.
While the Mediterranean diet has been extensively researched and promoted as the gold standard for a healthy diet, more research is needed into the diets from other parts of the globe. After enjoying so many foods from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Senegal and Liberia, foods filled with leafy greens, complex carbohydrates and spices, the African Heritage Diet, especially beneficial for the lactose intolerant among us, hits the mark when it comes to flavor and meeting the nutritional needs of children and adults.
Especially the vitamin folate.
Folate, Vit B9, also known as folacin, is critical for cell growth, especially in early pregnancy to decrease the risk of neural tube and birth defects. One cup of spinach contains almost 100 mcg of RDA of the recommended 400 mcg for men and women over 19 years of age. Pregnant and breastfeeding persons require 600 mcg and 500 mcg , respectfully. With a side dish of 1/2 cup of the New Year's favorite, black-eyed peas , another 100 mcg of folate is added to your plate.
While the term "African Heritage Diet " references a vast continent with a diverse history of people and cuisines, a common finding is the presence of complex carbohydrates - cassava, plantain, cocoyam, yucca, millet, sorghum and maize. The metabolism of these fiber rich foods stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, and produces butyrate, an energy source for colon cells. Ongoing lab and clinical research increasingly notes the benefits of fiber rich diets for beneficial bacteria growth and possible colon cancer prevention.
The foundation of the African Heritage Diet also includes a variety of green, leafy vegetables like malabar spinach, avuvo, jute leaf, sweet potato greens, amaranth and water leaf. Green leafy greens provide the daily vitamins, antioxidants and micronutrients but the culinary skills of the gifted hands that prepare dishes like Liberian potato greens, efo riro, groundnut stew, or malabar spinach and black-eyed pea curry, make eating your daily vitamins simple.
A recent study noted that over half of U.S. 1 to 5 years of age children don't eat one vegetable daily and 30% didn't eat a fruit daily. The increasing numbers of children diagnosed with hypertension , Type 2 diabetes , obesity and NAFLD-nonalcoholic fatty liver disease- is fueled by diets packed with sugar/sugar substitute beverages, energy drinks, ultra-processed foods and calorie rich/nutritionally poor meals from restaurants, corner stores, convenience stores and vending machines.
For 5 A DAY CSA, 2023 will be the year where we explore recipes that embrace the traditional foods of Africa with a focus on West Africa, in particular. With our harvest of sweet potato greens, okra, spinach, malabar spinach, avuvo, jute leaf , Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers, this year promises to be a year that you won't want to miss.
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