Learn about the unique spices and flavors of the African heritage diet.

Healthy Cooking Lessons from African Cuisine

February, as we celebrate African American History Month, is a perfect time to learn more about the cooking traditions of African cuisine and how we can enjoy these delicious dishes ourselves. It’s also National Heart Month, devoted to spreading education and awareness about cardiovascular health and how to protect yourself from heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

For these reasons, my February class in the Thrive Kitchen will present “Cooking for Your Heart and Soul: Healthy African Heritage Cooking.” The class will be held Tuesday, February 28th at 6:30 p.m.

I was inspired to learn more about the African heritage diet from Oldways, a website devoted to healthy cooking and eating, featuring the food traditions of diverse cultures.

According to Oldways, the African heritage diet pyramid offers a unique approach to eating fresh, healthy food based in the traditional diets of people with African roots. Although African American soul food is not typically characterized as “health food,” the African heritage diet from which it was developed is full of nutritious foods.

The African heritage diet represents many different culinary traditions, including those of the American South, South America, the Caribbean, and the African continent. The diet pyramid is based on whole, fresh, plant-based ingredients such as leafy greens; yams, sweet potatoes, and other tuberous vegetables; beans of all kinds; nuts and peanuts; healthy oils; and rice, flatbreads, and other whole grain foods. The rich flavors of the African heritage diet are enhanced by homemade sauces and marinades of herbs and spices. Fish, eggs, poultry, and yogurt are also featured in the diet, but there is relatively minimal use of meats and sweets.

  • This healthy eating pattern is shared by people of African heritage whether they live in Virginia, Jamaica, Brazil, or continental Africa, with each regional cuisine enhanced by flavors and foods favored in each locality. Participants in February’s Thrive Kitchen cooking class will learn to cook some of the cuisine’s most delicious and popular dishes:
  • West African Groundnut Stew
  • Texas Caviar
  • Jamaican Rice and Peas
  • Grits with Spicy Collard Greens

The Thrive Kitchen offers cooking classes once a month on Tuesday evenings at the Mission Bay Medical Offices, 1600 Owens St., from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Classes offer instruction and hands-on practice in healthy cooking techniques as well as the chance to enjoy a delicious meal made from scratch.

For more information and to register, call the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Health Education Department at 415-833-3450 or email SFhealthed@kp.org. You can also register now for the March class, “Eat Your Greens!” to be held on March 21st.

The Thrive Kitchen will also share information about the African heritage diet and distribute recipes at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco’s African American Health Information Fair on Monday, Feb. 27 in the lobby of 2238 Geary Blvd.

To learn more about Dr. Shiue’s cooking and see more of her recipes, check out her blog, Spicebox Travels. Dr. Shiue also contributes recipes to the Kaiser Permanente’s Food for Health blog, a repository for all sorts of great cooking and meal planning ideas. You can also visit Dr Shiue’s Facebook page  which has nutrition articles, recipes, and details about her classes.

Linda Shiue, MD, is a primary care doctor and professionally trained chef who believes that the best medicine is prevention, based upon a healthy lifestyle. As Director of Culinary Medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, she is developing a teaching kitchen to empower patients with a new set of skills and knowledge to improve their health and wellness--nutrition applied through cooking skills. Classes are offered through the Health Education Department at (415) 833-3450. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Shiue offers cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops in which students learn to prepare seasonal produce lavishly flavored with spices and fresh herbs. Her food writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Remedy Quarterly, Salon, Culinate, and online editions of The New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine. She also has her own website, Spiceboxtravels.com.