Updated: Jul 8
I recently visited Brazil experiencing the culture and beauty of this southernmost country. In most cultures there are foods that are consistently linked to the particular culture. In Brazil, it is the flavor-rich black bean and meat stew or feijoada (fayzhe-wada), typically served with rice. In the African American culture, signature foods such as greens and sweet potatoes are a few of the dishes often considered soul food. Like the Brazilian dish, many of these favored foods originated in the 17th and 18th centuries when essential manual labor required sustenance of foods that were high in calories. Fast forward to the 21st century—these recipes are still served, but health-conscious fans have adjusted the preparation to retain the flavor qualities, but trim calories and fat.
These foods are good for you—they are powerhouses of the nutrients that health pros, yours truly included are encouraging people to eat more of. Many of these vegetable-based dishes can stand-alone; they are nutrient-rich and can easily become a main-dish. The traditional Brazilian specialty is a slowly simmered stew of black beans and pork served with rice and shredded collard greens. By omitting meat but keeping the rice and beans and you’ve created a lower calorie recipe with protein from the bean-rice pairing, fiber, and vitamins and minerals from the shredded collard greens.
In looking at a grocery list of soul foods in the United States you’ll find a variety of greens on the power food list. Collards, dandelion, kale, mustard, Swiss chard, turnip and beets greens. These dark green leafy vegetables are low in calories and a good source of fiber. Greens contain significant amounts of vitamin A with antioxidant properties which can help protect against cancer, heart disease, and cataracts. Traditionally they are steamed, sautéed, slow-cooked, stuffed and rolled. They are served as ingredients in salads, soups, sandwiches and even snack chips. The nutrient content can vary depending on the variety of greens. They all contain vitamin A, C, B vitamins and calcium which help to maintain healthy cells and strong bones. Collards are higher in vitamin A and calcium, while beet greens contain higher amounts of naturally occurring sodium and potassium. Traditionally cooked with bacon fat or salt pork, by switching to smoked turkey, canola or olive oil, you can lower the calories of cooked greens.
Sweet potatoes too have been elevated to power food status. This tuber can range in color from burnt orange to garnet to purple to pale tan, with each providing significant nutrients. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamins and minerals, vitamins A, C, B vitamins, potassium and manganese, and fiber. Potassium and manganese which aid in normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels are also excellent sources of antioxidants which along with the benefits mentioned above help maintains healthy cells. Research has also shown that sweet potato consumption can have a positive impact, improving blood-sugar regulation, even in persons with diabetes 2.
Each of these foods are good sources of fiber and dietary fiber is essential for good health. Fiber is beneficial in maintaining digestive health and regular bowel movements. Fiber can also aid in lowering cholesterol, slowing the digestion of sugar, improving blood-sugar levels. It is also an aid in maintaining a healthy weight because higher fiber foods create a “full” feeling.
Some may call them soul foods, and some may call them comforting foods whatever the label, they’re good to eat and good for you.
Take Away: Beans, greens and sweet potatoes are “power-full” vegetables to add or increase in your diet. Eating these regularly will keep you on the right track for a healthy lifestyle.
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