Nigerian ‘swallow’ is NOT unhealthy 

Let me start by saying nothing saddens me more than hearing people say the Nigerian diet is unhealthy. When people say this one of the major things you hear them talk about is how our diet is so high in Carbs. People who want to lose weight are advised to shun our Nigerian ‘swallow’ or make so-called  ‘healthy’ alternatives using foreign ingredients which are not readily available and also more expensive.

I do not blame the people who give such advice to be honest because it’s easier to find research on the health benefits of cabbage or oats than it is to find health benefits of ‘fufu’. But fear not that is why we are here, to ensure that our motherland food is not sacrificed on the altar of globalisation. 😊 So today we will be looking at what is probably the most vilified aspects of the Nigerian diet – swallows.

For those of you who might not know what ‘swallows’are  its a general term used to describe foods made with starchy carbohydrates and prepared with water until they have a dough like consistency. These are then eaten with a variety of stews. Popular ones include Eba (made from cassava) Amala  (made from yams) Tuwo (made from maize or rice). The picture from Nigerian Lazy Chef  sums it up beautifully, I mean how can anyone look at this and say its noy healthy. Nigerian diet is infact one of the healthiest in the world! 🙂

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Photo Credit – Nigerian Lazy Chef

It’s not surprising that swallows are being blamed for weight gain because after all they are made from carbs and carbs are bad for you, yeah? Well, the answer depends on what you mean by carbohydrates.  As silly as that statement might seem,  I have released that in practice not everyone knows what constitutes carbohydrates in the diet. Therefore in a previous post I talked about the different types of carbohydrates and the impact of each on health and weight.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source, we thrive on them and for most people, we become irritable without them.  The problem isn’t carbohydrate but the type and quantity of carbohydrate and the same goes for swallows.

Swallows are made from complex carbohydrates what that means is that the body doesn’t break them down as quickly as it would sugar (a simple carbohydrate) for instance. That said majority of swallows are made from what we call starchy carbohydrates which are naturally higher in calories when compared to their non-starchy counterparts.

Starchy carbohydrates come  mainly from root vegetables like cassava, potatoes,yams but also grains like rice and corn. Non-starchy carbohydrates  typically grow above the ground and include things like salads, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, celery etc.Yes vegetables are carbohydrates.

Because starchy carbohydrates are dense sources of energy a little goes a long way. The high carb content of these foods in their original state might be high but a closer look at the preparation methods of these foods reveals once again the wisdom of traditional methods.

What do I mean? Well Let’s look at each of these methods in turn

1) Fermentation – A number of our traditional swallows undergo a process of fermentation. This is a process used in a number of cultures and is scientifically proven to reduce the carbohydrate content of foods. In addition it provides us with probiotics. For more on the importance of fermentation and probiotics please see my previous post.

2) Oiling – In addition to fermentation some swallows like yellow garri eba and ‘starch’ involve the addition of palm oil. This makes sense because the lower degree of fermentation means that carb content is still a bit high. The added fat/oil helps to further slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.

3) Hydration – Swallows are cooked in water. A significant amount of what you eat in a typical swallow meal is water. This increases satiety (feeling of fullness) thus limiting consumption. In addition to being cooked in water, they are eaten with soups rich in fibres. Some of these fibres absorb water and help to further increase feeling of fullness, especially the ‘draw’ soups.

4) Balance – Swallows are not eaten on their own. They are eaten with soups cooked with healthy oils and protein both of which further help to reduce their impact on blood sugar and consequent weight gain.

At this point I would like to talk about one of the so-called healthy alternative that has caugt my attention recently. It seems to be popular with those on ketogenic/low carb-high fat diets in Nigeria. Yes you guessed right it’s the likes of cabbage eba , eggplant Amala etc. Obviously my first thought was ‘which one be this one again o’ and though I applaud the creativity, I was quite curious and wondered how they manage to give cabbage a ‘sticky’ consistency. A quick search on the Internet revealed the secret ingredient :Psylum husk.powder.

Psylum husk is a soluble fibre used in the treatment of constipation because of its ability to soak up water and therefore make stool softer and defecation easier. Though soluble fibres like psylum husk might have a number of benefits, the problem with using it as a supplement or in cooking is dosage. Dosage is key when supplementing with fibre as there is an increased chance of overdosing than when fibre is eaten as part of the whole vegetable. Psylum husk has a number of potential side effects ranging from mild to severe. Some common ones include gas,bloating, abdominal cramps and interaction with minerals and medication which limit absorption and efficacy. For more on the potential side effects of Psylum husk and dosage see here

So before you decide to switch to so-called ‘healthy’ alternatives  consider the above and following guidelines:

Summary Guidelines for Eating Swallows as part of a weight loss diet. 

  • Go for fermented options These include Eba (Ijebu garri has the lowest carbohydrate), fufu,lafu, Eko/agidi.Eko is a type of swallow made from fermented corn (it’s basically solidified pap) and though  not as popular as the others is worth considering for those looking to lose weight.  I remember we used to have it with vegetable soup back in secondary school. (All hail Federal government girls college, Sagamu…lol)
  • When eating  grain based swallows like Tuwo shinkafa  use local or brown rice which hasn’t been polished rather than the refined ones. Grains are not usually fermented but the fibre helps to reduce impact on blood sugar levels. A grain based swallows that has received a lot of attention in recent times is made from the humble ‘fonio’ also known as ‘acha’ grain. It is popular in the northern part of nigeria amongst the Plateau and Bauchi tribes (yeh. ..my people..lol). Acha is gluten-free grain which is high in protein and other nutrients.
  • Add more water – Dont make your swallow hard like olumo rock.  Also consider ‘swallows’ which naturally have a higher water content like Amala, lafu and Eko. The high water content of swallows like Amala make them a staple amongst the Yoruba people when weaning/introducing solids to infants.
  • Reduce your portion – A fist size portion is recommended. More soup and less swallow. This is where some of you might be glad you got big hands. lol
  • Eat swallows with ‘draw’ soups like okra, ogbono and ewedu. Every wondered why eat and love ‘draw’ soups? Well, it’s cos they are high in soluble fibres. When soluble dissolve in  water they form a gel like substance which coats the lining of the intestine thus ensuring that glucose (from carbohydrate) enter into the blood stream gradually. This is an important factor for weight management because when glucose enters the bloodstream gradually it is less likely to be stored as fat. A number of researches have been carried out showing the ability of Okro to help reduce blood sugar levels. This has made it an important food to consider  in the management of diabetes. Apparently roasted okra seeds have been historically used in the treatment of diabetes in turkey. Please do not substitute your medication for okro.
  • Consider swallows like unripe plantain fufu. Unripe plantain contains a type of starch known Resistant starch. Resistant starch are not broken down by digestive enzymes and as such have no direct impact on blood sugar levels. They are digested in the large intestine and like fibre help feed the friendly bacteria. These can be made by slicing and drying the unripe plantain. This is then be blended into a powder and prepared the way you would any other swallows. This is the way my grandma use to make it but  you can also make them using fresh unripe plantain. There are loads of recipes online.
  • Finally avoid   I call ‘new age’ swallows like poundo (most contain little if any yam flour) wheat. They contain a significant amount of carbs and other additives without the added benefit of fermentation.
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Grandma’s Legacy – Ijebu Garri and Why You Should be Eating it for Optimum Health

Ijebu Ewe so o (greetings in Ijebu)

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Today I am excited to share the wonderful health benefits of Ijebu-Garri and my excitement is due in part because I belong to the Ijebu tribe in Nigeria best known for our resourcefulness, sophistication and beauty (honestly I am not making this up..lol). Both my parents are from Ijebu so I am a full blooded member of the clan. 🙂 Also my grandmother (God rest her soul) made and sold Ijebu Garri for many years  at the market in Ijebu-Ife. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until she passed on did we start buying garri, we always had a constant supply of high quality Ijebu garri courtesy her. It therefore gives me great joy to tell of the many benefits of Ijebu Garri in loving memory of ‘Mama Ijebu’ (that’s what we called her).

First a little bit of background.

What is Garri?

Garri is a fine to coarse granular flour of varying texture made from cassava tubers (also called cassava roots) which are cleaned after harvesting, grated, water and starch squeezed out of it, left to ferment and then dry-fried (dehydrated) either with palm oil or without palm oil. This is a major staple food in West Africa and eaten in a variety of ways.

One such way is to drink it, this is by far Nigeria’s number one fast food simply add water to the grains stir and there you have it. People often add sugar, groundnut or milk to it – making it a balanced meal/snack. 🙂
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The other way is to cook it in hot water and made into a dough (Eba) which is eaten with a wide variety of sauces.

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What makes Ijebu-Garri so special and beneficial to Health?

My research interest with Garri began when I started looking into the health benefits of probiotics (will explain this latter). Upon reading how many traditional diets provide probiotic benefits through fermented foods such as sauerkraut, tempeh etc; I began to think about what fermented foods we had in Nigeria. Quite naturally Garri came out top on the list, this along with Ogi/Pap/Akamu (made from fermented corn or millet grains), Iru (a natural food seasoning made from fermented locust beans) and wara (local cheese).

So what makes Ijebu-Garri so special? Ijebu-Garri is left to ferment for much longer which gives it its characteristic sour taste. The effect of prolonged fermentation is twofold; one is that the carbohydrate (starch) content is reduced to a greater extent and the probiotic benefits are optimised as bacterial population increases the longer the fermentation process.

Ijebu-Garri is also dehydrated to a greater extent which further reduces the risk of moulds giving it a longer shelf life.

What is Fermentation? 

Fermentation is a process whereby the sugars and starches are eaten up by bacteria cultures and converted to produce lactic acid, carbon-dioxide and more bacteria (friendly one’s); and the longer the fermentation process the more sugar and starch is eaten up and the lower the dietary carbohydrate present in the food. This is the reason why fermented foods are often advocated amongst diabetics or those looking to control blood sugar levels and lose weight.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotic which means ‘for life’, is a general term for microorganisms that contribute to health in the intestinal tract. They are beneficial bacteria that help us fight disease and illness.

There are billions of friendly bacteria in the body, all performing wonderful functions such as aiding digestion, improve immune function, balance hormonal levels, protect against infections from fungi and yeast (which can go into the bloodstream and cause diverse illnesses), help keep the body generally alkaline which according to some is the most beneficial state for good health, manufacture of some B vitamins, and lots more.

The use of antibiotics (which do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, and as such kill off both good and bad bacteria), poor diet and stress can lower the number of these friendly bacteria. This can lead to a state known as Dysbiosis which is a bacterial imbalance where there is an unwanted increase of bad bacteria and yeast. Dysbiosis has been reported by some to be at the root of a number of conditions such as yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis 1. Many health experts believe  that  having adequate amount of friendly bacteria which help to crowd out bad bacteria that invade our intestines is the best way to ensure good health.

How do we increase or maintain adequate levels of friendly bacteria?

  • Eat Cultured/Fermented foods – A study carried out by Osho et al (2009) and published in the African Journal of Food found Lactobacillus (a probiotic) in Garri samples taken from markets in Ogun state. They concluded by saying that small-scale fermented foods such as Garri and Iru are a good source of Probiotic bacteria.  Other fermented foods include live yoghurt, cheese,  kefir (a fermented milk drink), natural miso (made from fermented soybeans ,barley or rice)  natural sauerkraut (made from fermented cabbage), tempeh, and kimchi (made from fermented cabbage)

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  • Eat a Fibre rich Diet – Fibre from fruits, legumes and wholegrain are a good source of Prebiotics (not to be confused with Probiotics). Prebiotics are derived from carbohydrate fibres called oligosaccharides. These are not broken down in the digestion process and as such remain in the digestive tract where they help feed and encourage the growth of good bacteria. The fibre in Garri may also provides Prebiotic benefits making Garri a food that provides both pro and prebiotic benefits, how awesome is that! 🙂

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  • Take Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplements – These are available in capsule or liquid form. Do consult your health provider before taking supplements.

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Another benefit of Ijebu Garri which I touched on briefly at the beginning of this post is that it has a lower starch content/dietary carbohydrate. First, the initial process of soaking and draining reduces starch conent, which is then further reduced by the fermentation process.

It is difficult to know the exact carbohydrate count of a fermented food but the principle to always bear in mind is this: the longer the fermentation time, the more carbohydrate is eaten up by the micro-organisms and the more sour it is the lower the dietary carbohydrate. 

This information is further evidenced by the fact that we Ijebu’s always prepare Eba on the fire (my room-mate at UNI was shocked when she saw me doing this once and I was shocked that she was shocked..lol) simply putting hot water in a bowl and mixing in the Garri will not give it that ‘elastic’ consistency. Even with that, the ‘elastic’ consistency (which implies a higher starch content) we get is still lower when compared with other types of Garri such as ‘Yellow Garri’.

This is the reason why many non-Ijebu’s say Ijebu Garri is best only for drinking. This in itself is a blessing because some have said that the probiotic benefits of a fermented food can be reduced by heat and as such drinking Garri might be the best way to get its probiotic benefits.

Either way whether you decide to soak it or eat it as Eba, Ijebu Garri remains the King of Garris! 🙂

What fermented foods do you have in your part of the world?

A Simple Survival and Weight Loss Tip

When it comes to health and well being I like to keep it simple, going back to the basics which often time gets overlooked as we become encumbered by the complex (at least I know I do) at the expense of simplicity. Today we will be talking about a simple step which can yield tremendous health benefits, it’s so simple many people will probably ignore it though I hope you won’t. 🙂

Health and well being revolves a lot around what we eat and whilst this is important, it is of little value if we are unable to digest and absorb the nutrients in the food. The digestion and absorption process begins in the mouth, which makes chewing a crucial stage. The saliva in our mouth contains amylase, an enzyme which begins the digestion of carbohydrate and lipase, a fat digesting enzyme. Though the process of digesting carbohydrate continues in the stomach, chewing ensures that food is coated with sufficient salivary amylase to complete this process. The lipase becomes activated in the stomach where it begins the process of digesting fat.

Chewing also stimulates the parotid glands to release hormones that stimulate the thymus to produce T cells which are the core of the protective immune system. In his book May All Be Fed, John Robbins describes how three men were able to survive in a concentration camp during World War II, by chewing their food very well, while others died¹.

Not chewing our food properly can have a domino effect on our ability to digest and absorb nutrients. When food (carbohydrate) is not coated in sufficient salivary enzymes, food reaches the stomach without the ingredients necessary to stimulate the production stomach acids. When stomach acids are not released we are unable to digest proteins or absorb essential vitamins leaving us with indigestion and a feeling of being bloated. An inability to absorb nutrients means the immune system is less able to fight disease, making us prone to infections.

Since taking on board the chewing gospel, one thing I have noticed is that I get full quicker which means I eat less compared to when I eat hurriedly. While writing this piece I was delighted to find that my experience has been scientifically researched by researchers from the Texas Christian university who explored the relationship between eating speed and calorie intake. They found that people who ate slowly, ate on average, 88 fewer calories than fast eaters. The study also showed that eating slowly and having smaller bites makes us feel less hungry an hour later and also enhances the enjoyment of a meal compared to when we wolf food down².

We live in a fast paced world, meals on the go, eating while we drive or work on the computer mean we don’t pay as much attention to chewing. Being mindful and concious when we eat can help us digest food more efficiently and reduce digestive issues. I’ve read that according to an old custom each bite should be chewed 30 times, now I know this sounds excessive, so I wouldn’t make a rule of it, it’s more like an ideal and like they say “aim for the moon, if you miss you may hit a star”

So when next you eat remember to chew, chew, chew! 🙂

References
1) Digestive wellness: Strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion Elizabeth Lipski. Published by Mc-Graw-Hill, ISBN 978-0-07-166899-6
2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2531113/Eating-slowly-DOES-help-lose-weight-People-chew-food-properly-sip-water-consume-nearly-100-fewer-calories-meal.html

A calabar girl’s beauty secret

Sidebar-fashionBeauty

Calabar is a region in the coastal south-eastern part of Nigeria where the women are known for their flawless skin, long and beautiful hair, strength and cooking skills. When it comes to skin, hair and other externals my philosophy is quite simple: take care of the inside and the outside will take care of itself. This is why I believe the Calabar girls beauty is directly linked to her diet and in this post I will be exploring three basic elements of that diet

1) Dark green leafy vegetables – The people of this region are known for their love of all that is leafy, dark and green. It is a staple and non-negotiable aspect of their diet, from edikangikong, Afang to editan and the likes. So what has dark leafy vegetables got to do with the skin?

Source: http://thescienceofeating.com

Dark green leafy vegetables are a good source of vitamins  and minerals such as:

  • Vitamin A – This vitamin also known as retinol is widely acknowledged as the skin vitamin, as it helps keep the outer layer of tissues (skin, hair, gums, teeth etc) and organs healthy. When applied externally it has been known to help in the treatment of acne, superficial wrinkles, impetigo,boils, carbuncles and open ulcers.
  • Vitamin E – If I were to name this vitamin I would call it the vitamin of youth, a powerful anti-oxidant it helps keep the skin looking younger by retarding cellular ageing due to oxidation.
  • Folate (Folic Acid) – This vitamin is essential for the production of nucleic acid (RNA and DNA). Its helps in the metabolism of protein and helps to promote healthy looking skin.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a potent anti-oxidant which plays an important role in the formation of collagen which is key for the growth and repair of skin cells, hair, gums, blood vessels, bone and teeth.
  • Lutein and Chlorophyll – These are both anti-oxidants, with lutein helping to boost hydration levels and improve elasticity in skin and hair and protecting against sun damage.

2) Unprocessed Palm oil – This oil is the oil of choice for cooking most dishes in this region of Nigeria.

Palm oil is a great source of beta-carotene (Vitamin A) having 15 times more beta-carotene when compared to carrots. Beta-carotene is an effective anti-oxidant for fighting free radicals that can damage skin as a result of exposure to UV rays.

Palm oil is also a rich source of Vitamin E which helps prevent signs of ageing by reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on skin. The anti-oxidants properties of vitamin E make it great for stimulating hair growth as it promotes blood circulation round the body including the scalp.

3) Fresh Wild Caught Seafood – Being a coastal region, seafood is what is largely consumed. Seafood is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that help improve blood circulation which is crucial for healthy hair, skin, nails etc. Some food sources of Omega- 3 fatty acids commonly consumed by the people of this region include catfish, shrimps and Tilapia.

Seafood is also a rich source of zinc which is essential for the synthesis of protein and collagen formation. Zinc is also known to help fight acne because it’s involved in metabolizing testosterone, which affects the production of an oily substance caused sebum, a primary cause of acne. Zinc also assists in new-cell production and the sloughing off of dead skin, which gives the skin a nice glow.

The beauty of a diet like that of the Calabar people is that all the ingredients work in harmony with each other. Majority of the nutrients found in green leafy vegetables are fat soluble therefore requiring the presence of a saturated fat like Palm oil in order to be absorbed by the body. In addition Zinc found in seafood works best the presence of vitamin A, calcium and phosphorus (both of which is found in the green vegetables) making this diet a recipe for show stopping skin, hair, nails, teeth, gum etc.

When we take all of these into consideration, we understand that a flawless skin is not merely a gift of nature but the product of adequate nutrition. Little wonder that the first ever Miss world Nigeria produced is from this region. 🙂

In my next post I will be sharing a traditional recipe from this region, a recipe for show stopping skin! lol

Any guesses what this recipe is?

References 
1) Mindell. E and Mundis. H (2011) New vitamin bible, New YorkWarner Books Inc

2)http://www.earth-goodness.com/natural-oils/palm-oil

3) Layton, Julia, and Katie Lambert.  "Top 10 Foods for Beautiful Skin" 

4) http://www.livestrong.com/article/198458-what-are-the-benefits-of-palm-oil-on-hair-skin

Dear Dream Reader

Dear Dream Reader,

A bloger writes so that people can read, the blogsphere flourishes because of both parties so I would like to start by thanking you for reading thus far and I hope you will come back.

I don’t know you but I like to think if you clicked on a health and wellness blog its because you care about your personal health and that of your family and friends. While I am not a health expert, I hope I can share health tips and nutritious recipes which I have picked up and will probably be picking up on my personal health journey.

If you clicked on this blog because you associate the name and “gele” (head tie) with Naija and thought “omo wa ni” (she is one of us) then I hope you will come back as I will be taking our most popular dishes and putting a healthy spin on them without having to spend a fortune.

And if you clicked on the blog because you are a friend or sibling of mine and wondering what Funmi is up to this time, then you have no choice but to visit this blog regularly, otherwise remember I know where you live! 🙂

So whatever your reason for giving this blog a second click, I hope this will be a learning ground for bloger and reader alike as we walk our way to a healthier life.

Love Funmi

Who am I and Why am I Here?

Is who I am more important than why I am here? Not sure actually but in any case here is my answer to the question.

To share health tips and recipes 

Having embarked on a personal health journey and seen the many benefits I am obviously buzzing with the enthusiasm that comes with new found discoveries. And as is often the case with such situations one often feels the need to tell of the wonders of Coconut oil and sing the praises of Kale.

Food is only one part of the puzzle though, health and wellness go beyond just what we eat and this blog aims to explore the other areas which contribute to our overall health and wellness.

To share healthy tips and recipes that will be inclusive

A Nigerian by birth and Resident of the United Kingdom by choice, I understand that an every day Nigerian can sometimes feel at a loss in a  ‘healthy living’ world which seems to promote the consumption of items which cannot be found in the local markets. This blog aims to bridge that gap, providing readers with suitable and easily accessible alternatives which have the same nutritional values without breaking the bank.

Be part of a community

There is an African Proverb which says “if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together” Through this blog I hope to meet and connect with like minded folks across the globe as there is, no doubt, so much more for me to learn on this journey.

An Energy consultant by day, student of the Natural Health Care college, Daughter, Sister and friend, my schedule can be pretty tight but I would love to hear and learn from readers so please do leave me a comment or drop me an email and I will be more than happy to reply you.

Thanks for stopping by and welcome to my BLOG!