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The meat-focused, heavy fat and sugar diet that many African-Americans consume is often blamed on “soul food,” but the roots of a true African-based diet are plant-based.

Even through World War II, many black Americans who survived the Great Depression and food-rationing during the war, can tell you that meat was not an every meal, every day phenomenon.

Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, has introduced a series of healthy eating pyramids, including Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and vegetarian, to encourage people to get back to healthy eating traditions.

Its African Heritage Diet Pyramid focuses on food from the four African Diasporan regions – Africa, the Caribbean, South America and the American South – and provides dishes and recipes that reflect the cuisines of specific cultures in each region.

Oldways has a brochure and portal on its website that includes resources, grocery lists, recipes and other heritage information.

“In my work with the African-American community, I see a general lack of education in terms of the foods their ancestors prepared and enjoyed; today these food connections are all but lost,” Constance Brown-Riggs, a registered dietician, nutrition educator and author of “The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes,” said in a statement announcing the introduction of the diet in November.

“This pyramid is an important new educational tool; it is an innovative way that we, as health professionals, can communicate with, connect to and educate African-Americans,” said Brown-Riggs, who was part of the committee that developed the diet.

The recipes include a number of familiar foods, including pumpkin, jollof rice, black-eyed peas and catfish. The diet also encourages few sweets and minimal meat consumption, including going meatless once a week.

“We are introducing The African Heritage Diet Pyramid because the traditional diets of the African Diaspora…offer a powerful, affordable, healthy eating model and meet the guidelines promoted today by health professionals everywhere,” Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, said in the statement.

“Scientific studies show that many chronic conditions now prevalent in African-American communities appear in populations as traditional diets are left behind.”

Click here for answers to your diet questions.

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