The Truth about Malnutrition

No one tells you the reality of malnutrition, and how it affects many Americans today. Malnutrition is defined as the lack of proper nutrients in the body that includes a poor diet, digestive conditions and other diseases. 

When we see the term malnutrition, we think of third world countries or kids who are living in poverty with a lack of clean water and food. Although these are other examples of malnutrition, many Americans are malnourished. With a vast amount of food being provided to us, isn't it ironic and even unbelievable how many Americans are considered malnourished?

The reason why it affects so many people is due to the lack of nutrients that you are getting in your meals on a daily basis. A lot of families are in the calfresh program and rely on it 100% so other bills are paid. When doing this, the first few weeks of receiving their benefits, they are able to eat a variety of meals, which then allocates the rest of the month to pinching pennies and maximizing their benefits the best way many can, through buying easily accessible and inexpensive food. 

Malnutrition is caused in many ways; through a lack of income, lack of time and also through choice. Understanding good nutrition techniques is not a topic that comes easily to people, which is why they are also eating more calorie dense meals instead of nutrient dense. 

Nutrient dense meals are meals that provide nutrition in your body like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. Calorie dense meals are meals high in fats, sugars and simple carbs. Examples of simple carbs is your typical sweets, cake, sugar, and candy. They give you a quick burst of energy, and that energy leaves your body as fast as it enters your body. Foods that are more complex, known as complex carbs, are whole grains, starches and fiber. These foods take a while to digest which leaves you with a great amount of energy for your body to move like it is supposed to do. 

Eating a more nutrient dense diet can become easy, especially if you have the knowledge on what foods to eat.

I hope what you took away from this blog post today is how to add more of these nutrient dense type of foods in your diet so you can have a well balanced meal. 


Fruits and Veggies for the Season

Not many know this but fruits and vegetables all have their season where they are what many call "in season." 

The reason why this is so important, especially for this blog post is because now, you'll see that many fruits and vegetables are available to eat even when they are out of season, and that is due to fruits and veggies being genetically modified. The way that you can tell is that fruits and vegetables that are in season have seeds in them while fruits and vegetables that are not in season do not have seeds in them. This is very interesting and the next time you go shopping for your fruits and vegetables, you can keep an eye out on this, and know if you are receiving fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Whether or not you buy some fruits and vegetables from the grocery store or get them from the food bank, if they are organic or inorganic, they still use the same pesticides to keep them fresher, which is why the best type of fruits/veggies to get and buy are the ones with seeds in them.

Below I will provide a list of fruits and vegetables that are in season now, during Spring and ones that are in season during Summer. 

Fruits/Veggies that are in season during Spring:

Apples, apricots, asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, garlic, herbs, kale , lemons, lettuce, limes, mushrooms, onions, peas, pineapples, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard and turnips.

Some dishes that you can make during the spring that incorporates these fruits and vegetables is a strawberry short cake, an African dish called Sukuma( made with collard greens), you can use herbs, garlic, and onions for amazing tasteful dishes, and rhubarb pie to name a few.

Fruits/Veggies that are in season during Summer:

Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, beets, bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, carrots, celery, cherries, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, green beans, herbs, honeydew melon, lemons, lima beans, limes, mangos, okra, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini. 

Fresh, cut watermelon is delicious in the summer, and because its in season, you can enjoy all of its refreshing benefits. You can also continue making strawberry short cake, and use garlic and tomatoes for your delicious recipes.



Utilizing Resources from the Food Bank Effectively

You pick up your food from the bank, take it home, and you realize you have so much fruits and veggies and realize you don't know how to store it or you leave them out, and five days later, you have to throw it out, and it all goes to waste. 

Thank you for clicking on this blog, and whether you are getting some food from the food bank or purchasing your fruits and veggies from the store, one way that you can store it and save it for later use is freezing your fruits and veggies. When getting your fruits and vegetables, use vinegar and water to clean your fruits and veggies or the ready made fruit and veggie washes, dry and set aside. After cutting and prepping the veggies, add them to your ziplock bags, make sure the bags are airtight and place them deep in the freezer if you know that you won't be utilizing these fruits and vegetables in the next week, or leave them at the front of the freezer if you will be utilizing this in the next 2-5 days. 

Depending on what type of fruits and veggies you are storing and freezing, when you are ready to use them, you can use the frozen vegetables to prepare soups or thaw the vegetables and then cook them with your meats or whichever meal you are preparing. When freezing your fruits, you can utilize them with smoothies, milkshakes, oatmeals, or can make jams and jellies from scratch. 

Do you know that when freezing fruits and vegetables, they are as fresh as fruits and vegetables that are not frozen? Freezing fruits and vegetables does not take the nutrition value out of them and you can enjoy them and have the same benefits as you would if they were fresh. There are fruits and vegetables that are only ready and ripe during its season, but when you freeze fruits and veggies, when you eat them out of season, it will still be as fresh as it was when it's in season. Being able to freeze fruits and veggies will also give you the opportunity to store them for later use, especially if the food bank is the only place you are receiving fruits and veggies for the week. This way, you can actually use them in your favorite cultural dishes without it going bad having to waste food by throwing it out, and also being able to try new recipes!


Not Having Enough

During this time of difficulty, I know that many are faced with challenges too hard to bear- from being unable to fully pay the bills, feed your family, both, or even barely making it.

During the covid-19 pandemic, though it was a very difficult time for many, it was also a time where there was financial needs met, many people had 1 year or more of not paying for rent or certain bills, and those who qualified and received calfresh ( foodstamps), they also received an extra amount of money every month for food. 

This extra amount has benefited so many because they have been able to buy food for their family that was enough for the whole month. Although many are  grateful to have governmental assistance in San Diego, it is not always enough and they are met with challenges like having to stretch out the little bits of food 1-2+ weeks before their next payment. 

Other challenges that many people are met with is having to buy foods that are not as healthy but are accessible, preserved, and quick and easy. This can come from not having time to eat their meals so they have to find quick meals and healthier options are always more on the expensive side than foods that are considered junk or foods that are high in sugar and fat. 

Fortunately, these foods are available at the food bank held at St. Luke's every Thursday; they offer individuals and families canned goods, fruit, vegetables, and grains that can be eaten on its own or added to your healthy dishes, all free of charge. As the pandemic assistance is coming to an end, and foods will now become harder to buy, this assistance is always readily available to you. 


Okra, the soup for the soul

Okra is a popular stew in the continent of Africa. Every country creates this dish with their own unique spices and exquisite taste, and many can tell the difference of these dishes based on the countries they are from.

Today, I am specifically going to talk about the Sudanese dish okra and the many benefits that okra has that you may or may have not heard of. 

For just a half cup of okra, there is only 17 calories which considers it to be a low calorie and no fat food-great for not just weight loss and weight maintenance , but is filled with vitamins and nutrients. Okra has 0 grams of saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and potassium. Okra contains Vitamin C which is great for a healthy immune system and Vitamin K which helps your body with blood clotting.

Did you also know that the antioxidants in okra help your body fight molecules and free radicals that naturally damages cells. The antioxidants that it provides is called polyphenols- this protects your body against stress and pathogens like cancer. Okra supports heart and brain health and controls blood sugar. With the amount of folate that okra contains, this dish is great for those trying to get pregnant and who are already pregnant.


This dish is prepared normally using onions, garlic, oil, meat or without meat, tomatoes and spices like cumin, chicken Maggi, and coriander if you choose. 

To make this dish healthier, depending on your health goals, you can either boil the okra with tomatoes, onions and garlic and blend it or continue to stir it in the pot. You can also add spices to your meat and either put it in the oven to cook without oil, or air fry. 

Spices that you can use are all purpose seasonings that are salt free and now in many grocery stores, they sell salt free seasonings, and "nothing but the bouillon" paste to season food that is also low in sodium compared to the regular brand of chicken and beef bouillon. Using oils like like olive and avocado oil are best when cooking or frying foods because they contain healthy fats compared to corn and vegetable oil.


Use these tips the next time you want to create your favorite okra dish! 



The Melting Pot of San Diego

This past weekend Mama Africa catered at the refugee net gala and from the Instagram and facebook photos, everything looked amazing !!

Whether being a recent refugee ( 1 year or less in America), or you have been living in America for 10+ years, the culture you were raised in will always be important. Seeing many people enjoy the foods you have grown up eating and enjoying it, provides a joy that one cannot explain. You leave a country through wars or troubled times to come to a new country that is unfamiliar to you, not knowing what to expect or what is ahead. But seeing how this new world is accepting and appreciating what you left behind makes the hardships that you faced worthwhile. 

Being in this beautiful melting pot of San Diego, and sharing these cultural dishes teaches about the culture AND you are also providing insight on what the dishes encompass. 

Being in San Diego and sharing these cultural dishes, you may have ran into a few people who have told you that they have certain dietary restrictions that they have to follow that you may not understand. 

This is where I come in, to provide nutritional information on how to still consume cultural dishes with meals that the food bank provides at St. Lukes or healthier options to use in your dishes that you were not once aware of.

Some Did you know facts:

1. Collard greens that are used in " Sukuma" and many Sudanese dishes has many benefits, like , it is a cruciferous vegetable, it is low in calories, so you can consume as much as you would like, and it is also a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Vitamin K and Iron. 

2. Peanut Butter- This is used in the popular Sudanese dish "Mula Combo" or it is also known as "Mula Belet"- this means the stew of our hometown. Peanut Butter is a good source of proteins and fats, but this dish and the use of peanut butter should not be eaten daily but enjoyed once in a while because it is used in large quantities and not the serving size of two tablespoons. 

3. Oil- Depending on what type of oil you use, oils have a good source of omega fats, but it does have to be the right kind. There are two different types of fats- saturated and unsaturated, and most Sudanese dishes use canola or corn oil, and one of the best types of oils that some food banks also provide, is olive oil. This type of oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid, and this helps lower cholesterol, and can control blood sugar levels


From this blog, I hope you got this information from this- eat more collard greens ( However amount you want), and use olive oil as a subsititute in most of your dishes ! 


Lets talk about FLAVOR

When asked " what your favorite dish is?" 

I bet you go back in memory to a time where you just savored that favorite dish in front of you and you had no care in the world about what you were eating, how many calories it was or how bad or good it was for you. All you mainly cared about was how it tasted and how it brought such delight to all your senses.

When it comes to our favorite cultural dishes, one thing I know that stands out is the way it tastes and how delicious it is to us. I believe this is a big reason why some people have a hard time losing weight or choosing healthier options because it may not taste the same or bring them back to their favorite memories eating their favorite foods.

Believe it or not, some people are very attached to the things they eat, and it brings emotions to the surface because of that attachment. 

Have you heard of the word , Gluttony? Fun fact or not, it is also one of the sins from the Bible.

Gluttony is defined as habitual greed or excess in eating and it is one of the sins in the Bible because those who were known as glutinous, they did not have a care in the world for the needy and anyone around them, but only themselves. Now, I am not saying that if you love your favorite foods that you are gluttonous, but it brings an understanding and sheds a light to our lives; it helps us realize that we can make changes in our lives when we need to and when we want to because we do not want to be that attached to these foods. There can be difficulties in making decisions or changes in our life, but that doesn't mean we can't do it.

For our community, sometimes it sadly takes a health diagnosis or even a family/community death to wake us up to make a change. 

But change can happen now, even without a diagnosis; you can create preventative measures now to create a healthier lifestyle while eating your favorite cultural dishes.

Flavor doesn't mean a lot of oil and salt, you can find flavor in spices that are aromatic like cinnamon, cloves, thyme, cardamom, curry and cumin to name a few. There are also salt free spices that can give you all the flavor in your dishes without spiking up any blood sugars or having a lot of sodium in your diet. Sugar free and salt free are options you can use for some ingredients like " Mulah combo" ( peanut butter spinach stew ) , sugar free peanut butter, or using olive and avocado oils instead of vegetable or canola oil. Using a lot of garlic and onions in your dishes can also add much flavor and nutrients in your dishes. Nothing but the "bouillon" vegetable, chicken and beef pastes are great additions instead of the sodium filled chicken and beef bouillons, and the air fryer is an amazing alternative to frying foods without the added oil. 


Let me know what you try next !


Let's Talk about a Well Balanced Meal

If you follow " Mama Africa Catering" on Instagram, you may have seen a post regarding a well balanced South Sudanese dish consisting of Mula Adas ( Lentil soup), chicken, salad, rice, Kisera ( flatbread), and Mandazi ( African donut). 

During my recent studies in my public health classes, I researched many aspects of what immigrants and refugees go through when they enter a foreign land that is different than their own. One thing that stood out was their need to keep their cultural dishes alive no matter where they are at. Even though some of the dishes may differ since they do not have the exact same ingredients as the place they fled from, there are still some similarities.

Because of this, the need and desire to eat these meals are outside of the knowledge of foods that actually aid in health and not just for enjoyment. When neighbors and friends enter into a South Sudanese home, they don't just leave empty handed or even hungry. Hospitality is one of the important traits that South Sudanese people carry. When entering their homes, you'll be greeted with water, juice, or tea to start with, following with a meal that the mom prepared that day. These meals are sometimes filled with carbs and sugars ( tea and African donuts). 

Having these meals every day is not always ideal, but every now and then will not affect your health in the long run. Also, having a well balanced meal also does not affect your health in the long run because you're adding nutrients, vitamins and minerals in your diet through this balanced meal.

An example that I would like to provide is :

Entree- Addas , rice, or Kisra ( Lentil soup, rice, and flatbread).

Side Dish: Cucumber, tomato and lettuce salad with lemon vinaigrette

Dessert:Mandazi ( African Donut)

Lentil soup is a common dish that many Sudanese refugees enjoy, even if cooked with oil, you are still getting the benefits of lentils!

Some of the amazing benefits and nutrients in lentils are that it lowers blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose. For those who have diabetes, lentils may improve your cholesterol levels. Lentils are easily enjoyed when cooked with oil but another way to consume this dish while cutting out extra fats ad oils is boiling the lentils with onions and spices until the water evaporates a little bit and enjoying it with flatbread or rice.

Many people avoid eating white rice because they believe its bad for your health, but in actuality, white rice has the same calories as brown rice but it also still has healthy benefits. Benefits in white rice is an excellent source of manganese, and also a good source of iron, niacin, riboflavin and B vitamins. Rice is a good carb source if you are pregnant especially, due to the iron, niacin and riboflavin in rice. If you have enjoyed a salad at a South Sudanese event, you'll notice that they make their own salad dressings which are always healthy consisting of lemon juice, salt, and a little olive oil. 

Eating a well balanced meal is so important and it is also do-able while eating your favorite cultural dishes. 


What's your take on Nutrition?

This last week, I created a survey to get your take and understanding on Nutrition. Now, I did receive only a few responses during this first trial, but I am hoping to get more and have more responses to analyze.

Some of the questions that I asked were the individuals demographics like age and gender, followed by what year the surveyor came to the United States, and if they had previous knowledge on the techniques of nutrition in America. Nutrition is a universal language because food is a universal language; now the metrics may be different as far as in the difference between calories and kilocalories and how nutritional guides are written from country to country, but one thing will always remain the same, creating a healthier lifestyle using nutrition will change you physically, mentally, and spiritually, no matter what part of the world you live in. 

What I have seen and learned through my education and experiences in different countries, is good nutrition and what people view as good nutrition differs from country to country. In America, they tell you that if you eat too much carbs and bread, you will gain a lot of weight, but in countries like France, bread is their staple foods, and it doesn't create that weight gain. Another example is in different countries in Africa, women having a larger figure is seen as healthy , whereas in America, its viewed as obesity with many health concerns. What some people fail to realize coming to America is that the same foods you once ate in your home country that was seen as good or okay, may not be good for you health wise in the long run. 

Creating good and healthy eating habits does not mean completely cutting out your favorite foods, because when you do, you realize that you will start binge eating because you told yourself no, but in telling yourself no to these foods, it made you realize you wanted it more. A good example of this analogy is if you have children, siblings, or just children around you, you realize that if you tell them to not do something or take away their favorite thing, you create a mini monster, because you see how saying no and taking these things away makes them ravenous and makes them desire it more. This relates to how we are with food when there is no proper way in removing these obstacles in front of us. Unless you are given a bad health report, you won't automatically want to make a change, because your circumstances are not as bad as you think. But don't allow a bad report or getting a bad report in the future to deter you from making changes now that are more of a preventative measure.

Another question that I asked was when moving to America, did they know good nutritional principles, and half of the surveyors said no and the other half said yes. I also asked if they received support from the food bank and refugee net, which it was a resounding yes ! In these surveys, I also realized that the individuals who have been in the United States for 20+ years have now received the knowledge and understanding of what good nutrition is, while those who have been here less than 5 years, have not and need that education and understanding. This was a great survey to analyze because it showed me how important it is for this education to be taught. Some other things that I've learned from this survey is just because some people have knowledge on good nutrition principles, that does not mean that they have implemented it in their life and vice versa, even if they do not have good knowledge on nutrition principles, it does not mean they are not eating healthier. And lastly, language is a big barrier to why people know or do not know good nutrition habits.


Takeaway: I hope this blog has allowed you to really analyze your own life and where you need to make small changes and ask the right questions to receive the knowledge you need!


The Many Ingredients to My Cultural Dish

Whether it is the cultural Sambusa ( Ground meat and spices in tortilla filling fried), or Spinach and Collard green stew with peanut butter, the Sudanese culture uses delicious ingredients to encompass their  cuisines.

This can range from frying meat and vegetables with straight canola oil or adding nut butters to meals like peanut butter in the infamous cultural dish named, Mula Belat ( Stew from the village). Other ingredients included in these meals are different salt spices to give it that amazing taste that everyone knows and loves.

But, if you are on a journey to desiring to eat healthier or choose healthier options, the many ingredients in our dishes is where we as Sudanese Americans should evaluate our intake. Not just being a refugee, but even living in your new country for 20+ years, many are still accustomed to their cultural dishes and have not strayed away from them even if they have not been living in the same country for many years. 

Culture always remains even if the location is not the same.

But, the question to now ask, is among the cultural dishes, how do you then maintain or make changes to meals you eat if you are looking to change a lifestyle or habit?

One simple thing to do, is change ingredients.

I am not sure if you know this, but many people who have done diet gimmicks or tried different diets fail because they try to make a big lifestyle change but realize the difficulties of continuing it during the long run. But, as I have stated in previous posts, these blog writings are not to make you change your diet completely or tell you to go on a diet change, but to help you make little changes along the way that in the long run, you will see that you have health improvements without altering cultural taste all that much, and all that fast. 

You may fall in different categories like: 

1. You do not want to make a change at all and you are okay with where you are at nutritionally

2. You love your cultural dishes, but you are ready to make minor changes for health reasons

3. You really need to change your diet for health reasons

4. You are exploring different ways to eat healthier and still keep cultural foods to the side


I am here to encourage and help with whatever category you see yourself in !

When making changes, I like to view it as change by the ingredients; because within the ingredients, is where the calories and nutrition value adds up. For example, if you are making your favorite banana smoothie, but you want to eat healthier, you can add flax seeds, chia seeds, or even a nut butter that you normally would not eat on its own. This would then make it healthier to consume without adding too many calories, or even if there is some calories, you are getting added nutrients to your smoothie.

When looking at a favorite dish, let's look at sambusa. The norm to making this dish is cooking the filling with oil and then taking the filling and putting it in a triangle shaped tortilla and frying it up with canola or corn oil. 

To make changes to this dish, you can cook the filling with 1 tablespoon of olive oil or water, depending on the meat- if you are using chicken, there are less oils in chicken , but if you are using ground beef or pork, you can get away with not using oil because the fat in the meat already contain enough oil for sautéing. Next, you can continue adding veggies as usual; for the tortilla, depending on what you prefer, you can continue using the same tortilla you've been using or use a lower carb , lower calorie option. Now with the frying part, you can either use an air fryer to completely use no oil or a healthier version of oil like avocado or olive. Ta-da! You now have a lower calorie option for your favorite cultural dish, sambusa !