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 !