Yaw Adinkra and Kwashie Agbenyega are great friends who love fufu with light soup and akple with ademe soup respectively.
They eat their traditional meals with pride and delight during their daily lunch trips to “sa nkwan” chop bar in Cantonment, Accra.
No wonder they gave their prospective wives a cooking test to see how many local foods they could cook before deciding to get married.
James Lipswig and Donald Obroni Gardener are also close friends who are daily patrons at the “Foreign Only” fast food eatery in Donkorkrom.
They only quarrel over who caters for the bill of their favorite fried rice and chicken with beef burger and soft drink, an every evening ritual after work.
These two sets of friends present a paradox where rural folks eat “foreign” foods and city folks eat local foods.
The quest for an urban identity and lifestyle could be pressuring James and Donald to eat as such, no wonder they have such interesting names.
This story typifies the struggle of many a Ghanaian whose food choices are being influenced by westernization. This is referred to in nutritional Science as “Food transition”.
We seem to be departing from our indigenous foods such as, Banku and Okro stew, kenkey and fish, Tuo Zaafi and Ayoyo soup and moving to foreign based foods such as pasta, fried rice, burger, fries etc.
Unfortunately, these “foreign” foods are junk foods which are deep-fried, have lots of sugar and salt and little fibre. The excessive consumption of these foods is partly the cause of the many non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke etc that we see in almost every home in Ghana. We have thus created a pro-disease food environment.
The many advantages of our indigenous foods include being:
Less expensive- Comparing the price of a beef burger which ranges between GHS25-50 or more depending on the restaurant visited and my favourite “Ayebea” waakye which will cost me GHS10 or less saves me money even though I obtain better nutrition.
So why go for foreign when I can get more from indigenous foods at a cheaper price? That’s why I say, local is better.
Dietary Fibre – Again, indigenous foods are fibre filled. Foods like Ga Kenkey, Fante kenkey, Banku, Yam are high in fibre. This slows down the release of glucose from food, aids in digestion, promote colon health and reduces blood cholesterol.
Foreign foods on the other hand are often refined, therefore, have less fibre which makes us lack the above mentioned benefits. So I say, local is better.
Nutrient Dense– Indigenous food are usually not just as carbohydrates but will often have a vegetable stew or soup complement like Kontomire, okro, garden egg stew, Aleefu, ayoyo, ademe, bokoboko, kuka, seewaaka, kugbewa etc. I bet you may have never heard of some of these vegetables. Many foreign foods like soft drinks, fries etc often contain empty calories (sugar, fat and salt) and have little or no minerals and vitamins. Again, I say local is better.
Diverse– There is a wide variety of food resources to choose from with indigenous foods. Across the regions of Ghana are nutritious foods which are peculiar to the indigenes. Exploring these resources make our meals more nutritious and healthy. I reiterate that local is indeed better.
The above mentioned advantages notwithstanding, we need to make certain adjustments if we are to maximize nutrition and ensure food security (affordability, accessibility and safety).
Remove tribal eating– We must remove the stereotype of eating tribally. Ga’s learn to cook and eat only kenkey and Banku. Akans only want to enjoy fufu and ampesi while Northerners will eat nothing but Tuo Zaafi. This is an affront to dietary diversity. I encourage us to eat cross-culturally and teach our children to eat and cook foods from other tribes.
Moderation- Again, we must be moderate in the quantities we take. The typical Ghanaian takes large portions of mainly carbohydrate rich foods and add little stew or soup and protein. Exploring our rich legumes, seeds, nuts, grains and pulses, which are the cornerstone of good nutrition, can only make our meals more nutritious.
Reduce frying– Lastly, we need to reduce the frying of our stews and staples to reduce the amounts of trans fats that are present in them.
I believe that weighing on the scale of nutrition, our indigenous foods stand tall. We should embrace and heighten their inherent advantages and make the necessary adjustments to make them even better for our nutrition and health.
The clarion call is to eat produced in Ghana and learn only positives from foreign foods. Do not forget that local is truly better.
The author Nana Kofi Owusu is a registered dietician and a lecturer, Dept. of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho Volta Region