Traditional Soul Food recipes often rely on two basic foundations: make use of what is available, and make it taste good! With these as a focus, nutrition and the health effects of Soul Food are sometimes pushed down on the priority list and have made the regular consumption of Soul Food the topic of much debate. But take heart! Soul Food cuisine has been evolving from its earliest origins, utilizing time-honored preparation techniques, incorporating regional and seasonal ingredients, and individual tastes and preferences. With a little creativity, any Soul Food recipe that you love can be transformed to satisfy the nutritional regulation or calorie count of your diet and still satisfy your soul.
Soul Food gets a bad reputation for the high levels of salt and cholesterol, plus much of the calories are derived from the fat content. To bring a dish in line, substitution is the key. Using vegetable or canola oil instead of lard can cut saturated fat by 75%. When you use leaner meats, or replace that protein with vegetarian options, you reduce the cholesterol and sodium significantly. Any time that an ingredient is switched out, though, the flavor can be altered. Because so much of the heart of a dish is the spices, Soul Food will still sing through the cayenne, paprika, and chili powder (not to mention your family or favorite restaurant’s secret ingredient!).
The good news is that many traditional ingredients in Soul Food entrees supply a wealth of health benefits. Kale, beet and collard greens are excellent sources of B and other vitamins, iron, calcium and some omega-3 fatty acids. Peas and beans provide protein while rice and corn and other grains supply complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Depending on the meal plan you are following, reducing the portion size of your favorite BarBQ or deep-fried dish can make comfort food fit into the diet that works for you.
Soul Food was born from an ability to adapt to change and preserve cultural traditions. In the brilliant and inspired Soul Food cookbook Vibration Cooking, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor advises you to “Do your thing your way.” You might be starting your own family tradition.
Smart-Grosvenor, V. (1970). Vibration cooking: Or, The travel notes of a Geechee girl. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.