[which acts like a laxative, because Ghanaians feel that illnesses in the body need to be cleaned from the digestive tract immediately], you take on an empty stomach.
For lunch, since we were mostly working on the farm, we would build a fire and peel, wash and boil plantains, cassava (tapioca), or yams until well-cooked. We normally ate this with kontomire soup, which are boiled greens similar to collard greens, mustard greens, or turnip greens.
In the evening, we normally prepared a big family meal like fufu. Fufu is made of cassava and plantain, boiled until well-cooked, mashed and eaten with kontomire soup. Separately, we put snails, crab, fish (directly from fishermen), bush meat (wild game from the forest) and, once in a while, a little goat together in a big bowl with ground peanuts.
This is steamed for 25 minutes and then kontomire, kenkey or banku, root vegetables and corn meal (rolled into balls) are added.
We also make different light soups – a clear broth – with atogum (millet), fish or roots. Rarely chicken, though, because it is very expensive there.
Most of our vegetables are lightly steamed, so they are still chewy. But when you are not well, you have cassava and other vegetables raw. We also eat a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, avocados and use onions as seasoning.
Ghanaians love rice and consume a lot of it. It is white rice, but in its natural state – not bleached or stripped of the outer bran.
I love rice and it is still my biggest food today. We eat atogum often too. Beans are also an important part of the diet, especially black-eyed peas.
The oils we use are palm and coconut.
Even so, there is no heart disease in my country and practically no other diseases. Most die of old age, or in the first year of life. All the children are breast-fed. We get lots of sleep and have little pressure or stress.
What about beverages?
We drink a lot of water every day because it is very hot. There are many lakes and lagoons, so there is a lot of water and it is very clean.
We also drink coconut milk because coconuts are everywhere. [The same is true for] papaya, mango, pineapple, and orange juices, all natural and very fresh since they are just plucked from a tree. We also drink a lot of tea.
Ironically, although Ghana is a large producer of cocoa and coffee, the people hardly consume it. Milk is really expensive, so I didn’t have much.
Now that you live in the U.S., do you maintain the traditional Ghanaian diet?
Most of the Ghanaian tropical foods aren’t available here, but I’ve found some alternatives like apples, pears and peaches.
Also, the Hispanic and Caribbean people have many similar foods so I go to their food stands and restaurants.
Since moving to the U.S., I have a protein shake with soy milk in the morning because I want to gain weight, and then hard-boiled eggs and juice. I also have oatmeal, grits, buckwheat and whole grain pancakes with real maple syrup, so I alternate these.
I always prepare food at home for a whole week and group them in various categories, put them in containers and take them for lunch.
I make big pots of food, especially stews with lots of vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions and fresh tomatoes.
I don’t use any oil. If I add meat, I use the meat water that I steamed with in preparing it. If I add fish, I steam the vegetables with the fish water and serve it over rice.
I also eat baked potatoes, plain, without seasoning. I love to drink light soups and ground peanut soup. Peanuts are crushed and mashed and used a lot in the cuisine of West Africa to flavor foods. I often put chicken or goat in it and add ginger.
I eat liver and steak from time to tome too, but it’s always a very balanced meal and prepared in a healthy fashion.
I don’t believe that a vegetarian diet is a must.
What do you think of the typical American diet?
Since I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of obese or out of shape people, and am shocked at the poor eating habits.
We don’t have these problems in Ghana. There we do a lot of hard work and walk for long distances since transportation is really expensive to and from the farm, to the riverside to fetch water, etc. It’s basically aerobic activity all the time so you consistently burn a lot of calories.
But here, most Americans are office workers and sit for many hours. So when they eat, it takes a long time to digest and puts weight on.
Also, there are no desserts, pastries, candy, doughnuts or bread in Ghana. Here, after eating a whole meal Americans add all this fat and then go to sleep.
What would you suggest people eat to be really healthy?
My advice is to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re very easy to digest and the best foods to stay alive and be in good health.
I also recommend that every two or three hours people should have a little something in their system – a balanced diet. And they should listen to what their body tells them.
Don’t continue eating after being satiated. When people are full they continue to eat. I would never do that.
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