Heart healthy African and Caribbean diets

A healthy diet and lifestyle are essential for preventing or managing serious illness if you're from an African or Caribbean background. The good news is, you don’t have to give up your traditional foods, and even small changes can make a difference.

African and Caribbean individuals have a much higher risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It is not completely understood why, but there are lifestyle factors that are common among Black African and Caribbean groups, such as:

  • Not eating enough fruit and vegetables. Health surveys have shown that out of all ethnic groups, Black African and Caribbean people have the lowest percentage of people getting their 5-a day, and this has been dropping over the years.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Diets high in salt. Salt raises you blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
  • Diets high in fat. This can lead to weight gain which in turn leads to high blood pressure and raised cholesterol.

Eat more fruit and vegetables

Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, here's why:

  • Eating more fruit and vegetables often means you naturally eat less of some other foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
  • They contain soluble fibres which play a role in maintaining a healthy cholesterol level, as well as filling you up.
  • They contain important vitamins and minerals which are essential for general health.

One portion is 80g and is roughly the amount you can fit into the palm of your hand. Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day!

How to eat more fruit and veg

  • Go for a rainbow of colours, from foods such as cho cho, mango, ackee, papaya, jackfruit, eggplant or green vegetables like green beans, callaloo, okra and spinach.
  • Add a handful of vegetables to rice dishes, soups and stews.
  • Have a piece of fruit as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.
  • Steam vegetables instead of boiling to retain flavour, colour and nutrients.

Eat less saturated fat

Eating too much saturated fat can raise your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels. Oils and spreads that contain unsaturated fats (‘healthier fats’) are better for your heart health.

  • Avoid using butter, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream, palm oil or lard in cooking, as these are all high in saturated fat.
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads like rapeseed, olive and sunflower instead of palm oil, coconut oil, ghee and lard (as these contain saturated fat).
  • If you want to use palm oil or coconut oil to suit your cooking, then measure out a very small amount of oil instead of free-pouring.
  • Current guidelines recommend no more than 30g of saturated fat for men and no more than 20g for women per day.

  • Current guidelines recommend no more than 30g of saturated fat for men and no more than 20g for women per day.
  • Opt for low-fat dairy and dairy alternatives like low-fat coconut milk, low-fat or light condensed milk, semi skimmed or skimmed milk.
  • Be snack aware – if you have snacks that are high in saturated fat, only have them in small amounts and less often.



Cut down on fat overall

All types of oils and fats are high in energy (calories) which leads to weight gain, so only use small amounts.

  • Whenever possible, microwave, steam, poach, grill, bake or boil instead of frying. You can also consider air-frying your food – where you simply use heat to fry food instead of oil.
  • Cut off any visible fat and skin from red meat, chicken or turkey before cooking.
  • Use smaller portions of meat and include extra vegetables and pulses such as black-eyed peas, red kidney beans, eggplant, baby marrow, cho cho, okra, spinach, callaloo, ewedu and egusi seeds.
  • Skim off any oil that settles on top off cooked stews, soups and curries.
  • Use kitchen roll to remove excess oil if you choose to fry foods like plantain or yam.

Watch what you drink

If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation, up to 14 units a week. More than this can put your health at risk. See our tips for cutting back.

Watch the salt

If you add salt while you’re cooking, try to add less and use other flavours and spices instead. Check the labels of the foods you buy and aim for less than 6g a day, plus see the simple swaps you can make below. See more ways to cut back on salt. 

Choose some foods with added stanols and sterols

Stanols and sterols are plant chemicals that are added to some foods and drinks and help to lower cholesterol. These include some fat spreads, yoghurts, milk and mini-drinks. Look out for products labelled ‘fortified with stanols or sterols’ and aim to have some every day. Find out more. 

African healthy swaps

Traditional foods

Starchy foods

Fried yam, fried plantain.

Fried rice.

Agege bread/sweet bread.

Ogi/pap and garri mixed with sugar and/or evaporated milk.

Healthier swaps 

 

Boiled yam or air-fried yam. Boiled, baked or roasted plantain.

Boiled basmati, wholegrain or  ofada rice with mixed vegetables.

Aim for smaller amounts of agege or sweet bread or choose oat bread, rye bread, wholemeal, granary and seeded breads for variety.

Ogi/pap and garri with water, less sugar and low-fat evaporated milk, skimmed milk or semi-skimmed milk if preferred.

Vegetables

Creamed or fried vegetables with palm oil or coconut oil.

 

All vegetables cooked in minimal oil. Where possible, use olive oil or rapeseed oil if suitable for cooking. However, still use sparingly.

Opt for fresh, tinned or frozen vegetables and include in every meal where possible.

Meat and alternatives

Fried meat, fish and chicken. Fatty meats used in stews and soups like pepper soup.

 

Grilled meat, fish and chicken.

Use beans, pulses and seeds in stews to replace some of the meat like red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, egusi seeds.

Cut off any visible fat and skin from meat before cooking.

Aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily, such as  salmon and mackerel.

Dairy 

Evaporated/condensed milk, coconut milk, whole fresh milk and buttermilk.

 

Semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.

Low-fat coconut milk. (In moderation, as it's relatively high in saturated fat). 

Light/low-fat evaporated/condensed milk. (In moderation, as this is high in sugar).

Snacks and drinks

Chin chin.

Puff puff.

Plantain crisps.

Doolsho and other types of sweet cakes. Sweet biscuits.

Salted, flavoured or coated nuts.

Beef suya.

Akara.

African meat pies.

Kelewele.

Vetkoek.

African egg roll.

Malted sugary drinks.

 

Eat snacks less often and in small amounts.

Make Puff puff with an airfryer instead of using oil.

Lightly-salted and baked plaintain crisps.

Oat-based cakes and biscuits.

Handful of mixed unsalted nuts and seeds.

Beef suya with visible fats removed.

Baked akara.

Make wholewheat meat pie using less oil when preparing the meat. Use fresh herbs and spices instead of stock cubes too (as stock cubes are salty).

 

 

Caribbean  healthy swaps

Traditional foods

Starchy foods 

Fried plain dumplings, fried yam, fried sweet potato.

Hard-dough bread.

Healthier swaps

 

Boiled yam, baked or air-fried yam.

Choose oat bread, rye bread, wholemeal version of hard-dough bread, granary and seeded breads.

Boiled, baked or roasted plantain.

Baked, grilled or air-fried sweet potato.

Boiled or steamed dumplings.

Vegetables

Creamed or fried vegetables with palm oil, butter, ghee or coconut oil.

 

Cook all vegetables in minimal oil. Where possible, use olive oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed oil for cooking. But still use them sparingly.

Opt for fresh, tinned or frozen vegetables and include them in every meal where possible.

Meat and alternatives

Fried meat, fish and chicken such as fried jerk chicken. Fatty cuts of meats used in stews and soups.

Salted fish.

 

Grilled or baked meat, fish and chicken. Cut off any visible fat and skin from meat before cooking.

Aim for at least 2 portions of fresh fish every week, one of which should be oily, such as salmon.

Use beans, pulses and seeds in stews to replace some of the meat like red kidney beans, black-eyed peas and gungo peas.

Opt for tasty fish like snapper or mackerel.

Dairy 

Evaporated or condensed milk. Coconut milk, especially for rice and peas dishes.

 

Semi-skimmed/skimmed milk, or light or low fat evaporated/condensed milk. (In moderation because evaporated/condense milk is high in sugar.)

Low-fat coconut milk. (In moderation because it's relatively high in saturated fat.)

Snacks and drinks

Fried fruit fritter.

Spice bun.

Festivals.

Caribbean beef patties.

Fried sweet dumplings.

Plaintain crisps.

Salted, flavoured and coated nuts (like coconut flavoured peanuts).

Sweet biscuits.

Punch drinks.

 

Eat snacks less often and in small amounts.

 

 

Use less oil when preparing meat for beef patties and use fresh herbs and spices instead of stock cubes.

Baked or air-fried sweet dumplings.

Baked plantain crisps.

Handful of mixed unsalted nuts and seeds.

Oat-based cakes and biscuits.

 

Baked or grilled fresh fruits.

Healthy meal ideas

Breakfast 

Scrambled eggs with 1-2 slices of wholemeal hardough bread and a piece of fruit.

Ogi/pap with less sugar and small amounts of milk with chopped fruits. 

Oat porridge topped with small handful of unsalted nuts.

Lunch

Mackerel with boiled yam and callaloo. 

Chickpeas, avocado and tuna salad. 

Baked plantains and sweet potatoes with roasted mixed vegetables. 

Dinner

Baked or grilled jerk chicken with rice and kidney beans and a side salad.

Spinach and tomato stew with ofada rice and tilapia fish.

Jollof rice with baked chicken and mixed leaf salad.