Looking for healthy eating? Go to Africa!

  • 17th March 2016
  • by secretary
Plethora of nutritious leafy greens Healthy Diet in Africa agrinatura
Many diets in Africa contain a plethora of
nutritious leafy greens. Photo credit: Joan Baxter
A 2015 study published by The Lancet Global Health journal looked at the consumption of food (both healthy and unhealthy items) and nutrients in 187 countries in 1990 and then again in 2010. The aim was to determine which countries had the world’s healthiest diets.

It found that none of the healthiest ten diets is in a wealthy Western nation, nor are any in Asia. Most were found in Africa, which is so often portrayed as a continent of constant famine in need of foreign know-how and advice on how to eat and to grow food.

And yet, of the ten countries with the healthiest diets on earth, nine of them are African.

What’s more, the three countries with the very best diets are some the world’s poorest. Chad, ranked as having “very low human development”, 185th of 188 nations on the United Nation 2015 Human Development Index, has the world’s healthiest diet. After that come Sierra Leone and Mali, 181st and 179th on the same Index.

Many diets in Africa contain a plethora of nutritious leafy greens. Photo credit: Joan Baxter

The only non-African country on the top ten list is Israel, in ninth place. Other African nations with the best diets are, in descending order: The Gambia, Uganda, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Somalia.

This doesn’t mean that these countries have no food insecurity, hunger or malnutrition. But it does mean that it is time for a serious rethink on how “development” affects diets – especially among the development agencies, international institutions and donors in the (sometimes lucrative and self-serving) business of food aid or improving food security and nutrition in Africa.

The authors of the study conclude that their results have “implications for the reduction of disease and economic burdens of poor diet by lowering the consumption of unhealthier foods, increasing the consumption of healthier foods, or both”.
But this is unlikely to happen so long as the development initiatives claiming to improve food security and eliminate malnutrition in Africa fail to recognize that their technological and market fixes may well encourage a nutrition transition away from healthy traditional diets and foods. And in doing so, they may merely compound the problems caused by already high rates of undernutrition with a whole set of new diet-related health issues.