African Americans and the Dietary Challenge


Guest Column By Dilip Barman

It’s Black History Month and I thought that I would use my column to interview a fellow Food for Life instructor, Deitra Dennis, from Atlanta, who just this week made a great resource available for free download, “The African Heritage Power Plate Booklet.”

Minority communities, like African Americans, often experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease that can be addressed with moving toward a plant-based diet. One argument I’ve heard is that the traditional African diet that enslaved people were snatched away from was primarily whole food and plant-based. But as enslaved people in the Americas, they were given the worst cuts of meat to eat. There are now soul vegetarian restaurants and films like “Soul Food Junkies” and “The Invisible Vegan” that are trying to address these issues.

Dilip: Deitra, it’s a pleasure to talk with you; thanks for sharing with my readers. Please tell me about your background.

Deitra: I’m a registered nurse, certified health coach and founder of Full Circle Health Coaching LLC, a health and wellness solution that helps women of color to discover their healthy selves through coaching, nutrition and cooking.

Dilip: As an African American, can you share any particular dietary challenges that African Americans face today?

Deitra: As African Americans shifted from a traditional diet to a standard American diet consisting of highly processed foods, meat and dairy, our community has been disproportionately affected by several chronic diseases. Scientific studies show that the following conditions skyrocketed as the traditional heritage diet was left behind:

  • More than 40 percent of African Americans suffer from high blood pressure
  • African Americans are twice as likely as other Americans to be diagnosed with diabetes and twice as likely to suffer from diabetes related complications, such as blindness, kidney disease, amputations, stroke, heart failure and nerve damage
  • More than half of African Americans age 20 years and older are obese
  • African American men have a higher risk of prostate cancer than any other demographic

Dilip: We both have a long history of promoting plant-based eating and have seen some great successes with our clients and students. Do you see particular benefits in the African American community?

Deitra: Yes, scientific research shows that eating like the ancestors can help:

  • Lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Avoid or help treat diabetes
  • Fight certain cancers
  • Achieve a healthy weight and avoid obesity
  • And more!

Dilip: Deitra, tell us about “The African Heritage Power Plate Booklet,” please.

Deitra: “The African Heritage Power Plate Booklet” is a guide on how to make every meal a healthy heritage plate. The booklet started as a seed of thought in 2017 to create a culturally relevant whole food plant-based resource in an effort to combat the health crisis within the African American community. As an ambassador of Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization that guides people to good health through heritage and a certified Food for Life instructor with Physicians Committee (PCRM), I felt that it was necessary to connect both organizations to develop a plate that would resonate with the African American community.

The African Heritage Diet Pyramid was created in 2011 by Oldways to help reclaim good health in the African American community and it is based on the traditional diets of the African diaspora – Africa, the Caribbean, South America and the American South. The diet was mostly plant-based and only consisted of meat for celebration or to add flavor to vegetables. The Power Plate, also known as The New Four Food Groups (whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes) was developed by PCRM in 1991 as a healthy alternative to the USDA Food Guide Pyramid to promote a low-fat vegan diet.

As you know, there has been extensive and strong scientific evidence that reveals those who follow a primarily plant-based diet dramatically lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and stroke. The aforementioned description of both organizations proved that the combination of the two projects would certainly provide a solution to the epidemic of chronic conditions within the African American community. Fast forward to 2020, the release of “The African Heritage Power Plate Booklet” is perfect timing to reclaim health by reconnecting to heritage during Black History Month.

Dilip: Where can people get the booklet?

Deitra: The booklet is located on my website, for free download or to order.

Dilip: I have looked through your booklet and am excited about trying some of the recipes. Why and how do you encourage people of any background to consider moving to a vegan, whole food plant-based diet?

Deitra: “The African Heritage Power Plate Booklet” is not reserved only to African Americans but it is available to the community at large to celebrate diversity and foster interconnectedness.

Dilip: We can all celebrate — throughout the year — the African heritage that many Americans have. Your work and recipes help us add a positive, healthful perspective, and I thank you for all that you do.

P.S. My next Food for Life class starts Saturday, Feb 29, in Chapel Hill ( ; you can read about Food for Life class offerings around the world at

African Heritage Spicy Chickpeas Makes 8 servings

  •  1 medium yellow onion
  •  1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  •  1 pinch cayenne pepper
  •  1 teaspoon curry powder
  •  1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, no salt added
  •  2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, no salt added, or thoroughly rinsed and drained
  •  salt (optional)
In a deep pan, shallow pot, or Dutch oven, saute the onion in water on medium heat. Let it simmer in its juices, stirring just a couple of times, until it is translucent (about 4 minutes). Add the ginger, allspice, cayenne pepper, and curry powder to the onions, stirring for about 2 minutes, until the spices are incorporated and fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes, with their liquid, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the two cans of chickpeas and toss to cover. Let them simmer on medium-low for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of salt to taste, if desired.
Per serving: Calories: 221; Fat: 4.2 g; Carbohydrate: 37.6 g; Protein: 10.4 g; Fat: 15.8%; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Fiber: 11.5 g; Beta-Carotene: 314 mcg; Calcium: 107 mg; Sodium: 22 mg; Potassium: 429 mg Source: Recipes inspired by and adapted from

Dilip Barman leads the Triangle Vegetarian Society, teaches food and nutrition classes, and recently made his first film, Code Blue, about the health benefits of moving toward a whole food plant-based diet and the importance of nutrition education in medical training.

His periodic column in The Local Reporter will cover various aspects of plant-based eating, including recipes and cooking techniques; health and environmental benefits of eating low on the food chain; and pointers to important relevant resources and news.

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2 Comments on "African Americans and the Dietary Challenge"

  1. Deitra commented, half African-American women’s 20 years of age, are obese. As I take notice within the African-American males of that age group; A large percentage appears to be anorexic. Is there a relation to their diet that may be the causing of this condition?

  2. Deidre,

    Loved your interview!! I’m going to try your recipe.

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