• Yvonka Marie Hall, MPA

Hypertension, Stroke and African Americans: An Historical Overview of the Diet from Africa to Americ


The prevalence of high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) in African-Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world. More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic African-American men and women have high blood pressure. For African-Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.

Why so many African-Americans have high blood pressure

Theories include higher rates of obesity and diabetes among African-Americans. Researchers have also found that there may be a gene that makes African-Americans much more salt sensitive. In people who have this gene, as little as one extra gram (half a teaspoon) of salt could raise blood pressure as much as 5 mm Hg.

Most of the time, high blood pressure (HBP, or hypertension) has no obvious symptoms to indicate that something is wrong. The best ways to protect yourself are being aware of the risks and making changes that matter.

A few facts to be aware of:
  • Many people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it. Often the signs and symptoms are misunderstood.

  • High blood pressure develops slowly over time and can be related to many causes.

  • High blood pressure cannot be cured. But it can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes and, when needed, medication.

Illnesses that increase the risk of heart disease in African Americans

  • Gout

  • Thyroid Disease

  • Lead poisoning

Heart Attack Symptoms

CHEST DISCOMFORT

Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

DISCOMFORT IN OTHER AREAS OF THE UPPER BODY

Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw(terrible tooth aches) or stomach. This may include bowel changes like severe diarrhea.

SHORTNESS OF BREATH

with or without chest discomfort.

OTHER SIGNS

may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. For women these symptoms mimic menopause so it is so important for you to know your body and understand the changes.

Stroke Symptoms

Spot a stroke F.A.S.T.

FACE DROOPING

Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

ARM WEAKNESS

Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH DIFFICULTY

Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

TIME TO CALL 9-1-1

If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

You may also have severe headaches. When reporting to the emergency demand TPA immediately and repeat to them that you are not drunk. Many times African Americans are turned away because medical facilities misdiagnosed as drunkenness. You may also experience severe pain in your big toe or swollen ankles.

Original African Diet

Africa is home to leafy greens, root vegetables, mashed tubers and beans, and many different plant crops across its lands. In Central and Western Africa, traditional meals were often based on hearty vegetable soups and stews, full of spices and aromas, poured over boiled and mashed tubers or grains.

Today, many meals in the Horn are still prepared in halal style meaning that they include no pork, no alcohol, and meat only from animals who have died on their own. Across Africa, couscous, sorghum, millet, and rice were enjoyed as the bases of meals, or as porridges and sides. Watermelon and okra are both native to Africa, and many believe that cucumbers are too. Beans were eaten in abundance everywhere, especially black-eyed peas, which were often pounded into a powder for tasty bean pastes seared as fritters.

Middle Passage

The best slave ships fed the slaves beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. However, the slaves were not always fed every day. If there was not enough food for the sailors and the slaves, the sailors would eat first, and the slaves might not get any food. Because the major causes of death were salt-depletive diseases such as diarrhea, fevers, and vomiting, it is argued that individuals with an enhanced genetic-based ability to conserve salt had a distinct survival advantage over others and were, therefore, more likely to bequeath their genotype to subsequent generations of Western hemisphere blacks. Thus, it is predicted that blacks in the Americas have a greater frequency of individuals with an enhanced genetic-based ability to conserve salt than African blacks. Moreover, it is surmised that this trait is partially responsible for the higher incidence of hypertension today among western hemisphere blacks than among African blacks.

African Captives

Captives were typically given a peck of cornmeal and 3-4 pounds of pork per week, and from those rations come soul food staples such as cornbread, fried catfish, barbecued ribs, chitterlings, and neckbones. Many foods that are very high in sodium.

African Americans

African American cuisine has been called “food to fall in love with. Soul food was developed during the era when slave masters gave enslaved black people the undesirable cuts of meat. Farming and hunting for wild game — including possums, rabbits, squirrel, and waterfowl — provided African Americans with the ingredients needed for the ideal soul food dish. However, historians say that some of these items didn’t match the food choices that their African ancestors would have made.

The is a scene in the movie roots where fiddler brings Kunta Kente grits because as a Muslim Kunte is not to eat pork.

The majority of traditional African American foods came straight from the garden. Cabbage, okra, tomatoes, peppers, and greens were abundant, including dandelion, mustard, collards, and turnip greens. Pickling vegetables was a popular way to preserve food; pickled beets, radish, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers were enjoyed but pickling required lots of sodium in order to preserve the food. Traditional Low Country cooking, from South Carolina and Georgia’s coast, features oysters, crabs, shrimp, sweet potatoes, Hoppin’ John, and rice.

The ancestors of African Americans brought many wonderful food traditions to parts of the Caribbean, South America, and the southern states of the U.S. Over the generations, many of these food traditions have been lost. Because of the historical benefits of the African Diet a African Heritage Pyramid that all people can use to claim their best health. Starting at the base of the pyramid, you’ll find:

  • Foods to enjoy every day: colorful fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens; tubers like yams and sweet potatoes; beans of all kinds; nuts and peanuts; rice, flatbreads and other grain foods, especially whole grains.

  • Foods to eat a few times each week, or in moderation: healthy oils; homemade sauces and marinades of herbs and spices; fish, eggs, poultry and yogurt.

  • Foods to save for special occasions: meats and sweets.

The model also stresses the importance of physical activity and enjoying meals with others.

However, questions remain about what the ideal food selection should look like for African Americans, a group plagued by significantly high rates of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other physical ailments.

A recent study suggests the answer may lie in the diets of their counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean in the rural parts of the Motherland. When African Americans change their diet to one more reflective of Africans high in fiber and low in fat, with plenty of vegetables, beans, and cornmeal, with little meat their health improves and when Africans come to the US after 10 years their health status mimics that of African Americans.


42 views