Why Eating Kenyan Traditional Food will protect you from Diabetes

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I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. Rosa Parks

Patrick Holford : Avoid Diabetes through Diet

Patrick Holford, BSc, DipION, FBANT, NTCRP, is a pioneer in new approaches to health and nutrition. He is a leading spokesman on nutrition in the media, specialising in the field of mental health. He is the author of 36 books, translated into over 30 languages. MumsVillage Senior Editor caught up to him when he visited Kenya, to get his views on the growing lifestyle diseases in our country.

MV: What are the main health concerns in Kenyans?

Diabetes and Obesity. Our modern diet in Kenya is different from that of our ancestors. In the past, they would eat carbohydrates and other sweet foods and their bodies would store them for later use because they did not have a continual supply of food. Nowadays, we eat more and turn carbohydrates into fat.  For example, the typical diet for a modern Kenyan might be a cup of tea and a mandazi in the morning. tea-and-mandazi-by-brian-swanson

This combination of refined flour, sugar and caffeine results in a rapid jump in blood sugar level, which quickly goes down again.


When your blood sugar level nosedives, you feel tired, stressed and irritable, so you often reach for a mid morning cup of tea, with perhaps a piece of cake, and by lunchtime your sugar is down yet again. So you grab some chips and a soda, which again causes your blood sugar to spike…and the cycle continues. A diet of too much sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine leads to excessive weight gain, fatigue and the development of diabetes.


MV: So what foods are good for us to include more in our diet as Kenyans?

To stabilize your blood sugar it is important to eat the right kinds of foods together, and thus avoid feeling hungry all the time. For example if I eat sweetened cereal, white bread, and coffee in the morning, it’s like putting rocket fuel in my car. But if I have protein along with complex carbohydrates, these will be released very slowly into my bloodstream enabling me to feel full for much longer.


Good combinations are mandazi with Mbaazi, ugali with beans, egg on toast, porridge with some fruit and crushed nuts.

MV: What about alcohol and meat?

First of all, alcohol in itself is not bad for your health. One of the most potent antioxidants has been discovered in Red wine. This chemical ‘resveratrol’ has been found to have major anti-ageing properties, as well as benefits for heart-health, anti-cancer properties and elements that prevent excessive weight gain. However, these can only be obtained by drinking one glass a day of high quality red wine. In my survey, those who consume red meat tend to be among those with the poorest health.


Conversely, oily fish was found to feature prominently in the diets of people with the best health.

MV : So it’s important to eat fish, then?

Not just any fish. I was spending time at the Kenya coast and the fish there is great. No wonder the people from the Coast are so laid back. Evidence has actually shown a direct relation between eating fish and your mood. In fact the murder rate, depression rate and suicide rate in any country can be determined based on its oily fish intake. This is because omega-3 fats, found in oily fish, switch off inflammation, reverse depression and decrease the risk of aggression and heart attack.

photo by Tricia Wanjala

Kenyan oily fish include Nile Perch,(Mbuta), Catfish, (Sura mbaya) Omena, Trout, Mackerel, Sardines and Fresh Tuna.

The important thing is to eat carnivorous fish, fish with teeth, as these have up to three times more omega 3 than the others.

MV: What other food is a good source of Omega-3 oils?

Eggs are a perfect food. Free-range (Kienyeji) eggs are the best, as they come from fit chickens. They contain an optimal balance of fat and protein and are good for your brain, your skin and your mood.

The myth that eggs increase your cholesterol is an absolute fallacy.

I would recommend eating at least six kienyeji eggs a week. Read more from Patrick Holford on his Blog.


Editor’s Note: Are you at risk of developing Diabetes? Take this free quiz to assess.