Scientists agree that the food we put in our bodies every day, as well as the environment we live in, play significant roles in determining whether or not we live the good and long life that we all wish for. Yet many immigrants eat unhealthy foods in the U.S. because they are unfamiliar with the food supply system, and with the nutritional labeling of foods. Therefore they are at risk of compromising their health.
In Africa, most people shop for their food in the public market. The food is sold by people who buy directly from peasant cultivators, and all of the food is organic. Because many people do not get enough food in Africa, healthy foods are regarded as those heavy in protein and those that have a high caloric value. Obesity is not a common problem. People drink milk when they can, though it is expensive, so many cannot afford it, whereas here in the U.S., milk is almost a staple, with children having daily access at school to both chocolate and plain milk. Sugary soft drinks are expensive in Africa, so people don’t drink them much. In some parts of Africa, clean water is accessible – especially for socially privileged classes – but often people must either drink dirty water or boil their water before drinking it.
People’s diets often change drastically when they get to the U.S. Familiar foods may be hard to find, and suddenly soft drinks, fried foods, meat, and many highly caloric foods are readily available. Immigrants often overindulge in these less healthy foods without realizing the potential health consequences. Nutrition labels on food do not exist in Africa, and many Africans who move here don’t know how to read them. Also, because they are not a part of African culture, many simply overlook the labels entirely. The labels are all in English, and therefore are inaccessible to many newcomers.
Yet, just like Americans, everyone wants to be healthy. Newcomers who spoke with Amjambo Africa! say they would like training on how to make healthy food choices for their families here in the U.S. They would like help learning to read labels so they can understand appropriate serving sizes, calorie and sodium content, and desirable daily nutritional values in foods. People would also like to know more, in general, about the ingredients contained in the food sold here so they can make informed decisions when they go food shopping. Often newcomers feel completely mystified by what they see in the supermarket aisles.
African immigrants suggest that they would like more opportunities for education that promotes healthy eating and living in their communities. They encourage newcomers to seek nutrition advice from their health care providers. They also suggest that health care providers organize programs designed to help newcomers learn how to navigate our food supply system. Doctors could talk with their patients about starting healthy eating and lifestyle habits when they first move to this country.
Basic advice: drink water rather than soda, limit juice, avoid processed foods like chips and packaged donuts, limit fried foods, limit red meat, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, control alcohol intake, and exercise every day.