Did you know that some foods can actively lower cholesterol levels and in the process help look after your heart and general health? Here are five popular West African foods proven to lower cholesterol, all of which can be part of a healthy balanced diet. Look for ways to eat these more often remembering that moderation is key.
- Okra (kanja in Senegal, gombo in Cameroon) is used to thicken soups and stews because of its mucilaginous quality or ability to ‘draw’ (a West African pidgin term used to describe the thick, sticky consistency of the soup or stew as it draws out of the bowl when eaten). This ability to ‘draw’ is because of the rich soluble fibre present in okra. Soluble fibre is known to absorb ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood and can also help regulate blood sugar levels and contribute to bowel health.
- Egusi seeds (hingo in Liberia, akatsewa in Ghana) from the gourds of the white seed melon plant are rich in polyunsaturated fat which has been proven to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in blood. They are also have a high protein content making them very suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
- Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which play an important role in heart health by thinning blood and decreasing the build-up plaque (a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) in the arteries. Aim to have a portion (equivalent to 140 grams or the size of your palm) of oily fish like mackerel and West African herring (bonga fish) at least twice a week.
- The African pear or Africado (ube in Nigeria, safou in Burkina Faso, omunu in Benin) contains almost 60% heart-healthy unsaturated fat which is known to lower cholesterol levels. Similar in taste, texture and nutritional composition to its European cousin the avocado, the African pear also contains B-vitamins such as folic acid which also contribute to heart health.
- Black-eyed beans (nyebe in Gambia, haricot in Côte d’Ivoire), the main ingredient in popular West African dishes such as bean fritters (akara in Nigeria, niebe beignets in Senegal) and savoury steamed bean pudding (tubani in Ghana, oleleh in Sierra Leone) are rich in soluble fibre which is known to reduce cholesterol levels.