Saturday, January 5, 2019

Nutritional Info: Ghanaian Food

Estimated 1,300 calories
Since I've been living in Ghana over the last year I've made some big changes to the way I eat. The biggest change is that I eat much less fast food than I used to. I live in Kumasi which is a city of nearly 2 million people and the only American fast food I am aware of are two different KFC establishments.

Not having access to fast food can make things inconvenient  but it is also a blessing in disguise since it helps me to eat less processed junk food than I would at home. There are many local street vendors here who sell their version of fast food but they are dishes made from scratch each day.

I'm pretty sure all the fruit and vegetables here are organic and have not been genetically modified which is a good thing but produce does not last very long. We have to buy most fruit every day because it goes bad after just a few days due to the heat.

Another challenge I've had is trying to track calories and macros for many of the local foods here. I've talked to people at the nearby gym who are concerned about their nutrition but they have no idea how many calories the food they eat contains so I decided to do some research on some of the traditional staple foods in Ghana.

Fufu- Is made from casava root and pounded until it has the texture of raw pizza dough. It is served in a ball shape and then ripped into pieces, dipped in a stew or soup, and swallowed.

Kenkey- Is made from ground up corn and wrapped in leaves to hold it together. It usually ferments for a few days before it is eaten with a soup or sauce.

Banku- Is prepared by combining fermented ground corn and casava dough into a smooth paste and then rolled into balls.

Jollof- A spicier version of fried rice made with tomatoes, onions, meat, and spices.

Plantains- They look like giant green bananas and are sometimes mashed up with casava to make fufu or frequently eaten after being fried in oil. They can also be dried into chip form.

Yams- They are prepared by boiling them then cutting them into cubes. They have the texture of a dry baked potato and are usually dipped in sauce and eaten. They can also be combined with casava to make fufu.

Beans with gari powder and palm oil added is another popular staple. Gari powder is made from dried casava and when it is sprinkled into the beans it makes them solidify so they are no longer runny. White rice, fried chicken, and fish are also favorites.

I've been trying to find the calorie content for most of these foods but when I research them online I get a huge range of possible calories due to different recipes, preparation procedures, and serving sizes that are not well defined. Here are the approximate calorie estimates the best I've been able to research them.

1 cup jollaf rice= 300 calories
1 cup beans and palm oil= 400 calories
Fried plantains 3 pieces= 180 calories
1 cup fufu= 400 calories
1 cup yams= 200 calories
1 Ball of kenkey 500 calories
1 cup banku= 500 calories
1 cup of white rice= 200 calories

I bought the plate of food pictured above from a street vendor for less than a couple bucks. It has the following foods: Starting at 12 o clock and moving clockwise there is a cup of jollaf rice, a small piece of fried chicken, a cup of beans mixed with gari powder, 3 fried plantains, and a boiled egg. I estimate that the total calories of that meal are between 1,200-1,400 calories depending on how it was prepared. Most people might have only one big meal a day like that but if someone has three daily meals similar to this, they'd better be extremely active or it will be very easy to gain weight.

Many Ghanaians do manual labor and work hard all day so these calorie dense foods not only taste good but provide their needed daily fuel and help them to feel full for an extended time. Unfortunately, just like in the United States, when people are sedentary and consume more calories than they burn, the result will be weight gain and Ghana has seen a rise in obesity over the years.