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Shouldn’t we stick to our traditional staple foods?

By Makheni Zonneveld AKA The Coolest Granny In Town

‘My family is taking the advice from this series as well as your book seriously, but I have one question: In the book, you say that 80% of a meal should consist of what gets metabolised into alkaline. I noted that, according to the food toxicologist you quoted, all grains, including maize, get metabolised into acid. You go as far as putting pap (made of maize) in the category of things you don’t even touch. I am a fellow South African, and as you know, pap is our staple food. Shouldn’t we stick to our traditional staple foods? I thought our bodies were designed to benefit from our staple diets.’ Lebogang (not her real name).

Thank you for your question, Lebogang. I’m glad your family takes this seriously, and if you have kids, they are indeed blessed. I normally get asked the same questions frequently, but you are the first to raise this important issue. Before I get to staple foods, I’d like to touch on your statement, ‘…bodies are designed to benefit from…’ Our bodies are designed to benefit from foodstuffs that benefit us.

Firstly, maize in any form, gets metabolised into acid. Maize is a carbohydrate and is thus sugar, even though it is not sweet. For those two reasons, the consumption of maize should be limited. Secondly, the profit-driven, cancer-promoting processing of food continues unabated. The maize that you cook pap with is highly refined and also stripped of nutrients. That is why the maize that you buy has ‘added vitamins’. Next time you see ‘with added vitamins’ you should read, ‘after we refined, overprocessed, and stripped this product of natural vitamins, we added synthetic vitamins, so good luck.’ That is why I do not touch pap. This sounds like a doom scenario, but it does not have to be that way. Yes, a lot is not within our control, so we should do our utmost to take responsibility for what we have control over. We can blame the regulators for allowing highly processed stuff, but the truth is that, at the end of the day, no one forces us to put anything in our mouths.

Now, back to staple foods. You refer to the South African staple food where we cook it in different ways and call it bogobe, bohobe, phaletšhe, mosoko, papa, phuthu, isishwala, etc. Maize is a staple food in more than 60 African countries where it is called by local names such as such as sadza in Zimbabwe, nsima or shishima in Zambia and Malawi and ugali in Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi. Contrary to popular belief, most staple foods do not originate in the countries where they are consumed. Let’s look at a few examples, starting with your staple food, maize. Maize originated in Central Mexico thousands of years ago, and until Christopher Columbus arrived in America, Europeans had never heard of corn. The same Europeans (the Portuguese) later brought it to Africa.

If you are Italian, it does not mean that your body is designed for pizza and pasta, which are made of wheat. Wheat was first cultivated in the Middle East. The history of flatbreads with toppings, in fact, goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Pizza started in Italy much later to feed the working poor. Later, good marketing elevated the status of pizza. Wheat is bad news for everyone, and that includes Italians. The staple food of Ireland, England, and Western European countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, the staple food is potatoes, but potatoes did not originate in Europe. Potatoes originally came from South America and were only introduced in Europe in the second half of the 16th century. Potatoes are vegetables and thus get metabolised into alkaline. However, the consumption of potatoes should be limited because they are starchy and have a high glycemic index.

The British can claim that a ‘fish and chips’ meal is their staple, but their bodies will not be impressed. That is because anything that is deep-fried is unhealthy, irrespective of your ethnicity. Dutch people have adopted deep fried chips (friet) with mayonnaise. I can go on and on with all the other staple foods. We basically have a preference for most of the foods that we grew up with. You assume that the staple food I grew up with is pap made of maize, and that is not the case. I’m a Motswana, and our staple food is ting, which is made of sorghum. Wild sorghum originated in the Sahara near the border of Egypt and Sudan, so no one can tell me that my body is designed to consume ting. Sorghum, like maize, rice, and other grains, gets metabolised into acid.

I love ting, but whenever I am in South Africa, I eat it in limited quantities. In the past, I used to eat lots of it because it is tasty, so I understand why people whose staple foods are maize pap, matoke, cassava, rice, pasta, or potatoes love them. Please go through this list again and consider what these have in common. Apart from potatoes, they are all grains, so all of them get metabolised into acid. All of them, including potatoes, are carbohydrate-rich. Staple foods have nothing to do with ethnicity but everything to do with feeding the masses because carbohydrate-rich foods are filling.

We Africans used to eat maize with wild spinach because eating meat daily is a recent phenomenon which brought affluence diseases that used to be called the white man’s disease. The genetic modification of maize started after the second world war so our parents grew up with better maize even though it was still acidic and the fact that they ate it with spinach, one of the best protein sources helped. We call wild spinach morogo in South Africa. Sadly, there has always been this myth that morogo is for the poor. There is a saying in one of our 9 indigenous languages, ‘Tšie e phala morogo.’ This literally means even a locust is better than morogo. We use that to console someone who has very limited options.  This shows just how much we have been brainwashed to believe that animal protein is superior to plant protein. Please note that I do not say plant-based because plant-based protein refers to cancer causing chemical concoctions that are called meat replacements. Lebogang, I’m preaching to the converted because you have already read that in the book.

Refined sugar, the poison responsible for filling hospital beds and mortuaries, originated in India. If you are Indian, your body does not care that this tragedy started in your country and was spread all over the world by relentless Western capitalists. Refined sugar will destroy your Indian body just like it destroys everyone else’s health. I hope that these few examples have helped to debunk the staple food myth. Now the question is, to use your phrase, what are our bodies designed for?

It’s all about what different foodstuffs do to the body, and that has nothing to do with ethnicity. For example, bad oils clog up your arteries, irrespective of ethnicity. There are foodstuffs that cause the acidity that causes inflammation, leading to most serious illnesses such as arthritis, gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, auto-immune diseases such as lupus and hives, and some cancers, irrespective of ethnicity. Processed foods cause cancer, irrespective of ethnicity. Sadly, many parents make sandwiches for their children’s lunchboxes with processed meats such as polony. Do yourself a favour if you do eat polony or feed it to your children. Just do this search: ‘What is polony made of’. That will definitely cure you instantly.

Lebogang, I hope that you have realised that your body does not benefit from maize and that I hope that if you continue to consume it, you will limit the quantity. Remember, the 20% should include protein sources if you consume acidic protein sources. Even good protein sources such as legumes are acidic, so that means you will take the trouble to cook pap, rice, or pasta only to eat one spoon. Yes, the body needs carbs, but only good carbs. I say I don’t touch acidic carbs such as maize and other grains and bad carbs such as sugar granules, cereals, and wheat  because I get all my carbs from vegetables, legumes and nuts. I get proteins from spinach, kale, beans, quinoa and a bit of white fish.

Irrespective of ethnicity, our bodies are not designed for meal replacements, meat and meat replacements, dairy and dairy replacements, sugar granules and sweeteners, wheat, processed foods, pre-prepared meals, fast foods, and excess salt. Irrespective of ethnicity, our bodies are designed for more water, less salt, more vegetables (especially the leafy green ones), less fruit, no refined sugars and good sources of protein such as spinach, kale, and beans. The secret is knowing how to prepare tasty, healthy meals.

Makheni Zonneveld AKA The Coolest Granny in Town, is an energetic 1953 vintage model. She is a speaker, wellness coach, storyteller and author. 


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Shouldn’t we stick to our traditional staple foods?

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Edited by Bwalya M Mphuka

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Shouldn’t we stick to our traditional staple foods?


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