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Tips for Healthier Soul Food Cuisine

Soul food is loved for its heart and authenticity. It’s linked with love, family, tradition, and other pleasant memories for many individuals. It’s also a treat for the taste buds if prepared correctly. Traditional African American Soul Food cuisine consists of many nutritious dishes, such as those that contain leafy green vegetables however traditional soul food is also known for being extremely unhealthy, which is true of many traditional cuisines. There are healthier alternatives and approaches to healthy eating when it comes to traditional African American cuisine. Read on to learn more.

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What are some of the factors that make soul food recipes so unhealthy?

The two main factors that make traditional African American Cuisine so unhealthy are in the traditional preparations methods as well as the ingredients that are used. As we mentioned there is good news if you are able to overcome these two factors you can enjoy soul food to your heart’s content, quite literally. In fact, if you are able to eliminate or cut back on the high fat, sugar, and salt content you’ll actually learn that soul food can be part of an extremely healthy diet.


The key here is to make sure your recipes put the emphasis on more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and of course leafy greens such as collard greens or cabbages.


You also want to cut back on the animal products like meats as well as deep-frying oils to reduce fat intake. Eating less processed and packaged food also helps reduce sodium/salt intake. It’s the macaroni and cheese, the ham hocks, and the fried chicken that need to be cut back on if not eliminated.


From a traditional standpoint, the Western and Central African influences on soul food are the healthier of the ingredients that are commonly used. It’s also interesting to note these traditional ingredients may even help reduce obesity, heart diseases, high blood pressure, and even certain forms of cancer.

6 Tips for Healthy Soul Food Recipes
Fresh organic vegetables

1. Make Vegetables and Leafy Greens the Foundation

Whether this means eliminating meats or simply cutting back on meats you want to make more room for vegetables in your soul food recipes. Vegetables really are the heroes of soul food cuisine, giving them more room to work their magic is a great way to make soul food recipes healthier. Ingredients such as black-eyed peas, collard greens, beans, cabbages, sweet potatoes, and okra are all extremely healthy, low in calories, and loaded with nutritional value.


One last note, boiling vegetables can leach valuable nutrients and vitamins which end up going down the drain with the water. Try preparing your vegetable in vegetable broths and making the broth part of the dish. Don’t waste that vitamin C!

rethink soul food

2. Rethink and Reinvent Traditional Soul Food Recipes

There are some who believe that straying from the traditions of African American cuisine somehow lessens the cultural value of soul food. Hemp&fork is part of the more progressive school of thought and believes ethnic foods should evolve as peoples, cultures, society, and dietary knowledge also progresses. Soul food traditions are passed down from generation to generation, just like any other ethnic cuisine. Adding new and healthier twists to traditional dishes is both exciting and rewarding. All traditions were new before they became traditional, have some fun and mix things up.


For example:


Instead of the traditional “heart attack” macaroni and cheese you grew up on, be creative. Add cauliflower, broccoli, or other vegetables into the mix and reduce the amount of macaroni, then top it off with hemp seeds for texture. You can even puree the vegetables if you desire. Use reduced-fat cheese or cheese substitutes. This method also allows you to balance the vegetable to macaroni and cheese ratio. A sure-fire way to get your children to eat their veggies, and have fun while doing it. Hemp&fork believes it’s great to teach your kids about a healthy diet, but we also realize sometimes you have to hide the vegetables in the mac and cheese.

3. Reduce or Completely Cut Out Fried Chicken and Other Deep-Fried Foods

It’s no secret that deep-fried foods are extremely unhealthy, foods like fried chicken or fried okra for example. Cutting them out of your soul food recipes is a great place to start.


Try something other than deep frying foods in saturated fat. There is a myriad of nut and plant-based oils available that are much healthier.


For example:

Bread fishes in crushed nuts, or hemp seeds, instead of frying bake the fish. Create alternate flavorful chicken dishes where you can avoid deep frying. Marinate your chicken in citrus or another one of your favorite flavors. Bonus points if the marinade is also healthy, for example, peanut oil. If you must break out the frying pan, pan-sear your chicken dishes with some lemon, thyme, rosemary, and hemp seeds.


Research Healthier Oils and Cooking Methods 


Research and invest in healthier oils and preparation techniques, such as air fryers. While not completely healthy air frying can cut calories by over 70% and the amount of oil used is drastically reduced.

4. Reduce or Eliminate Meats

Hemp&fork’s approach is all about harm reduction, if you aren’t ready to become a vegan or vegetarian at least reduce the amount of meat in your recipes, especially the high-fat meats. Less is better.


As mentioned above, making vegetables and leafy greens the foundation of your recipes can be applied here. We’d also like to encourage you to use rice as fillers to replace the reduction in meats. Your main protein source can be plant-based. Both beans and plants such as hemp can help with protein.


The great thing about meats is a little goes a long way, meat is packed with flavor even in small amounts. Small pieces of meat with more veggies and rice will do the trick here. You’ll increase the nutritional value and also feel full.

5. Leverage More Fruit in Your Diet

Soul cuisine is known for having some ridiculously delicious desserts, especially the pies.


In lieu of cobblers, try baking apples and topping them with cinnamon, vanilla extract, and even a drizzled maple syrup. To top it all off add some hemp seeds, granola, or crushed nuts.


Bake some Georgia peaches coated in honey and top with oats and almonds. Instead of ice creams, try yogurts.


The whole point of dessert is to have fun, whether it be for the taste buds or the person making the dessert. Have fun with new and interesting twists by focusing more on fruits and less on sugar-loaded double-crusted pies and cakes.

6. Become a Full Time or Part Time Vegan or Vegetarian

Many of us have gone days without eating meat, we rarely notice, the notice and reluctance for many of us will set in when we believe it’s an all-or-nothing lifestyle change. Again, it’s all about harm reduction or balance depending on your perspective. Maybe you’ll eat vegan or vegetarian 5 nights of the week and return to a more traditional diet on the weekends or for special occasions. Maybe your family settles on 3 nights a week, it’s all up to you.

For those who wish to pursue a full-time vegan or vegetarian diet, we encourage you to do your research. Join one of the many vegan or vegetarian groups available online or even locally.

Vegetables and leafy greens as well as many of the African influences on soul cuisine actually make it a very adaptable and healthy vegetarian diet.



Ultimately, soul food is no more unhealthy than many other ethnic cuisines, such as Italian foods. The key to healthier soul food recipes lies in the balance, the more you indulge in healthier choices the more healthy you will be.


Lean on the more African influences such as vegetables, greens, nuts, and beans and less on the traditional Southern Cuisine aspects like pig’s feet and ham hocks and you’re on the right path. As you become more comfortable find the balance you wish to have in your diet and reap the rewards of a healthier soul food diet.

Hemp&fork Soul Food Recipes

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