Healthier SOUL FOOD


Derrick Burch, Owner, SOUL Restaurant in Lancaster.

“Soul Food” is a term used to describe food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans. Soul food originated in the South during American slavery, when African slaves were given only the leftover and undesirable cuts of meat, while the slave owners received the meatiest and less fattening cuts of meat. During that time, slaves also used various means of food preparation to make meals more palatable. Those foods and means, however, were also likely to be less healthy.

As a result of the emancipation of slaves and their migration to other parts of the country, soul food can now be found all over the U.S. and is very much a part of the culture of African-Americans nationwide. While other leaner meats may have become available to them, new meal preparation and food traditions had been established over the 200 years of slavery in the U.S. Even today, these traditions are hard to break despite all of the health information available regarding healthier food preparation practices and the benefit of regular physical activity.


Additionally, food prices have historically been a barrier for this community. Less healthy foods are typically less expensive. As 30% of African Americans live below poverty level in Lancaster County, it should come as no surprise that these families would purchase less expensive foods that are also less healthy.

Regularly eating less healthy foods without significant exercise or activity to burn the calories contributes to disproportionately high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular health problems, and diabetes in this community. As a result, African-Americans tend to lead shorter lives compared to other races and ethnicities.

Here in Lancaster County, African-Americans are more likely to die from coronary heart disease than all other races and ethnicities.

10 Tips for Healthier Soul Food
(Adapted from the NHLBI’s Tips on How to Make Healthier Meals)

  1. Switch to whole grains.
  2. Switch to lean cuts of meat, fish, and skinless turkey and chicken.
  3. Switch to fat free (skim) or lowfat (1%) milk.
  4. Only buy cheeses marked “lowfat” or “fat free.”
  5. Use turkey instead of pork to season your dish.
  6. Buy low- or reduced-sodium or no-salt-added versions of food.
  7. Use two egg whites for each whole egg and margarine or oil instead of butter.
  8. Use light mayonnaise instead of the regular variety.
  9. Use nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream.
  10. Use fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables rather than canned or processed types.


Love your heart and create healthier version of your favorite soul food dishes.

For Black History Month 2013, African-Americans in Lancaster County are encouraged to love their hearts while nurturing their souls by making changes to their food buying and cooking habits. Soul food can be prepared using more healthful alternatives.

The 10 Tips for Healthier Soul Food list above can provide some helpful tips to get you started in preparing healthier meals for you and your family.

Additionally, healthy soul food recipes are available.

Check out the following cookbooks that you can download for free:

African-American Favorite Traditional Recipes Made Healthy, Tasty and Easy Cookbook
(Lighten Up Lancaster County)

Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American Style
(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Contributor: Derrick Burch, Owner, SOUL Restaurant (33 Ranck Avenue, Lancaster, PA)

Tell us: What are your favorite soul food dishes? Would you try a healthier version? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

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