This is Zambia: Diet and Weight Gain

March 4, 2013 § 8 Comments


Scale (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)

“Laura, you should gain some weight.” – Pastor Z.

This is what my pastor once said to me at a dinner at his house. In Zambia, being fat does not necessarily have the same connotations that it does in America.

To an American, if you are overweight, it generally means that you eat too much and don’t exercise enough.

To a Zambian, if you are overweight, it generally means that you have more than enough to eat, don’t have HIV/AIDS, and are rich  (or being well taken care of). Being “fat” can even be a compliment!

The common diet in Zambia consists mainly of nshima and ndiyo, or relishes . Nshima is the staple food, which is ground maize that is then cooked into a thickened porridge (sort of like mashed potato consistency). The relishes are cooked in vegetable oil with tomato and onion. They may include vegetable relish (pumpkin leaves, cabbage, broccoli rape, or other greens), and may also include a protein of kapenta (sardines), chicken, beef, game, eggs, or bream (tilapia). It is also common to eat rice, beans, and fried chicken and chips (my personal fave!).

The meal is always eaten with your right hand by taking a small amount of nshima, rolling it in your hand, and eating it together with a relish.

The diet is full of carbohydrates and fats. You are well off if you have enough protein in your diet. Many poor children are stunted and wasted simply because of the lack of protein and vitamins in their diets. However, the heartiness of the nshima still can provide that “full feeling” so that they are not hungry after eating.

On the other side, too much of this diet can cause the same obesity and health problems that we see in America. Although it is only relatively recently that these negative effects are starting to become evident in Zambia. As people live longer, they are being diagnosed with the illnesses of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease. It is said locally that whole families are forced by their parents to go out jogging each morning because of too many chicken and chips!

Pastor Z. was trying to explain to me how I should eat more so that my parents know that Ben is taking good care of me. Somehow I think we can convince them of that without me gaining weight.


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§ 8 Responses to This is Zambia: Diet and Weight Gain

  • I think you look healthy – in the American sense of the word! đŸ™‚

  • […] This is Zambia: Diet and Weight Gain ( […]

  • What’s up everybody, here every person is sharing these kinds of familiarity, so it’s nice to read this weblog,
    and I used to visit this website daily.

  • Susan says:

    I think it is very challenging to lose weight in Zambia because we do not have a wide variety of food. All we have is nsima, rice, pasta and potatoes which are all sugars. Additionally, we work for 10hrs as a result we are too tired to workout. It is expensive to eat healthy e.g. Brown bread or cereal is much more expensive than white. Plus there is no such thing as brown unga.
    Thank you

  • it is not always that you eat nshima with your right hand, there are left handed people who eat using the left hand:) i strongly feel obesity in Zambia can be attributed to the poor eating habits not necessarily nshima but fast food have become the ‘to go to’ thing of late. as Susan mentioned we work long hours and unlike our men, women need to keep up with house work when they reach home and by the time they are done they are too tired to workout. other attributes are bad cooking habits – use of unhealthy fats and too much oil in our cooking style has really cost us. on the other hand many people are slowly changing these bad habits and are finding time to workout more and yep brown unga/mealie meal does exist people just choose not to buy it

  • Timothy says:

    weight loss is indeed a struggle to many zambians as the country has been introduced to many new fast food stores that offer unhealthy foods at very chep prices. susan and Luundu had a point on the prices of fast food being cost effective as compared to eating healthy

    my words of encouragement to any reader out there looking to lose some wieght is to make a choice and stick to it.

    nshima is great i love it like any average zambian but too much of it will harm you

  • I do not think recent increases in obesity and chr disease can be attributed to Nshima diet alone- it is more of the addition of fast foods to our diets, plus a new culture of less activity. When I was growing up in Zambia, most people ate the Nshima diet twice a day, had bread and mealie-meal porridge with sugar, too walked to work or school, kids played vigorously outside, and there was little access to junk food- BTW, chips were never a common food choice- I was actually surprised at the trend when I went back home after years overseas! The growing middle-class today is driving more, eating more of western food in addition to traditional diet, and is generally much less physically active.

    Also I disagree with associating increase in age with obesity related issues- evidence shows there is a different pattern to these NCDs in Africa than the West- in the sub Sahara, people experience NCDs younger and more severely! At the same time, obviously, they have little to no access to available means of managing NCDs.

    Although Sub-Saharans are surviving HIV/AIDs dramatically more than in the 1990s- early 2000s, there are still a lot of untimely deaths and there is no comparison to westerners who are acquiring chr diseases more in association with aging. I work in the health system in the west and we describe a death in the 60s as “young,” in Zambia, that is considered old age, still! In short- I don’t believe emerging NCDs in Africa are in any way associated with increasing life-span, per se.

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