African Food and Special Needs

In childhood and human development, food plays a very important role. Today I’ll be talking about how African food affects human development with emphasis on Nigerian food. 

My son was diagnosed with food allergies earlier this year. It was very tough for me to accept it because as a food writer and blogger, I never want to be put in a box and be told what to cook and how to cook it. His allergies have the tendency to be really bad so he was given two separate epi-pens for emergencies. 

What did it for me was the epi pens. The fact that my son’s life is being threatened with food allergies scared the calmness out of me. I instantly went into research mode. I researched and got too confused until I bumped into this http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/plant-based-diets/ and http://nakedfoodmagazine.com/raising-children-on-a-plant-based-diet/

and it led me back to Nigerian food.

The best kind of diet to stay on while going through a special needs phase is an African/Nigerian diet. Our recipes are mostly plant based and usually cooked very fresh. It is also the easiest diet to get on for an Autistic child who is sensitive to Gluten and/or dairy.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about Autism and food. 

What is Autism? “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” speaks.org

How does food affect Autistic children? “In Autism and other neurobehavioral issues like ADHD, diet does play a significant role in creating and exacerbating symptoms. Almost all children with Autism, ADHD and learning disabilities have food sensitivities. However, the makeup of these sensitivities is different in each child. Identifying and eliminating foods that a child is sensitive to is very important; these food reactions often lead to more severe immune responses and create inflammation in the child’s body and brain. These children almost always have what is known as “leaky gut” syndrome, where foods that are not fully digested can get through the gut lining and come in contact with the immune system, triggering an immune response and creating inflammatory chemicals that can affect the child’s behavior and learning ability.” (Source…http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2013/06/adhd-autism-diet-behavior/). Also “Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) report that behavior improves when their children eat a diet free of the proteins gluten and case in. Gluten is found primarily in wheat, barley and rye; casein, in dairy products. Last year, clinicians within Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) investigated the issue and found insufficient evidence of clear benefit.  We called for clinical studies, and these studies are now underway.”(source…speaks.org)

Basically what I’m trying to say is, African/Nigerian food being mostly plant based and close to nature is the most purest food to feed to anyone who needs a change in diet in order to eradicate symptoms of any special need. 

My son who suffers food allergy NEVER had any flare ups once I placed him on a Nigerian diet of Okra soup, vegetable soup, tomato stews and soups etc. There are no chemicals in our food to react with his little body.

You’ll find that a lot of Westernized type of foods have preservatives and these chemicals sometimes have a serious interaction with people who have special needs.

I spoke to my friend Azuka Jebose of Jebose Boulevard about this subject once. His son happens to be Autistic and since he placed him on a plant based diet consisting of Nigerian food, he noticed some positive changes in his behavior.

Here’s what others had to say:

“I find our foods quite easy as we usually use natural products. The basic foods are fresh and unprocessed. And also don’t have the gluten (wheat) and diary which are the foods that affect the most. The problem comes in with the artificial things in stick cubes and the gluten in those noodles.”(Kemi Kale)

“As autism is linked to inflamed gut, mainly caused by milk and bread, any non gluten and dairy free diet affects autism. It is recommended to go off gluten and dairy to help ease autism and make it more manageable. There are several studies to prove this was indeed very helpful. It is important to avoid pasta, bread or cereal.”(Blanka Kobayashi)

“I find most of our foods natural especially when used moderately. A lot of our foods and spices have healing properties. Most processed and imported foods especially  those that have artificial coloring/food dyes and high sugar content don’t help ease autism.”(Ronke Gabriels-Omolegbe. http://rohsspace-stuff.blogspot.com)

“Like Kemi Adeniyi Kale pointed out,  there’s so much captured by African foods. Talking about Nigerian foods, most are good for children with special needs provided they are prepared nutritionally. The should be lots of vegetables, all our Ugu, efo, inene, garden egg leaves, leaves of fluted pumpkin, sweet potato leaves, scent leaves; and assorted fish and meat, fermented condiments and seasonings. There should be no restrictions to the type used.  Just mix and match. Go back to the basics, keep it natural and simple.”(Ijeoma Onah-Ugwu)

For replacing stock cubes, we have natural seasonings like locust beans, dawadawa and ogiri to help with cooking. But if you must use stock cubes, home made vegetable stock cubes can be used. I once found some gluten free stock cubes on Amazon.com. You can even boil the scales of different shell fish and use as a stock for cooking(that is if you have no allergy to seafood or shell fish).

We would like to know what you think about this subject. To contribute, please make a comment in the comment section.

Thank you

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