“Cabbage what?” I hear you ask.
“What about cabbage moi-moi? Cauliflower jollof rice?”
You are probably thinking I have gone a bit crazy. Not quite! These are just few of pretty creative dishes favoured by Nigerians following a Ketogenic Diet (or Keto as it is popularly known)
For those that don’t know what Keto means, it is basically a low-carb, high-fat and medium-protein diet. If followed correctly, it turns the body into a fat-burning machine. The science behind it is as follows: the body is fuelled either by glucose (produced by carbohydrates which are broken down into blood sugar) or ketones (which are produced by eating very little carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein, as excess protein can be converted to blood sugar).
As with all diets, it is recommended that you contact your doctor before embarking on it. Although many of my friends swear by it as an effective weight-loss tool, at least one friend had to abandon it as it made his blood sugar levels drop to an alarming level. It is recommended that insulin-dependent diabetics, nursing mothers and people with high blood pressure do NOT follow this diet.
What I have found most interesting about the Nigerian Keto movement is the variety of ‘swallows’ that people have come up with: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and even coconut flour.
I am reliably informed that these swallows are easy enough to make at home: boil the vegetable of your choice and blend to a smooth paste. Squeeze out any excess water using a cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Place in a pot on low heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously. Add a teaspoon or two of psyllium husk and stir for a few more minutes until it thickens up to your taste.
Psyllium husk, a soluble fibre, can be used as a food thickener and is used to relieve constipation and mild diarrhoea. It is also said to reduce cholesterol and sugar levels in the blood along with various other benefits such as aiding weight loss. Apparently, most people are able to tolerate it. However, side effects may include stomach cramps, gas, bloating, rashes, itching or difficulty in breathing. It is recommended that it is not taken if you’re on medication as it could delay the absorption of certain medicines. As with all supplements, please check with your doctor before use.
Cabbage moi-moi is prepared in a similar way with blended strained cabbage mixed with psyllium husk. Decant into moulds, add fillings of your choice and steam for about 30 minutes.
Personally, I am not a fan of cutting out any major food groups in the name of living a healthy lifestyle. I cannot imagine a life without yam, pasta and rice! However there are two main guidelines that I try and follow:
- An Ancestral Diet: This means eating what your ancestors would recognise - unprocessed food and drink that is as close as possible to what nature designed; eating local organically-produced foods and eating seasonally. Use traditional fats and oils such as coconut and palm oil, and natural seasonings such as ground crayfish, iru, ogiri and dawdawa. Avoid processed food and drink as well as highly refined items such as white bread and pasta.
Fermented foods are also recommended as they contain probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) which are said to be helpful in numerous health issues, especially digestive health. I find this very interesting as we have quite a number of fermented foods in Nigeria such as akamu (ogi), ugba, fufu, eba (aside from the last three seasonings I mentioned above).
- Portion Control is key. Use smaller plates if necessary and wait for at least 15 minutes before going for that second helping. It takes a while for the stomach to recognise that it is full. A Chinese-Malay friend told me that they have a saying: ‘eat until you are still hungry’, for this very reason. I have to say that the first few times I tried it, I woke up starving in the middle of the night! Another friend of mine successfully lost a large amount of weight by doing this and also chewing extra slowly. I know how much we love our soups and swallows. There is no need to give them up. Just have a fist-sized portion of your favourite swallow with plenty of soup. If you are still hungry, eat a bit more soup or even another piece of meat or fish. It takes a little while to train your stomach to accept smaller amounts of food, but it can be done.
As with all things in life, you have to find what suits your body and lifestyle, not forgetting to increase your physical activity. Even gentle walks will make a difference. I managed to drop a dress size in six weeks by walking for an hour, three or four times a week.
Whichever route you go down, remember a little bit of what you fancy also does you good.