Kwanzaa: A Diabetes Friendly Holiday

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By : dLife Editors

Nestled between Christmas and New Years is a holiday called Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration and reaffirmation of community, culture, and family.

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word for first fruits. Because it is not a religious holiday, it is often celebrated along with Christmas in many African-American homes.

For the diabetes community, the celebration of Kwanzaa falls in line with the celebration of a healthy lifestyle.

This is because Kwanzaa encompasses the whole life mind, body, and spirit as it pertains not only to the individual but to the entire community.

The weeklong holiday begins December 26th and ends New Years Day, with each day focusing on a specific principle of Kwanzaa.

Principles of Kwanzaa:

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are called the Nguzo Saba. In order, they are:

Kwanzaa Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

A Celebration of Health

In the society, we live in, with the foods we are used to eating, and the sedentary lifestyle, it is very difficult to stay on track.

The principle of kujichagulia teaches self-determination.

For the person with diabetes, this means being determined to regularly test; being mindful of portions; and defining for yourself how you will manage your diabetes.

It is easy to go the way of the world, but it takes self-determination to do what’s best for your health.

When it comes to food choices, the celebration of Kwanzaa is flexible but participants are urged to use the freshest fruits and vegetables as a symbol of commitment to the holiday in the best way possible.

What are Traditional Foods?

The traditional feast Karamu is held on the final night of Kwanzaa.

Typically, the foods that are served will hail from the culture and/or community of the people celebrating. It could be the soul food of the American South, such as fried chicken, sweet potatoes, greens, and cornbread.

There is Island cuisine, such as lentil soup and jambalaya.

Then there are the traditional foods of Africa such as yams and okra, or whatever dishes your family holds dear.

Karamu is not only a time for cultural expression and unity, but it is a special time for generational recipes to be passed on.

Some of the food choices may include yams or sweet potatoes.

Yams are a large, starchy root that is native to Africa and Asia. They are a good source of vitamin B6, which helps the body to break down a substance called homocysteine. Homocysteine can damage blood vessel walls.

Yams or sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are more readily available in American markets.

This tuberous root is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and potassium. Vitamin A keeps the skin and eyes healthy while vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Potassium helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Both yams and sweet potatoes are health powerhouses found on the Kwanzaa table, but they are also on the list of higher-carbohydrate veggies, so eat them in moderation and test your blood sugar afterward.

Black-eyed peas and kidney beans (also known as red beans) are two more cultural favorites. They are both rich in fiber, which has been shown to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease and, while beans and legumes are higher in carbs, their fiber content helps mediate the speed and intensity of their impact on blood sugar.

Some vegetables of choice include okra and greens. Okra, another food native to Africa, is a good source of vitamin C, it is low in calories, and it is fat-free.

Cooked greens are a source of potassium and vitamin A. Veggies like okra and greens are great for you and very low in carbohydrates, so fill your plate!

Whatever foods you choose to celebrate Kwanzaa, be sure to test your blood sugar often and, if in doubt, talk to a registered dietitian to select the best foods for your diabetes management plan.

With a little planning and application of the principles, each day of Kwanzaa can also be a celebration of your diabetes life and the opportunity to have a positive impact on the diabetes community as a whole.

Ashe! (A-shay) – It is done!

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD.

Updated by dLife Editors 12/18.