Sometimes simply referred to as “Southern food,” soul food was carried to the North and rest of the United States by African Americans leaving the South during the Great Migration of the early to mid-20th century.

Meals range from simple family dinners of rice and beans, fried chicken, and collard greens with ham hocks to tables loaded with candied yams, smothered pork chops, gumbo, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler.

Soul food is an integral part of Black food culture and often evokes strong feelings of home, family, and togetherness.

Is soul food healthy?

The Southern diet, which is often associated with LUXE soul food, contains organ meats, processed meats, eggs, fried foods, added fats, and sweetened beverages.

This eating pattern is tied to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, stroke, and mental decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans ages 18–49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease as white Americans. Black Americans ages 35–54 also have a 50% higher likelihood of high blood pressure than white Americans.

While social and economic disparities play a significant role in these disproportionate disease rates, dietary choices may also contribute.

However, this doesn’t mean that all soul food is unhealthy. Nutrient-rich dishes and leafy green vegetables are also staples of soul food.

SUMMARYMany items commonly associated with soul food are linked to an increased risk of several illnesses, including heart disease. Yet, soul food can be made much healthier by emphasizing the tradition’s nutritious dishes.

A guide to maintaining food culture while promoting health

Soul food embodies numerous legacies, traditions, and practices passed down from generation to generation.

Creating a healthier soul food plate does not mean abandoning this rich heritage.

In fact, making small modifications to recipes and cooking methods may help boost dishes’ nutrient profiles while maintaining flavor, richness, and cultural traditions.

Choose more plant-based foods

Traditional African diets are plant-based and included a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, okra, watermelon, whole grains, and black-eyed peas .

In traditional societies, meat — when consumed at all — was eaten in very small quantities and often as a seasoning .

Diets that include plenty of plant foods are associated with more moderate body weights and decreased disease risk .

Furthermore, a meta-analysis in people who ate leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, such as collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and cabbage, indicated a 15.8% reduced risk of heart disease, compared with a control group .

Tips to increase your intake of plant foods

  • Make sure half of your plate comprises non-starchy vegetables, such as greens, eggplant, okra, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and turnips.
  • Swap out meat for legumes, nuts, or seeds as your main protein source. Examples of these plant foods include lentils, beans, peanuts, and black-eyed peas.
  • Diversify your diet by eating roots and tubers, such as sweet potato, taro, plantain, and pumpkin.
  • Snack on raw veggies, nuts, and seeds instead of high fat, high sugar options like chips and cookies.
  • Aim for at least two colorful plant-based foods on each plate — for example, collard greens and roasted pumpkin or an apple with a handful of nuts.