Fighting Food

Updated: Jan 25, 2019

author Bethany Brenes MPA, LPTA

How do we beat obesity when tradition is killing us? I was teaching on the topic obesity when after the class a man informed me, obesity was not preventable. In all sincerity, he argued my point stating “eating is tradition and you can’t change tradition”. It’s true that in the south we hold fast to tradition but unfortunately, we are no longer required to perform the degree of manual labor it took to work off mama’s country dinner as in the past. With the passing down of recipes high in fat, sodium, and sugar we are producing a rise in levels of obesity.

Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia ranked as the top three states in obesity. Looking at other common factors, all three states were also in the top 5 earning the lowest median household income in the nation. In correlation, when shopping for groceries the most affordable food is often the food packed with higher levels of fat, sugar, and preservatives. Without proper education on healthy options, the quick and easy food along with southern traditional food is feeding the obesity epidemic. Coincidentally, research has found that obese Americans incur about $1,500 more in health care costs annually. Absolving the purpose of saving money with cheap food. Ultimately the price of food is worth your health and the health of your children, who are taught nutritional habits from watching what their parents eat and prepare. Without nutritional modification the home-grown meals remain the same while portion sizes increase.

Aside from obesity, southern fried food is a direct cause heart disease. A research study performed at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, found a connection between southern food and more than a handful of preventable diseases. The research involved 15,000 samples of self-reporting surveys from an array of African Americans and Caucasians, 45 years and older without any evidence of heart disease. After a period of 6 years the participants were again reviewed, and the findings were categorized into 5 distinct food styles. People who frequently ate the “southern style diet” were found to have a 56% greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than those who only ate it occasionally. The southern style diet included fried food, fatty food, food with added fats, processed meats, eggs, and sugary drinks. Along with heart disease, participants indulging in the southern style diet were also more likely to develop hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. While the study encompassed mixed races and age ranges over 45, the typical candidate for heart disease on this diet was a southern African American male, 65 years and older, non-high school graduate, with an annual income of less than $20,000.

The results suggest people of low income and educational status in the south are less likely to eat healthy due to a lack of education on better options. Fear lies in radical changes and loss of cultural tradition, but the same recipes can be prepared with small modifications to make it more healthy. For instance, using ground nuts to crust chicken as opposed to frying, and olive oil to simmer greens. Preventing obesity may not sound palatable, but it is possible. Availability of education to individuals ready to make a change for their health and the health of their family can encourage a traditional change for a healthier life.


Alternatives to the traditional southern staples with small, smart modifications.

Juicy Faux Fried Chicken

· 1/2 cup non-fat buttermilk, OR 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice(or vinegar) mixed with (1/2 cup) 1 percent milk

· 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

· 2 cloves garlic, minced

· 2 teaspoons hot sauce

· 6 medium to large (2 to 2 1/2 pounds) chicken breasts (not boneless), skin removed

· 1 cup flour (we used white whole wheat)

· 1 teaspoon paprika

· 1 teaspoon dried thyme

· 1 teaspoon baking powder

· 1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

· 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a wide and shallow bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mustard, garlic, and hot sauce. Add chicken and flip to coat on both sides.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Whisk the flour, paprika, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

5. Place the seasoned flour in a bowl with an airtight lid. Add the chicken 2 pieces at a time and shake with the lid on. Remove the chicken, shake off any excess flour, and place it on the parchment lined baking sheet..

6. Coat the top and sides of the chicken with cooking spray or brush with olive oil. Bake the chicken until golden brown and no longer pink in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits

2 1/2 cups fresh milled whole wheat flour {plus 1/2 cup more for “patting out”biscuits} 1 cup buttermilk (or regular “sweet” milk) 1 tsp salt 1 Tbsp baking powder 1/3 cup coconut oil {solid}

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mill your flour {I use my wondermill} and then add buttermilk and coconut oil. Use a spoon, pastry cutter, or even your hand to mix ingredients. The goal is to incorporate the oil but not to overmix.

Take spoonfuls of biscuit dough and plop it into a bowl of extra flour. {We usually put about 1/2 cup more into a bowl}. Carefully, softly, lovingly {lol} pat the biscuits into little rounds and place onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat. Place biscuits pretty close together.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with lots of {good fat} REAL butter.

Roasted Okra Fries

· 1 lb. okra, trimmed

· 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

· Fat pinch of Kosher salt

· Fresh ground pepper

· Sprinkle of curry powder

1. Pre heat oven to 450º F.

2. Toss okra in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and curry powder.

3. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet (make sure they're not touching) and roast for 15 minutes.

Garlicky Braised Collard Greens

· 2 pounds collard greens, cleaned, stems removed, sliced into thin ribbons

· 1 tablespoon grass-fed Butter or Ghee

· 4 - 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

· 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

· pinch crushed red pepper flakes

· 1/2 cup water

· lemon juice (approximately 2 teaspoons or to taste)

Heat pot and cook butter and garlic on medium for 1 minute stirring constantly

Reduce heat and add greens with ribs remove and cook for 50 minutes.

Add lemon juice and serve