A Traditional African Diet May Protect Against Colon Cancer

Did You Know…that African Americans fed a traditional African diet significantly lowered their risk for colon cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial or ethnic group in the United States for most cancers.

Curious as to the affect of diet on cancer in African Americans, University of Pittsburgh researchers put African Americans on a traditional African diet, and Africans on a standard American diet.  The results, published in the journal Nature Communications, are shockingly eye opening.

Cancer Risk Significantly Reduced 

Rates of colon cancer in rural South Africans are much lower than in African Americans.  Higher cancer rates among African Americans are linked to higher animal protein and fat consumption, as well as lower fiber intake.  So, researchers put 20 African Americans on an African diet low in fat and high in fiber, made up of vegetables, beans, cornmeal, and just a little meat.  Researchers also put 20 Africans on standard American, high-fat, low-fiber fare.

After two weeks, researchers performed colonoscopies on all subjects.  The tests showed that African Americans eating an African diet had increased butyrate levels (butyrate is a fatty acid proven to defend against colon cancer).

As for the Africans eating an American diet, they had pronounced gut changes that scientists say are the biomarkers of cancer cell development.

Dr. Stephen J. O’Keefe, the lead researcher, told ThinkProgress:  “We were astounded by the gravity and the magnitude of the changes.  In Africans, the diet changes produced microbiota that were cancerous.  All this happened within two weeks and was quite astounding.  The more we talk about diet, this will be important for all Americans, but most importantly African Americans.”

The Obesity Crisis and Its Impact on African Americans 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are among the leading causes of death in African Americans.  All these diseases can be linked to high rates of obesity in people of color.

The CDC estimates that obesity rates have more than tripled since the 1970s and cause 1 in 5 cancer deaths.


     The American Society for Clinical Oncology recently reported that obesity will soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of cancer. 

Research has tied obesity to aggressive breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and prostate cancer in older men.

African Americans, especially if living sedentary lives, are 1.4 times more likely to be obese than those of Latin or Caucasian descent.  This contributes to the 1.8 times greater increase in likelihood that an African American develops type 2 diabetes.

What Is the Traditional African Diet? 


Those interested in a diet that parallels African cuisine, check out the African Heritage Diet Pyramid, developed by the non-profit food and education organization Oldways.

Unfortunately, healthy eating is not always a matter of individual choice.  More than 49 million Americans are food insecure, with little more than fast food options.  The federal government has stepped in with the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which has given more than $500 million to businesses to encourage them to develop in low-income “food deserts.”

Many socially conscious businesses operate from a give-and-get mission.  For instance, the new Thrive Market is an online shopping club that features premium quality organic non-GMO products at wholesale prices.  For every paid annual membership received, it gives away a free annual membership to a low-income family in need.  Regardless of location or finances, there are burgeoning opportunities for healthy living all around.  Take advantage!