The Nutrition of Sadza / Ugali / Isithswala / Pap / Nshima

A quick note to reader: I did a quick search and even asked my facebook friends for the English name for what I like to call the “International African Food.” 

From sadza to isitshwala, pap, nshima, ugali…there are various names for this staple…but the English names I have encountered are “Thick Porridge” and “Dumpling”…..not very appeasing to say the least`. I simply refuse to call it a thick porridge and so to minimize the tediousness of calling it Sadza/Ugali/Pap/Isitshwala/Nshima, I am simply going to call it “Sadza.”

My mother believed that a meal was not a meal unless there was a little bit of Sadza on the plate. I remember her looking at the pots cooking on the stove before exclaiming, “….ah, wabika spaghetti. Ndiisire kapoto kesadza kekudyisa Lacto.” (“…ah you cooked spaghetti. Put a pot of sadza for me so I can eat it with Lacto (sour milk).” She would then proceed to eat a courtesy portion of my signature “Spaghetti Bolognese” and then enjoy her Sadza/Lacto dinner. My mother was not alone, I know plenty of people that simply have to have Sadza at least once a day. 
The Nutrition of Sadza / Ugali / Isithswala / Pap / Nshima
With the increased focus on wellness and health, the nutritional content of this staple has come under the microscope. Is it healthy? Is it fattening? Is it good for diabetics? How much should I eat? How can I make it healthier? The questions are numerous and through several blog articles I will shed some light on the nutritional aspect of this beloved food.

Let’s start out with the most commonly asked question:

Is Sadza healthy?
The nutritional content of Sadza has been greatly diminished by 2 major occurences in Africa: colonization and urbanization. Traditionally, Sadza was made from millet and/or sorghum but when the European colonizers arrived on the continent, they introduced maize (corn). Gradually, maize became the preferred ingredient for making sadza, but it was nutritionally inferior to the traditional staples. With urbanization came new technologyand the refinement of foods. We went from the coarse grey-like, nutrition packed maize meal to a superfine, pure white maize powder whose nutritional value had been diminished by the refining process. Our traditional sorghum/millet meals with their deep brown/purple colors were chastised and rarely served yet they contained the most nutrition of all.

So to answer the question, is Sadza healthy? The major nutrient in Sadza is carbohydrate (carbs) wbich is the body’s prefered source of energy and should make up 45-60% of the diet. Some carbohydrates provide fiber which is essential for good digestion and elimination. However, all maize meal is not created equal. The more refined the maize meal (Ngwerewere as the Shona call it) , the less fiber and nutrition it contains. The coarser the grain and furthest away from the “white” color (roller meal/ mugaiwa/straight run), the better the nutritional content. For the best nutritional value, sorghum/millet based meals are much healthier options but if they are not available choose a the less refined maize meal.

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