"So the African Pot Nutrition came out of a need. Nobody ever spoke about African food, African health practices, and basically traditional lifestyles and the benefits that they came through." - Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RD
Shireen: Cordialis Msora Kasago is a registered dietician nutritionist who specializes in chronic diseases and the inclusion of Heritage Foods in the diet. As a firm believer in the importance of including food and culture in any wellness plan, her goal is to help change the narrative on what healthy cooking looks like. Welcome Cordialis, how are you?
Cordialis: I'm doing well, Shireen. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast today.
Shireen: Absolute pleasure having you on. So with that thought I want to dive in. And first off, start up with what sparked your interest to become a registered dietitian?
Cordialis: So I'm a unicorn and I say that because I am one of those people that knew that they wanted to be a dietician, or knew what path they were going to go in life. I was seven years old, when I made the decision that this is what I want to do, mainly because a friend of mine told me her mother was a dietician, and she traveled around the world. And she told people what to eat. I'm like, that's perfect. You know, that's what's for me. But as I went through school, I started to really recognize how nutrition played a role in overall health and my interest was just peeked a little bit further. So just a really deep passion for helping people improve level at that granular level where it all begins and so that's how I ended up in the field of nutrition.
Shireen: I love it. I love it. Okay, so a lot of a lot of traveling, huh? Dietitians travel a lot still?
Cordialis: Well, actually, they…
Shireen: Probably not during quarantine.
Cordialis: Not in quarantine. But the funny thing is that in my other life, I actually do travel quite a bit for work. So what, what out of the universe tends to come back, you know.
Shireen: There you go. Awesome. So what is the one of the things that you love about your work? Is your sort of focus on nutrition when it comes to African foods? And so what is that influence that Western diet has had on this, on this cuisine? And then how does it impact sort of that current generation and in the next?
Cordialis: Right, so I am from Zimbabwe. I'm a dietitian from Zimbabwe who lives in the United States, but practices globally through the wonders of technology. And over the last decades, we've had a significant change in diets and lifestyles, developing countries, as they go through the development process are urbanizing rather rapidly. With that comes technology as well as a lot of social economic developments. One of the biggest things that happens in terms of nutrition is that we go through this transition. And once we start giving away, I'll rather staying away from our high fiber, nutrient rich diet and picking up more of the Western style eating form, which includes a lot of fatty foods, sugar sweetened items, a lot of animal protein, which are traditionally not part off the heritage diets, especially in Africa. And so as we look at that, we start to see chronic increases in diseases that have not traditionally been part of the narrative of African health.
Shireen: Interesting. And so do you see, how do you see that impacting sort of that current generation of Africans and even perhaps the following generation, where do you, where do you see some of that going?
Cordialis: You know, Africa is a very interesting place, because what we're seeing right now, is the intersection of health culture and food, right? Because there's so many different beliefs on health and we have a situation whereby we know that Africa traditionally has had undernutrition, especially in children. But now we have the burden of older nutrition in the form of obesity and culture comes into play because there are so many cultures that believe that the bigger you are as a person, the healthier that you are. And so trying to break down some of those narratives is extremely difficult. So we have the double burden of disease. And some people even say it's a triple burden. Because in addition to being overweight and underweight, we also have a segment of the population that's not getting nutrients, you know, so you could be obese and malnourished because you're not getting the nutrients that you have. The impact on that, of course, starting with the children, is that children that don't get the nutrients that they need, suffered a lot of developmental and cognitive limitations, which impacts their health later on in life. There's a lot of studies that have come out that tell us that early childhood development, you know, especially those first 1000 days of life, have a significant impact on your risk for developing chronic diseases later on in life. And so that that's the impact on the children. But where I work with mainly is in the adults, and what this is fostering it. The downside is that we have an epidemic of obesity on the African continent, where traditionally we don't have health resources to take care of the conditions produced. Traditionally, in Africa, health care has been focused on communicable diseases such as malaria and viruses. And now you have non communicable diseases and nobody knows how to handle them. So we have an increase in the rates of hypertension and the rates of diabetes on the continent. In fact, just to give you a little bit of some statistics, the World Health Organization, states that Africa has the highest rates of hypertension, and over 40% of adults being hypertensive. One of the biggest things that we worry about in this population is that this hypertension often manifests in the form of an ischemic stroke. Now, to give you a little bit of information on ischemic strokes, in the United States, it's rather rare, it happens, but it's not as common. But in Africa, about a third of the strokes that happen are ischemic strokes, and 90% of these strokes are caused by hypertension, right and so that's a very big concerning factor. The second thing is diabetes is on the increase. In 2019, the International diabetes Federation stated that 19 million people on the African continent suffered from diabetes, those were diagnosed cases, by 2045 was just like 25 years away from right now 47 million, which is over double the race, currently 47 million people on the African continent will have diabetes. And in fact, as of right now, 60% of the people living with diabetes in Africa, do not know that they have to condition 16%. So all those statistics really kind of come into play as I think of it, yes, they are multi, multiple things that come into play, and that are impacting and causing this epidemic. But at the heart and core of it are the changes in our diets and lifestyles that have occurred. And so as an individual, and as a dietitian, part of my passion, and my role is to help mitigate fat so that we can save lives because I don't believe that brilliant lines should ever be lost to preventable causes.
Shireen: Mm hmm. Now there's such a sad and sad truth really, about what, what is to come. With your work that you do and in the role that you play within this, I love your website, and I love the work that you're doing with African pot nutrition. Tell us more about that. Yeah, share with us more there.
Cordialis: So the African Pot Nutrition came out of a need. You know, as I mentioned, it started out as a blog. I was a dietitian who was frustrated by the lack of representation of African food, and mainstream media. Nobody ever spoke about African food, African health practices, and basically traditional lifestyles and the benefits that they came through. And so I felt bad as somebody who is trained and as somebody from that culture, who understands and values that, it was my role to be part of the solution, and start talking about Heritage Foods and African foods. And so that's how I just started blogging. Honestly, it was out of frustration, it was New Year's Eve, I was home with a new baby and watching TV. And none of the lists for the New Years said anything about African diets and lifestyles. And I was on a mission to change that, you know, but also personally, I had lost my mother to complications of high blood pressure. And my mother was an individual who was educated and had a good job and had really good global knowledge. And I thought to myself, if hypertension can take my mother, who has these resources in a relatively short space of time, she was diagnosed in May. And by August, she had passed, I fought about the populations that didn't have those axes that needed that information. And I had to make a difference. So I started just writing as much as I could so that the inflammation could be there for the people that was seeking it. And people started asking me for consoles and like Help me Help me and so it just became a nutrition consultancy. And the goal basically is to empower people to eat better, while including their traditional foods.
Shireen: I love that and that that that resonates so much with me because of the work we do in demolition, really keeping cultural foods that the focus of it all because if you don't talk to people in a way that it would foods that they understand and that are relevant to them. You missed the point, you missed the point, you can't expect change to come otherwise. So I love that, I love that work.
Cordialis: Absolutely. You know, it's, it's about sustainability.
Shireen: So one of the other things I love, so this is just gonna be a list of all the things that I love about your work. That's what this podcast is about. One of the things that I love is that you've sort of classified foods into three categories. So what are they? And how does it influence healthy food choices?
Cordialis: You know, so there's so much information and misinformation on nutrition, you know, everybody's nutrition expert these days, you know. There's a running joke amongst dietitians that everybody eats, and therefore, everybody is a food expert, you know. So, but, you know, when it comes to nutrition and nutrition information, people will need reliable information. So there's been a lot of discussion about which foods should I eat, which I will good foods, and which are the bad foods, which is a classification that I absolutely do not like, you know, because I am one person who believes that all foods can fit as part of an overall healthy diet, but we kind of have to make sure that we include more of certain foods and less of certain foods. So on the African Pot Nutrition, we created a dense a database of African foods, and it was more so those foods that were part and parcel of everyday life, in many different African cultures, but difficult to find nutrition information on, you know. So that the person who's looking for information on TEF might be able to find it in their context, so that they can understand how they can include it. And so we put the different foods according to the food groups, and we actually said, “Okay, here, the, like our stoplight system, green foods, go for it, right, include more of these foods in your diet, because these are the foods that are high fiber, low fat, you know, rich in vitamins and minerals, then we have orange foods, which are going easy, but include them in your diet,” you know. And then lastly, we have the red foods, which are okay to include, but use them in small amounts, so that people that are looking to improve their diets, can see that there are foods that they can have. And that's one big thing that we focus on, what can you have, and we make sure that we include all of those foods in our food database.
Shireen: Nice. You, you emphasize on prevention, which means taking action sooner rather than later. What are certain indicators in our health that signal making preventative change today? And so what is the role that dye can truly play in this?
Cordialis: You know, Shireen, it's like, I think prevention comes before the symptoms actually arise, you know. And so part of what I'm doing is trying to alert you. I gave you that statistic: 60% of people with diabetes on the African continent right now don't know that they have it, how do we change that narrative? We start to educate, right? And so part of it is when I think of how can we prevent? And what symptoms would I need to look at it to know that hey, I'm going through, is, first of all, take a look at your diet? What does your diet look like? Do you include fruits and vegetables? And I like to say, do you have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day? You know, that's a basic telltale sign of what could be going on? And then also looking at family history? What does your family history look like in terms of chronic disease? and personnel? You know, we are not so much focusing on just your weight, but weight is an indicator, but looking at your overall like diet and lifestyle? Do you exercise? Are you physically active? You know, what does that look like? Because I think that's the core of prevention. And then after that now, once you start to experience symptoms, such as weight loss or excessive urination, excessive thirst, you know, those are some of the symptoms that we start to look at. But I truly believe that prevention happens long before those symptoms. Come on. But once you have the symptoms, we can still prevent the progression or delay it from coming on through changing your diets as well.
Shireen: And what's so interesting to me that diet is is such a big part of the narrative. And yet it is not talked about as openly is not, is not shared with you as much. It's one of the things that boggles my mind is that there isn't much to nutrition education in our school systems today. Or even as adults, we're not really quite taught about nutrition and in foods and the types of foods and the nutritional value associated with foods, even nutrition labels. I mean, that's a whole nother that's a whole another thing. So I like how diet is the center of this. And, and I mean, and this is true, not only in Africa, but also over here that diabetes is a huge problem here. Okay, diet is a huge part of it. And yet, there's a very little to be said. That is in the system today when it comes to nutrition.
Cordialis: Yes, and I think education works. Education is empowering and it gives them that individual, that opportunity to make small but meaningful changes, but they have to know what they need to work on. And to your point. You know, we have to educate kids starting at a very young age, because I believe that educating the child gives them future knowledge, right? And they tend to bring it back to the home. I can't tell you how many people I've worked with that are like, you know, what, my child saw this and they said, I should buy this, or my child wants to eat this. I experienced it with my own children, you know, and so I think there's so much power in education. But beyond that, with all the tools and the resources that we have, I think, speaking from the American experience, we have the food label, but many people don't know what it means, you know, the information is there. But what am I supposed to be looking at? How do we change that? It's mass education, you know, and I think things are starting to happen, and things are starting to change. But we're far from where we need to be. But education is extremely important in terms of bringing those outcomes.
Shireen: And so I know you're doing some work within that. I know. So, you know, you were recently reappointed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a national media spokesperson. So what, what has this role meant to you? And what impact do you hope to create from it?
Cordialis: So sharing in, in the United States, only three, less than 3% of dietitians are black. And when you compare that to the burden of disease, hypertension, chronic disease, die of diabetes, and even COVID, those minority races are disproportionately impacted. But then just like we've been talking right now, the messages are not always relatable to that particular population. Part of my reason for being in the media is to help people who look like me, who might eat the same foods that I eat, you know, I've been in the United States for over 20 years now. And I, I relate to the African American experience, you know. I will eat some food, and I will cook so food, you know, and so part of it is having people who look like me, who might eat the same food that I eat, see me in the media and see that, “hey, she's talking to me, she's talking about me.” I think representation matters. So I wanted to be even though I'm only part of a 3% of a profession, I want it to be the one that they hear that they see so that those messages can be relatable back to them. But also just to promote, you know, evidence based nutrition information for the general public. I think that is extremely important, especially now when we have information at the tip of our fingers. And you know, Dr. Google dishing out any information they want.
Shireen: Yeah, okay. Okay. Love it. And so with that, we're toward the end of the end of the episode, unfortunately, but, and I know we can continue this conversation. I want to first thank you so much for your time and then also let people know how perhaps they can connect with you after this episode, how they can learn more about your work.
Cordialis: Sure. So you can reach me at my website, the African pot nutrition dot com. And I'm also on Instagram, also at African Pott Nutrition, and Twitter, Africa dietitian. That's me.
Shireen: Awesome. And what we're gonna do is we're gonna link all of this up in the show notes, so folks can click on it and follow, follow your work.
Shireen: So with that, so with that, thank you so much for your time Cordialis.. It was an absolute pleasure having you on.
Cordialis: Thank you so much for having me, Shireen and thank you for the work that you are doing as well. I think it's important work.
Shireen: Thank you together. We'll get it together.
Cordialis: Yes, yes, absolutely. One step at a time.