Ethiopian Nutrition and Dietary Traditions, by Habtu Demeke

Eating and fasting are important traditions in Ethiopian culture. The church has contributed greatly to why these traditions are so important and followed. In the church, priests can't eat sweets or too much food. They eat only one time a day, after they finish their sermon. They fast through out the year. A part of the fasting means that they can't eat meat or dairy foods because according to the Bible eating these foods makes the body unhealthy and over weight. Their meal might be a piece of bread and boiled grain, but these small amounts of foods are containing protein and carbohydrates. The priests are able to fast more frequently than the everyday people because of their dedication to the bible and its teachings. It is believed that fasting is healthy for the body and brings a person closer to God. Many people do take part in restricted fasting, sometimes for one month or two weeks. At these times some foods are restricted. After the fasting period people return to eating all kinds of nutritional foods. When I think of fasting I can remember one special holiday during the year when people fast for twenty-four hours, without drinking water or eating food. Consequences are that people got dehydrated; loss weights, and couldn't speak loudly or walk because they didn't have enough energy. This brings mental clarity and allows the body to be cleansed. This is considered healthy for people’s physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

It is obvious that religion is an instrumental part of Ethiopian society and has often dictated nutritional habits. For example, those who are Ethiopian Orthodox do not eat meat, eggs or diary products (any animal product with the exception of fish) on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are also a number of religious “fasts” which Ethiopian orthodox observe; the longest of which is the Easter fast or “Kudade Tsom” which lasts about 55 days. Ethiopian diet as whole is based on different types of berbere sauce with various meats, vegetarian (made with yellow peas, lentil, cabbage, green beans, etc.) sauces are all eaten with Injera—a pancake like “bread” made of teff grain. “Teff has very high calcium content, and contains high levels of phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium, and thiamine. The principal use of teff grain for human food is the Ethiopian bread (Injera). Injera is a major food staple, and provides approximately two-thirds of the diet in Ethiopia. While the reported high iron content of teff seed has been refuted, the lack of anemia in Ethiopia, is considered to be due to the available iron from Injera. To make this Injera, it has four steps. First teff and millet are mixed together and change to powder by special machine. This powder is mixed with water and kept for four days by container until it makes yeast or ferment. After four days, we can add hot water until it becomes watery. We let it sit for six hours before we make Injera, because it has to be cool.

Finally, I strongly believe that Ethiopian people are healthy because everybody cooks at home. This diet consists of fresh daily foods. Therefore, people do not have obesity, cancer and cholesterol. Actually, it is not only the nutritional foods that help Ethiopian people to be healthy but also their active lifestyle. People are walking to work and school around 10 to 15 miles every day because the people do not have cars like American people. This physical activity helps in producing strong bones, muscles, and joints. This regular physical activity reduces the overall risk of dying and becoming sick prematurely from any cause. Generally, it is not acceptable to eat and walk at the same time. Eating is a time to be with family and friends, as well as being thankful for the healthy food at our tables. We also do not have so many fast food places. People are use to buying their food fresh from open markets and always eating balanced, well prepared meals that are good for their bodies.