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African Vegetables: A Welcome Addition to Paleo and Healthy Living

By Dr. O. H. Okoye, MD, MBA, MSEpi
July 27, 2015
African Vegetables: A Welcome Addition to Paleo and Healthy Living image

A great aspect about Paleo is that it transcends geographic and physical boundaries. Indeed it is a global healthy living lifestyle. In recent years, many are gaining awareness about the tremendous benefits that come from eating Paleo. On the other hand, for many in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Paleo way of life may be quite familiar. According to an article in the prestigious Nature publication, some indigenous vegetables found in African countries like Nigeria, and Kenya, contain greater nutritious value than that seen in the popular kale and collard greens.1 You have probably tried these veggies unknowingly.

Take for instance, okra which is actually indigenous to the Igbos of Nigeria,2 where the name originates and is now widely eaten in Louisiana gumbo in the USA. Packed with higher amounts of nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamins, these indigenous vegetables are the source of many scientific studies, tapping into health benefits and improving through breeding experiments. In actuality, the US National Research Council (NRC) has been examining the hidden potential of Africa’s lost crops since the early 90s.1

Before you get too excited and start packing your bags for an international trip, wait a minute! Many of these healthy vegetables, can be sourced from your local international grocery stores in any major western city. Below are snippets of some of the various options to include on your Paleo shopping list.

African nightshade

African nightshade, a leafy green vegetable also known as Solanum scabrum is indigenous to many Sub-Saharan African countries like Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where scientists have long investigated its nutritional properties.1 It is naturally common throughout West, Central, and East Africa, and grows in a wide range of soils.

African nightshade is quite different from its poisonous counterparts in Euroasia. Just 100g of these leaves will give you way more iron than your entire daily needs.3 With its high nutritional value of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc,3 you may want to consider adding it to your Paleo diet.

Fluted pumpkin leaves

Fluted pumpkin leaves, also known as Telfairia Occidentalis, are indigenous to Nigeria, where they are commonly eaten and known as Ugu.4 Studies have indicated their high nutritious value, including high dietary sources for iron, copper, potassium, and manganese. Additionally, the vegetable serves as a moderate source for zinc, magnesium and sodium.5

Another study published in the American Journal of Chemistry, identified fluted pumpkin leaves to be a source of high dietary fiber content.4 Fiber helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood. This was confirmed in another study, where fluted pumpkin leaves were shown to decrease cholesterol levels as well as oxidative stress in rats fed with an excess cholesterol diet.6 The high potassium helps with preventing hypertension and keeping blood pressure low, while zinc helps the body with healing.6

Prevention and quick healing, all while eating delicious, healthy natural food? Sounds like the Paleo way to me!

Jute mallow

Jute mallow, also known as jew’s mallow, bush okra, or Corchorus olitorius, is indigenous to tropical Africa, as well as South and East Asia, Middle East, Brazil, and the Caribbean.7 It has great health values, and is extremely high in beta carotene, folic acid, calcium, iron, and ascorbic acid.7 Additionally, it contains significant amounts of riboflavin, vitamin E, and as much as 4.5% of your daily protein requirements.7 It packs enough power for you to forget about its slimy consistency when cooked.

Green plantains

While many continue to debate about whether green plantains are a fruit, or a vegetable, there is no question they are loved by many worldwide. Easy to find, green plantains are available in most local grocery stores.

They are the main staple crop throughout West and Central Africa, as well as other parts of the world like India, the Caribbean and Latin America. When harvested, plantains are green and starchy like a vegetable, yet ripen yellow and assume a sweet taste reminiscent of fruit.8 While plantains resemble bananas, they need to be cooked to be eaten. A green plantain can substitute for potatoes in your cuisine, and can be baked or boiled, or fried. Unlike the banana, plantains are low in sugar content, and contain more potassium, vitamins A and C.8

In summary, one of the great things about Paleo is the options are endless. You can always stick to the familiar, or cross the border into foreign territories. While kale is still a great choice, there are so many other choices out there, and the rich African vegetables found throughout the continent are no exception.


[1] Cernansky, R. (2015, June 11). Super vegetables. Nature, S22, 146-148.

[2] Harris, J. (2011, Feb 14). African-American Food's History & Soul. Retrieved Jul 22, 2015, from NPR On Point.

[3] Kamg, R., Kouame, C., Atangana, A., Chagomoka, T., & Ndango, R. (2013). Nutritional Evaluation of Five African Indigenous Vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Research, 21(1), 99-106.

[4] Idris, S. (2011). Compositional studies of Telfairia Occidentalis Leaves. American Journal of Chemistry, 1(2), 56-59

[5] Akwaowo, E., Ndon, B., & Etuk, E. (2000). Minerals and antinutrients in fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis Hook f.). Food Chemistry, 70(2), 235-240.

[6] Adaramonye, O., Akintayo, A., & Fafunson, M. (2007). Hypolipidemic effect of Telfairia occidentalis (fluted pumpkin) in rats fed a cholesterol-rich diet. J Med Food, 10(2), 330-6.

[7] Kamg, R., Kouame, C., Atangana, A., Chagomoka, T., & Ndango, R. (2013). Nutritional Evaluation of Five African Indigenous Vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Research, 21(1), 99-106.

[8] Hesser, A. (1998, July 29). The Plantain: Anything You Want It to Be. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from The New York Times: //

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