Women placed a great deal of importance on being healthy and believed that one's health was dependent on consuming healthy foods, living an active and emotionally-balanced lifestyle and getting enough rest. Women's conceptualizations of health were largely holistic, incorporating both the body and mind as well as both individual and social components. The latter point is important, as the individual is not understood to stand alone, but is integrated in their family and community, and their well-being is affected by these social relationships.
Good nutrition was defined as eating healthy from the required food groups, illustrated by participants as the consumption of lots of vegetables, fruits, beef, chicken, fish, and milk. Some of the women stressed the importance of vegetables for health and “cleaning the blood veins.” Fresh foods were preferred and canned foods were avoided.
During pregnancy, Sudanese women consumed foods that they believed were generally healthy and would provided benefits for their bodies and their growing baby. Some women also indicated concern over gaining too much weight and thus made food choices that would not result in excessive weight gain.
Vegetables were very common in women’s diets and are frequently found in traditional Sudanese dishes. In particular, women mentioned green vegetables like spinach, molokhia, sukuma wiki (kale), and okra. Beans were consumed for protein, and fish was consumed to support the growth the baby’s brain. Milk and yogurt were consumed for the baby to develop strong bones. Kisra and injera – thin flatbreads – were consumed as part of a normal, traditional diet. Finally, porridges like asida were consumed as part of a normal healthy diet.
Women avoided foods that were thought to have negative effects on the baby’s appearance and health as well as foods that would harm the mother herself. Women avoided consuming a lot of meat, and generally focused on chicken and fish rather than red meats. They also avoided canned foods, including canned vegetables and beans, as it was believed these foods could cause cancer and overall poor health.
Although spicy foods are favored by many Sudanese women, they were avoided by some due to the belief that they would result in a baby with no hair. Consumption of sugary foods, including pop and juice, was believed to result in a large baby with a big head. Junk food like fast food and potato chips was also believed to result in a baby with a big head, and therefore difficult labor. Oily foods were avoided by some as they could produce heartburn. Camel meat was believed to prolong pregnancy. Finally, alcohol and caffeinated beverages were avoided.
Following birth, women consume hot-temperature foods, “light foods” that are easy to digest, foods that heal the body, and foods that assist with lactation and weight loss.
Soups made from chicken, fish, goat, joints, and/or vegetables were especially important to women as are easy to digest, promote lactation, and can clean out one’s stomach. Porridges like medida and asida were also very important to women as they can aid in the healing process, relieve pain, and encourage lactation. Medida is made from variations of flour, yogurt, sour cream, sugar and is particularly important postnatal. Some women also mentioned a sweet halva dish made from flour, sugar, oil, and spices.
Other foods consumed to promote lactation included milk and a mixture of spinach and peanut butter (with or without baking soda). Peanut butter was also added to porridge to increase its beneficial effects.
Women avoid foods that would negatively affect the baby by passing through breast milk, inhibit lactation, and foods that would result in weight gain. In addition, cold foods were avoided and women consumed foods that were hot or at least room-temperature.
Spicy foods were avoided as they would pass through breast milk and result in a fussy baby. Okra and molokhia were believed to cause the baby constipation. Caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee were believed to cause the baby to cry and keep the baby awake. Dry foods, like dry meat, and raw vegetables were avoided by some women as they would inhibit lactation. Finally, “heavy” foods like rice and bread were avoided by some women who were concerned about losing weight. .