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Hail the Starch-Filled Life



Let’s not pretend, we all love that amala with ewedu or pounded yam with ogbono or tuwon masara with miyan kuka.  Not only are these the stems of our culture, they hit the spot really well too. Thus, when all the nutritionists come forward and ask us to give up starchy foods, we look at them up and down twice, delete the conversation from our memories, and simply go on with our days. Nobody is telling us how we can be who we are, while trying to keep healthy at the same time.

Yes, our Nigerian foods are starchy, no doubt. And yes, they are filled with a lot of ingredients that some of us can’t even pronounce. So how are we supposed to keep track of what nutritional value we get from our food? Well, there is a way. We can focus on the nutritional content of the raw foods, and try to translate that into what it means to us. Though you may not readily find the calorie content of garri, you can easily find the calorie content of cassava. Same for tuwo, pounded yam, and even our beloved starch.

Today, we’ll focus on a lot of the traditional starchy food we eat to see what the true nutritional content is (well, as close as we can get). To truly keep a log of what we eat, it is important to know the benefits of each food, as well as the negatives. My focus today is on the caloric and protein content because these are the most important for weight maintenance, energy, and muscle growth. Because calories are determined from the carbohydrate, protein, and fat content, I will not list these factors separately, but focus on the overall calories in each food type. However, there are many other important nutritional factors like the calcium, potassium, sodium, fiber, and sugar content.

I love lists because they tell a clear visible story, so here goes:

Eba: This is beyond a staple. Everywhere you go in Nigeria, people regularly eat eba, which is simply referred to as garri in some areas. The estimated protein and caloric content of one cup of garri is below. One cup contains about 8 ounces.

Calories: 330
Protein: 2.8g

Pounded Yam: I have a dream, and I’m sure most of us do too, to once again eat manually pounded yams. With real yams. Yes. Anyway, pounded yam is a staple for most young Nigerians today, whether you eat it out at restaurants, or you buy the powdered version and make it at home. But since people use both the powdered and ‘live’ version, it is important to show both. This is for half a cup of instant pounded yam, and one medium twelve-inch tuber of yam.

Instant Pounded Yam
Calories: 470
Protein: 4g

Real Pounded Yam
Calories: 526
Protein: 6.8g

Fufu: Traditionally called ‘Akpu’, no one likes better fufu than the Igbo people because this is a staple for eastern Nigeria. And besides the smell, I think we all love it too. Akpu is made of cassava just like garri, and so the nutrition content is fairly similar. However, if you’re worried about the smell, it’s really just fermented cassava. The information below is for about one cup of cassava.

Calories: 330
Protein: 3g

Amala: In my opinion, there’s only one way to really enjoy amala. With some ewedu. But I know some friends who beg to differ, arguing that gbegiri is actually the ish. To each his own. Amala actually contains less refined sugar that the other starchy foods we eat since it’s usually made from the skin of the yam rather than the actual yam, so it is a great choice for diabetics or anyone else simply trying to watch their weight. Foods with lower refined sugar content are digested slower by the body and so you gain the benefit of burning some calories during the digestive process. Let’s take a look at the nutrition content.

Calories: 352
Protein: 4g

Tuwo: No, I didn’t leave my dear northerners out. Whether it’s tuwon shinkafa or tuwon masara, the finger-licking goodness of this northern staple can be served with miyan kuka, miyan taushe, gbegiri, or a host of other soups. At least tuwo is a pretty easy concept. Tuwon skinkafa is usually made with sticky rice, and tuwon masara is usually made with corn meal flour. So what’s the nutrition content of both styles of tuwo? The following is based on one cup of boiled sticky rice, and one cup of corn meal flour.

Tuwon Shinkafa
Calories: 216
Protein: 4.8g

Tuwon Masara
Calories: 360
Protein: 9g

Starch: Also called usi, for my southerners, life is not complete without this golden delicacy. It takes some skill to make, and even more skill to eat it properly. Couple it with ovwo or banga soup, and you’re good to go. And you would think that the very name suggests that it would be a terror for our bodies, but what is truly the nutritional content of starch? Starch is made of cassava just like garri and fufu, and so the nutritional content is again similar. But starch is sold in lumps, not in powder form. So I will assume one lump of starch is gotten from one cup of cassava, just like with akpu. However, since palm oil is also added to starch, it drives the numbers up.

Calories: 490
Protein: 4g

Let’s be honest. In our own restaurants, we tend to serve foreign foods when we’re trying to promote a healthy or exotic diet. This is mostly because it’s simpler to get the caloric information of those foods, and nobody wants to do the research. But the important thing when it comes to the Nigerian diet is to simply focus a lot on portion control. Most of the food we eat is fairly heavy anyway so we don’t need to eat too much of it.

Well, hopefully, this information will stir a cook somewhere to start putting our great local stuff on the menu. That’s the dream.

Suzanne also blogs about practical health and fitness at For regular fitness tips, follow her on twitter at @eightsnweights.

Suzanne Brume is a fitness blogger and yoga enthusiast who strives to live a healthier lifestyle and helps others do the same. She blogs consistently at Eights and Weights (, and gives tips and demonstrations on Twitter (@eightsnweights) and Instagram (@eightsnweights). She is always open for fitness questions!