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EJ Ogenyi: How To Make Your Favourite Nigerian Foods Healthier



IMG_4385 SmallSoups are a big part of our Nigerian cuisine. They are a delicious way to meld vegetables and meats into a delicious meal to be enjoyed with your choice of swallow. A lot of people associate weight loss inspired lifestyle changes with giving up this decadent and unique part of our culture, but it doesn’t have to be so.

Soups are not inherently unhealthy. How could foods with so much protein, vegetables, and healthy fats be unhealthy? There are some soup ingredients that do have a lot of calories, but they’re only needed in small quantities to get the most out of them.

For example:
• Ogbono: Used as a thickener in Ogbono soup. This seed is high in fat but most of the fat is of the unsaturated kind, which is the type of fat that your body needs to function.
• Egusi: The story with egusi is the same as ogbono. High in calories, but rich in unsaturated fats.
• Palm Oil: This oil is high in fat. It does have the saturated fats that should be avoided as much as possible, but it’s also rich in beta carotene. Beta carotene one of the antioxidants that has proven health benefits, and is what gives palm oil its characteristic red colour.

The thing that makes our soups a dietary villain is because of how we cook them and here are some examples:

We use too much
When cooking soups we forget that some of the high calorie ingredients are there to be used in moderation. You don’t need two cooking spoons of palm oil to get the benefit of having oil in your soup and you don’t need to omit it altogether. The same goes for ingredients like ogbono and egusi.

We go for too much variety
When cooking soups, we tend to overdo it with the variety of meats we use. All you really need is one high quality lean protein like lean beef or chicken with a little flavor rich protein like dried fish for added flavour.

We serve ourselves more than is needed
Even if you use only a little oil and only a few types of meats, you could sabotage your efforts at eating a healthy meal if you serve yourself too much.

Now that you know that some of our soup ingredients are nutrient rich and now that you know some of the reasons why soups have a bad reputation, I’d like to offer you a way to cook soup a part of your healthy lifestyle. It all starts with your choice of meats, which usually contains most of the calories in soup:

Choose a lean cut of meat
If you’re using beef, make sure there’s minimal marbling. The marbling is the white part you see on the meat and contains most of the saturated fats that is terrible for your heart health. Cutting away some of this marbling will help reduce the calories in your meat by a little, but every little bit helps. If you’re using chicken, removing the skin of the meat before you cook it will save you some calories and some saturated fat.

Choose only one more protein for additional flavor if at all
My added protein of choice is dried fish, but you could have a taste for other types of meat. Also, only use a small amount of this. Remember its role is to add flavor and not to be the star of the dish.

Take it easy with the oil
There’s no need to go oil-less when you’re cooking your soups, but you do need to watch the quantity. Having a simple rule around the amount of oil you use can make all the difference. Consider the fact that a tablespoon of palm oil contains 120 calories and an entire cooking spoon of it is approximately 4 tablespoons. That can add up quickly. My personal rule is to use no more than 2 tablespoons of palm oil in each pot of soup.

Mind the Maggi
Maggi is high in sodium. Sodium is an essential nutrient and your body does need it, but you can have too much of a good thing. A diet that’s high in sodium can increase your risk for high blood pressure, which can damage your arteries over time and increase your risk of heart disease. Sodium can also affect how you look. Too much sodium can cause your body to retain water which can make you look and feel bloated. If you really love your Maggi and your salt, make sure to drink plenty of water so that your body doesn’t retain it to maintain balance.

Now a question for you: What is your favorite soup, and how do you cook it? Do you see yourself changing how you cook your soup based on what you just read?

EJ (Ejiro) is a writer/engineer/mom. She writes about healthy living to help busy professional women lose weight, keep it off—and actually feel amazing. She created a Registered Trademarked System (VAFs®) for healthy eating for weight loss and wrote the book Weight Loss for High Achievers to help busy women lose weight and let go of the idea that the only way to succeed is to diet for the rest of their lives. With EJ's methods, dieting isn't required and neither is spending hours in the gym for meager results. P.S. If you want to get the goal-crushing motivation to reach your weight loss goal, then you'll want to get the first chapter of EJ's book for FREE. Click here to get it now.


  1. Dee

    February 18, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    What about all the carbs in eba?

    • Ready

      February 18, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Easy! If you simply must eat eba, check for recipes that add vegetables to your eba, such as ebagge (eba + cabbage), eba + zobo leaves, etc. #TheNewNigerianCookery #BetaWifeThingz #MarketingInExchangeForFlyyRecipes.

      But if you’re open to more swallow options, there are no limits to healthy options. Ground oatmeal can replace your eba, ground unripe plantain flour, wheat….you can even mix soybeans and other healthy options to your amala mix and have it ground at the market. Things are not the same as before o…our food is def not to be ostracized in the name of health fads.

    • Jane Public

      February 18, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      I was just going to type the exact same thing. When I saw that Ebbage, I thought this Dunni girl has cray finish, I won’t be making that. My sister tried it and didn’t tell me that it was ebbage i was eating, with groudnut soup until I was done. I didn’t believe it, but she showed me pictures that she took while she was making it, and since then, all I eat now is the Ebbage. The level of my garri container for the past couple of weeks now has been going down slowly, same with my other flours like semovita and wheatmeal because I am using less quantity and substituting with vegetables. Anyone who has given up Nigerian food because you are trying to eat healthy should go to Dooney’s Kitchen. She has so many fun and workable healthy nigerian dishes, you won’t feel like you are suffering, and giving up your favourite foods.

    • EJ Ogenyi

      February 19, 2015 at 2:38 am

      Hello Dee,

      Like Jane and Ready have said, Ebbage is a viable option. I haven’t tried it myself, but between the two of them and the gorgeous pics on Dooney’s Kitchen’s site I’m tempted to try it soon.

      Let me answer your question about carbohydrates in gari. The nutrition information I have for gari (obtained from the from the University of Texas Health Science Center) registers it at 84 grams of carbs for 100 grams. I consider 1/3 cup dry garri as a reasonable portion and that clocks in at 48 grams of carbs. This is still quite a lot, but if you eat it occasionally, you should be fine. The one downside with gari is that it’s highly processed and you don’t get the fiber.

      I’ll suggest oatmeal “fufu” as a regular alternative (see the comment posted by “‘Real’ Nice Anon” below. 1/2 cup of dry oatmeal will give you more food than 1/3 cup of eba and 29 grams of fiber rich whole-grain carbohydrates. I use this method myself. It doesn’t taste the same, but does the job quite nicely. To cook it, start with a little boiling water on the stove and add the oatmeal; mix and add water as needed till you get the desired consistency.

  2. Funmi

    February 18, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    In addition, Okro Soup is also super healthy low in calories and high in Potassium and dietary fibre with or without oil with lots of Mackerel

    • EJ Ogenyi

      February 19, 2015 at 2:40 am


      True words about the okro soup. It’s on my regular rotation when I can get okro at the store. I’d focused on the fiber content, but never thought of the potassium which is great for keeping dehydration at bay among other things. Thank you for sharing with us!

  3. *Real* Nice Anon

    February 18, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    You can also blend oatmeal to a fine powder and eat soup with it as that’s what I usually do. The never ending struggle of staying fit. UGH!

    • EJ Ogenyi

      February 19, 2015 at 2:41 am

      Thank you for sharing this. Oatmeal “fufu” is definitely a good go to.

  4. Folasade

    February 18, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Love this! I am on a paleo 30 day detox and I have been cooking plenty of red stew with different types of meat and fish. Instead of eating eba or rice with it, I pour the stew over some broccoli, asparagus or steamed spinach. Try it, you will see results and NOT be hungry.

    • EJ Ogenyi

      February 19, 2015 at 2:43 am

      Hello Folasade,

      I’d never thought to eat soup with vegetables by themselves, that’s definitely a great idea for folks who love the low-grain/low-carb lifestyle. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Barbie

    February 18, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Biko, ponmo nko?

    • Ponmo

      February 18, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      🙁 Government banned Ponmo last year.

    • Barbie

      February 20, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      EHNNNN??????????????????? True true they did it? OMG??? I know they were talking about it for wealth creation( I’m happy about that) but noooo! So no ponmo at all in the market? Are you for real? I was hoping I’d come back home and get a plate of peppered ponmo

    • Olori Tari

      February 19, 2015 at 12:59 am

      Lmaooo this is the REALEST comment here. I like you jare. #AllWeAReAsking #PonmoIsLife

    • Barbie

      February 20, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      Hehe my sister, how we go do nah

    • EJ Ogenyi

      February 19, 2015 at 2:52 am

      Hello Barbie,

      Ponmo would definitely make a great choice for a flavoring alternative. I don’t use it myself so I can’t give you an idea of the ideal quantities for a pot of soup. But I can compare the calorie information to that of dried fish which I mention in the artilce. The calorie nutrition information I have for both were obtained from the University of Texas Health Science Center FIAS database. The information is great to compare ingredients and to decide on an ideal portion size. Let’s compare stockfish and ponmo the numbers below are per 100 gram portion:

      Stockfish: 142 calories, 0 grams of carbs, 5.4 grams of fat, 21.8 grams of protein
      Ponmo: 118 calories, 7 grams of carbs, 0.8 grams of fat, 20.4 grams of protein

      As you can see, they have comparable amounts of protein per 100 grams but Ponmo has fewer calories.

      Like I said in the article, choose only one additional protein for flavoring, so go for it in moderation if ponmo is your pick.

    • Alice

      February 19, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      my daddy deceived me that pomo is a showboy ..good for nothing and just good to make the soup busy wah oooo

    • Barbie

      February 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Ok great thanks. Usually, I use beef, stockfish, dry fish and ponmo, what if I reduced the quantity of each item so I can have the best of everything, but still reduced, like say 50 grams of each? Please tell me its feasible. lool

  6. EJ Ogenyi

    February 20, 2015 at 7:57 pm


    To answer your second question (I couldn’t reply directly) – it’s totally up to you. You can start by reducing the beef as it has the most calories and saturated fats when compared to stockfish, dry fish, and ponmo. Experiment with quantities and see what works for you.

    Do let me know how you make out.


    • Barbie

      February 20, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Thanks a million

    • Eba enthusiast

      March 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

      I’m sorry but how exactly is garri unhealthy? have you seen the process it takes to make it? They drain the cassava for like 7 days. Thinking about it logically it seems like a great source of fiber to me since you are basically eating cassava shaft right?
      And instead of all this weird sounding combos (ebbage) Why not go for Amala, its literally made from grounded dry yam peel? How many calories can that possibly have that makes it unhealthy?

      I’m not an expert just my 2 cents. Totally agree on the palm oil but i love my soup to be red on top 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

  7. Barbara Bennet

    March 16, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Yea! you said it. We have to limit the use of oils.

  8. Selema

    March 31, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Ej Ogenyi?
    The university of Texas thing with the list and macros for all these foods where did you find it?and how can I download it?
    I have been looking for one with a complete list that includes Nigerian foods.Please help

    • EJ Ogenyi

      June 23, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Hello Selema,

      Hope this isn’t coming too late for you. The list I mentioned is not available for public download unfortunately. I got it via contract with a Dietitian Nutritionist and the University directly. There’s another that might be able to help . Google “FAO West African Food Composition Table” and the first link should be a PDF with a list of foods that are available in West Africa. It should be a good start. Let me know if it helps.

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