What are the Malawian six food groups?

What are the Malawian six food groups?

The tour of facilities at the grand opening ceremony of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre in Malawi included a review of Malawi’s Six Food Groups.In the hot sun of midday, cooperative members showed us samples of the six food groups, telling us the benefits of each. The cooperative is more than just a savings and loans financial cooperative. They also train the member families in nutrition and encourage a varieties of foods.

Cooperative members show us samples of the six food groups. Small fish from Lake Malawi are an inexpensive form of protein.

So what are the six groups?

  1. Vegetables (leafy greens, kale, tomato, carrots)
  2. Fruits (apples, oranges, lemons)
  3. Legumes and Nuts (groundnuts/peanuts, beans, peas, cowpeas/black-eyed pea)
  4. Animal Foods (meat, eggs, milk)
  5. Fats (cooking oil, soybeans, groundnuts/peanuts, can also include milk)
  6. Staples (grains, maize, rice, cassava)

Vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Staples and fats provide the body with energy. Proteins from animal foods and legumes are good for muscles, skin, hair, and bones.

Almost all the cooperative members are also farmers. In addition to their small businesses they have farms and kitchen gardens.

On our tours of several member farms, we saw lots of maize (corn) stalks piled in the middle of fields after harvest. We saw sacks of peanuts (groundnuts). We saw chickens running around yards, and goats, cows, and pigs penned behind houses. Peas are planted in between rows of maize. Cassava fields, dry and dusty, thrive on little rain. Of the six groups, I think it’s only fruits that I didn’t see growing in the village.

A cooperative member in Malawi demonstrates how to dig up the cassava roots.

In a place of low food security, cooperative members are proud when they are able to provide varied diets for their families. In her testimony of SIA business success, Love Vinkhumbo told us that she was able to provide for her son’s university education and that, “I am now eating the six food groups!”

Love Vinkhumbo told us that after receiving her SIA Small Business Fund grant, “I am now eating the six food groups!”

Changing Food Guidelines in North America

Learning about Malawian nutrition guidelines made me realize how little I remember about the US Food Guidelines. After some Googling, it seems there is a new set of US guidelines for 2015-2020 with a plate instead of a food pyramid – one that ignores oils, and has dairy as a distinct category.

The 5 food groups in the US Guidelines.

Just this week, Health Canada released their preliminary new food guide for public comment. It seems they are moving in the direction of the Malawi guidelines, encouraging the consumption of legumes and other plant-based protein and removing the dairy category. The new guidelines also affirm that a wide variety of foods are the foundation of a healthy diet.

What do you know about the food guidelines in your area? Do you eat from the five or six food groups regularly? When was the last time you had black-eyed peas?

A Malawian food not part of the healthy food groups…so tasty though!

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3 Comments on "What are the Malawian six food groups?"

  • Tanya, your time spent discussing the Malawian food groups with the farmers and then sharing what you learned with us was completely fascinating. I have the feeling that the farmers SIA is working with who have sufficient land, water, seed and ability possibly eat far more healthfully than an average American. Your story is inspired me to look at my own consumption and I am falling short. I hadn’t seen the new US food guidelines and it’s great to see so much more emphasis on whole foods from mother nature. It’s clear that Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre is really having an impact. (And those little fish sure do look tasty. So do those chips, grin.)

  • marsha johnson says

    Yes, I’m also looking more closely at how balanced the diet is in our household after reading your fascinating blog. I’m impressed with Manyamula’s focus on nutrition. Right now we’re enjoying our garden which is strong on zucchini, crookneck squash, garlic, onions, eggplant and tomatoes. Canteloupe and cucumbers are developing nicely. String beans are slooooow. Step by step. (I do think that dark chocolate is a food group on my list!!)

    Thank you for raising our nutritional consciousness.

    Blessings all around,
    Marsha

  • Tanya Cothran says

    Thank you for your comments, Karen and Marsha! The farmers in Manyamula depend so much on whether there is a good rainy season. I was impressed with the great variety of greens that they consumer there. The cooperative’s next dream is to have a good storage facility so that the crops can be properly stored after harvest and until they can see them for a good price or eat them at home!

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