Street-food is an integral part of Lagos life, in fact any city, metropolis or megalopolis is incomplete without the street food. From Ikeja to Lekki, from Yaba to Surulere, practically every corner of the metropolis is filled with street-food vendors and hawkers.
As much as Lagosians love to have their street-food, how does it affect their health?
An analysis of common fast food on Lagos streets is ideal to make the right choices for health reasons. The cheapest food on the streets are mostly fries; fried potatoes, yams, akara(fried bean cakes), puff-puff, buns.
A healthier choice to the popular fries is the roasted or smoked food variety, also street-food. They include roasted plantain, corn, roast fish, barbecue fish, and suya. Except for the barbecue fish, all other options for roasted and smoked food do not contain added oil.
Fried sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are often seen as a much healthier option to French fries. Sweet potatoes are supposedly higher in fiber, and lower in calories and glycemic index. But on the average, a deep fried sweet potato is not a very healthy food choice.
A factor involved in evaluating health value of fries are the amount of added salt. If the fries are not salted, then they have less sodium content than the salted variety. An average serving, say 200naira worth of salted sweet potato fries are higher in sodium than average adult’s daily requirement.
While sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and potassium, they contain more sugar than French fries. And after deep frying, they contain unhealthy trans-fat up to 20grams, and about 400grams carbohydrate per potato.
The fiber content and other nutrients from sweet potato are often lost to Lagos street-food clients since the potatoes are skinless. The sweet potato skin, rich in vitamin A, and potassium, is the healthiest part which is always peeled off in Nigerian kitchens.
Street fried potatoes don’t add much health value, but rather pile up the carbs, calories and trans-fat.
A healthier option is to make your own baked fried potatoes, with the skin on. Cut your potatoes into thin slices. Lightly coat with oil, preferably olive oil. Bake your potatoes in the oven.
Voila, healthy fried potatoes.
These are slightly vegetarian street-food options as they are made of beans, mostly black eyed peas. Akara is deep-fried bean cakes, while moimoi is steamed bean pudding which solidifies to take the shape of the wrap it comes in.
Made with basically the same ingredients these serve as a major source of non-animal proteins in Lagosian diets. The difference comes in the quantity of water added and the preparation techniques.
Moimoi often contains eggs or fish too, and can be baked as well as steamed. these street-foods are an absolute yes in terms of health. except they are prepared in unhygienic environments.
Naija Street-food is incomplete without mentioning Suya.
This Nigerian, or more like West-African variety of skewered beef/chicken/goatmeat/muttton barbecue. Suya is found nationwide. Suya is such a common and versatile street-food that it can be found on almost every street in Lagos.
The best part lies in being available for various meat types, no one is left out. Ingredients involved in making suya include peanuts, ginger, garlic, and various savory pepper mixes.
Since its made with just a drizzle of oil, the fear of trans-fat from frying is non-existent. The biggest health risk comes from contaminated meat or improperly cooked meat. Tapeworms have been found to survive the preparation temperature of suya.
Another problem arises from the hygiene of the preparer and the preparation and packaging processes. Suya is mostly wrapped in papers of dubious sources, often newspapers passed through hundreds of hands. Another problem is that the seller would apportion, pack and receive payment with the same uncleaned hands.
When the wrong seasoning or dubious seasoning is used in making the Yaji, it can result in a type of anaemia. Haemolytic anaemia involves the breakdown of red blood cells and could be life-threatening or benign.
Buns contain everything bad for weightwatchers. Sugar, margarine, refined flour, deep fried; all checked. Buns and puffs are to be totally avoided by health-freaks and weight watchers. Buns and puff-puffs are decadent treats you indulge in once in a very long while.
They might not come with exotic diseases and contamination but sure do up the average rate of obesity. Same problems of newspaper wraps and unwashed hands also aggravate this particular road-side food.
Grilled Fish/ Point’n’Kill
Grilling is a much better alternative to frying, and, fish is a whole lot healthier than meat.
Grilled cat fish, mackerel, tilapia are some of the most common options. Grilled fish is one of the healthiest options of street-food and Nigerian food in general. It is marinated in a mixture of spices and peppers, foil-wrapped and cooked slowly over indirect heat or coal.
The marinade’s salt/sodium content depends on the cook, and fish can, with little or no oil, deliciously prepared. The natural oils in the fish help to cook and absorb the marinade.
The fish cooked over low heat without additional liquids turns out very flavorful and natural. As far as roadside food and street-food are concerned, you can’t go wrong with grilled fish.
Side dishes of coleslaw and fries are often available with fish, these might be portion controlled for health reasons.
Roast goat meat lightly fried with peppers and onions. Traditionally asun is simply goat meat that is stir fried with chopped peppers and onions. Goat meat is adjudged to be a healthier alternative to beef and is often more expensive. Health-wise, Asun is a healthier option to suya, since goat meat is leaner and more flavorful than plain beef. The barely cooked peppers and onions also offer a healthy balance in vitamins and beta-carotenes to balance the proteins and fats from meat. This is perhaps the tastiest street-food, though a bit pricey as a cupful has a minimum price of 500naira.
Risky is simply a local variety of burger made from individual-sized bread loafs with fried in between and prepared on the spot.
Well, this might be a feast in calories with fried eggs in grease and the bread also heated in the remnant grease from the eggs. Plain white-bread is used for this burger and as tasty as it is, you’d sure pack some calories with this.
Roasted plantain, is one of the most delicious and cheapest yet healthy foods on the streets of Lagos. Due to its high-profile status, and the seasonality of plantain, there might be seasonal alterations in prices.
Boli is slowly roasted, half-ripe plantain, over low coal embers. It can be eaten with groundnuts, roasted fish or pepper sauce. Lower quality boli made offully-ripened plantains which often are too soft or too sweet.
Boli gives you the goodness and sweetness of plantains without any added trans-fat or calories from frying. And since the unripe plantain has a much lower sugar content than the fully ripened ones, you get less starch and carbs.
Its corn season and the fullness of the cereal is available along all Lagos streets. Retaining its unprocessed, fiber-rich and farm-fresh form, Lagos street corn is the deal.
The roasted version with no added salt is healthier, but the exposure to dust might reduce this credibility. The boiled version is still riskier since the source of the cooking water is unknown.