What is a Rastafarian Diet?
A Rastafarian diet is not something that most of us think about. When many of us think about Rastafarians, among the first things to pop into our minds would be Jamaica and its beautiful beaches, reggae music, Bob Marley, and native people with long dreadlocks that drag on the floor. However, if you are interested in exploring different healthy diets and cuisines, then the Rastafarian diet, native to the Jamaican mountains and its people, could be something worth exploring.
A Rastafarian diet is based on the Rastafari principle. The principle, also known as ‘livity’ is based on living a balanced lifestyle which dictates that they get their food in its natural state, from the earth (10). The Rastafarian diet is also known as Ital, which comes from the English word ‘vital’. Practitioners of this religion believe that food should have good vibrations and should promote life, aka livity.
What are the principles of the Ital diet Rastafarian way of eating?
The Ital diet can be considered as a variation of a primarily vegan diet. Eating Ital means that you are consuming a natural diet free from additives, chemicals, and most meat. Rastafarians believe that eating pure, and organic food increases one’s natural connection (bond) with the earth and nature. The term ‘food is thy medicine’ is also quite a strong quote in the Rastafarian diet.
They have always held a strong belief that processed foods are not good for you and that the more you stay away from it by choosing more natural and chemical-free options, the healthier and stronger you will be. Another interesting fact about Ital food is how it’s made. Many believers do not use metal utensils when cooking or eating. They only use clay pots to make their food as they believe that aluminium pots and pans transfer traces of the metal to your food which they fear can lead to liver and kidney damage (5).
What are some Rastafarian diet restrictions?
As stated above, an Ital diet is an organic diet, mostly vegan diet that is meant to nourish your body. In light of this, here are some foods that are avoided by Rastafarians (11):
- Cow’s milk and its products like butter and cheese
- Eggs. They are an animal product which is prohibited
- Canned foods. They are not organic or natural since they have been processed. This process removes from the food most if not all connection between it and the earth.
- Meat or poultry. On the Rastafarian diet meat is generally prohibited. Pork is especially looked down upon since pigs often scavenge for food among rotten things.
- Coffee and tea. They are processed and thus go against Ital.
- Alcohol. Many Rastafarians do not consume alcohol (beer and wine included) as it fogs the mind, and they link it to many societal moral decays. However, it should be noted that some Rastafarians do consume alcohol, albeit in small amounts. You are not allowed to get drunk on it.
- Blood. Some cultures make food with blood, or even drink it straight from the slaughtered animal. This is highly prohibited in the Rastafarian diet.
- Sodas and other carbonated drinks. They are processed and chemically modified to improve their taste.
What to eat on a Rastafarian diet?
If you are interested in trying the Rastafarian diet plan, here are some foods that you can consume:
Fruits and vegetables
They come straight from the earth, and thus consuming them increases livity. Most Rastafarians live up in hills and mountains where they grow their own food to ensure that it has no chemicals in it. If you do not have the space or opportunity to grow your vegetables or fruit trees, opt to shop for organic produce instead.
Legumes and lentils
Like fruits and vegetables, they come straight from the earth and thus are perfect for an ital diet or meal. However, be sure to stay away from canned beans and lentils since all canned foods are prohibited. You can, instead, buy uncooked beans from farms close to you, or from the farmers market. Make sure to boil and freeze them first for easy use.
While most meats and shellfish are not allowed on this diet, fish is also consumed, albeit with some rules. You can only consume fish that is no longer than a foot (12 inches long). Shellfish, crabs, and lobster are not allowed since they are considered to be the scavengers of the sea.
As stated above, tea and coffee are not a part of the Ital diet Rastafarian way of eating since they have to be processed. However, herbal tea is an exception but only if you grow herbs used for it at home. Some fantastic herbal teas that you can enjoy include:
- Lemon and elderflower tea to fight off the common flu. Lemons have been used for generations to treat the common cold, elderflowers on the other hand, also have flu-fighting abilities, contain vitamin C and are high in quercetin, a powerful antioxidant. Quercetin protects your body from oxidative stress, which can lead to common chronic diseases (4).
- Ginger tea to strengthen your immunity and reduce stress. You could also inhale the steam from the tea to relieve nasal congestion and other respiratory issues from the common cold or environmental allergies (15).
- Mint tea. Mint leaves can help alleviate common cold symptoms and soothe stomach upsets and indigestion (7).
- Lavender tea. It may help with anxiety, depression, and fatigue, help you sleep better, and soothe menstrual cramps (1).
- Chamomile Tea. This can be made from the leaves of dried flowers. Health benefits of this tea include reducing pain caused by menstrual cramps, lowering blood sugar, slowing or preventing osteoporosis, boosting better sleep, reducing inflammation and relieving some of the symptoms of the common cold (14).
Unlike table salt that has to be processed, sea salt is obtained directly from the earth through the evaporation of seawater. This means that sea salt is often allowed in a Rastafarian diet. Unlike table salt, sea salt contains trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium (12).
Coconuts and Coconut milk
The milk primarily is used to flavour many dishes.
While animal milk is not Ital, plant-based types of milk like almond and soya are allowed. However, do not opt for the pre-packaged variants at your local grocery store. Instead, you can make your own nut and seed milk at home.
Cooking herbs such as basil, bay leaves, cilantro, dill, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary are safe to use on the Ital diet Rastafarian meal plan. These herbs are regularly used to give food a better taste since salt is not an option for many Rastafarians. You can plant them in pots, or if you are lucky to have a garden, you could plant them there instead. Most Rastafarians grow their food because the Rastafarian diet strongly discourages the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Health benefits of a Rastafarian diet plan
Since the Ital diet Rastafarian way of eating mostly resembles a vegan diet, here are some health benefits that you may experience if you chose to try this meal plan:
Veganism, just like the Rastafarian diet, relies on the consumption of plant-based foods and forgoing meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Instead, vegans are encouraged to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.
These foods are quite healthy and will keep you fuller for longer (especially lentils and legumes) (13). This keeps you from snacking, which creates a calorie deficit which leads to weight loss. Rastafarians also do not drink alcohol, sodas and other carbonated drinks. These drinks all carry empty calories which will make you gain weight. Cutting them out of your diet and replacing them with herbal teas and water will help you lose weight.
A well-planned vegan diet is richer in potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E. It is said to have more fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds (2). As seen above, Ital food is completely unprocessed and is grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. Such unprocessed food is bound to be richer in minerals, nutrients and vitamins.
Lower risk of cancer
Both veganism and Ital diets are firmly against meat and for a good reason. Meat, especially processed meats, have been strongly linked to causing cancer. Unprocessed red meats, on the other hand, have been noted to have a ‘probable’ cause of cancer (8). In light of this, cutting out meat could help you lower your risk of getting cancer.
On the other hand, Ital food is grown without pesticides. While pesticides are used to kill or control weeds, insects and other pests that affect vegetables and fruit, they can also be harmful to humans. It is important to note that pesticides do not cause cancer. That being said, there is some evidence that suggests a possible link between pesticides and cancer in humans. These cancers include non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and prostate, testicular, pancreatic, lung and non-melanoma skin cancers (9).
Lower risk of heart disease
Eating a more plant-based diet and cutting out animal foods has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and death in adults. This is because animal-based foods like milk and meats are often full of saturated fats which increases blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels increase your risk of stroke and heart attack (16).
Vegans and people who consume more plant-based food eat more fiber and a lower number of calories. Fewer calories reduce the risk of obesity which is a large cause of many heart diseases. High fiber foods may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. They also reduce blood pressure and inflammation, all factors that are good for your heart health (3).
Rastafarian Diet recipes
Here are some quick and easy recipes that you can make easily at home.
Jamaican rice and beans (6)
Ingredients – 226 g kidney beans, 6 to 8 cups of coconut milk, 2 scallions, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 cups of uncooked long-grain white rice, sea salt to taste
Method – Wash the beans thoroughly and place them in a medium-sized saucepan with the coconut milk, black pepper, scallions and thyme.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 – 2 hours, or until the beans are almost tender.
- Remove the whole spices and then add the rice and sea salt. If the liquid does not cover the rice, add some water till it is about an inch above the rice.
- Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and fluff it up with a fork. Your rice should separate easily, not mushy.
Jamaican Ital stew
Ingredients – 200 g callaloo, 4 okra, 3 cocoyams, 2 white potatoes, 1 sweet potato, 1 carrot, 1 plantain, 3 garlic cloves, 2 spring onions, 1 small onion, 1 stalk oregano, 1 stalk thyme, 1 tsp ginger, 1 scotch bonnet pepper, 200 g split peas 1.8 liters water, 400 ml coconut milk
- In a large pot, add the split peas with water, cover and let it boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Chop all the garlic, celery, and ginger, then add them all to the pot with the rest of the spices. Drop in the whole scotch bonnet (do not slice it up) and stir everything together.
- As the pot is boiling, peel the rest of the vegetables and cut them into equal bite sized pieces for easier, even cooking.
- Drop all these ingredients to the pot and add in the coconut milk. You can add some more water to ensure that the ingredients are submerged in water.
- Boil everything for 40 to 45 minutes with the lid slightly ajar.
- Remove from the heat, take out the scotch bonnet and any other whole spices and then serve.
The Bottom Line: Is the Rastafarian Diet worth trying?
Yes, it is. This is a great and healthy plant-based diet that anyone who wants to try a different cuisine or even lose weight can try. Not only are some of the recipes quite tasty but they are also healthy, natural, and packed full of nutrients.
The Ital diet Rastafarian meal plan is a fantastic way to eat more fruits and vegetables, something that many of us do not do as much as we should. If you are looking at this diet as a way of losing weight, the diet alone may not work.
For weight loss you must remember to always aim for a calorie deficit of 500 to 1000 calories a day and exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Also, remember that before trying this way of eating, please consult a doctor or dietitian for professional advice. Supplement your diet with some exercise to double your results.