NEW Soul: Study Examines CV Risk Factors for African-Americans

By: Amanda Belo

Nutritious Eating with Soul (NEW Soul) is a research study looking to investigate how two different diets impact the health of African-Americans, ages of 18 to 65 with a BMI between 25 and 49.9 kg/m2 (considered overweight or obese).  Continue reading to see the breakdown of this new study:

What is NEW Soul doing?

In an interview with the South Carolina Radio Network, Lead Project Researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy said, “We’re examining how a plant-based soul food diet compared to a low fat more standard soul food diet, but still very healthy, may help improve heart disease risk factors and nutrition in the African American community and also help with weight loss.”

According to the study’s website, the cardiovascular disease risk factors that this two-year study will analyze include the following:

  • weight, body fat percent
  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol

Each participant will be randomly assigned to either a vegan diet or omnivorous diet. They will also receive cooking classes, recipes, and guidance for following their assigned diet.

What is Soul Food?

Around the world, food is part of cultural heritage and identity. In the U.S., soul food cuisine represents tradition and connectedness that has been passed down for years, particularly in the Black community. The soul food of today is often synonymous with Southern cooking and can include sinful delicacies as fried chicken or catfish, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and collard greens. These foods are often high in salt, fat, and sugar. This makes it notoriously at odds with what is considered a “healthy diet”, but soul food has not always been prepared that way!


Origins + Changes:

Soul food has evolved since its African origins when it was mostly plant-based and only served on special occasions. Even after slaves were brought over to this country and had been living here for years, the traditional preparation continued until the mid-twentieth century.

In an article published by The Post and Courier, a doctoral student at the University of South Carolina named Anthony Crimarco said, “It is the modern food environment – fast foods and processed foods – that has made some soul food less healthy and moved it further from its plant-based roots.” The article also states that, according to research, a diet of mostly fruits, vegetables and grains made greater improvements in African-Americans than other demographic groups. Led by researchers at the University of South Carolina, the NEW Soul study is exploring whether it’s possible to preserve a rich food culture while also supporting health by using plant-based ingredients.

African-American Health Issues

Although the leading causes of death for African-Americans – heart disease, cancer, and stroke – have decreased over the years, statistics still show a disparity when compared to those of white and Hispanic origin.

  • African-Americans are more likely to die at early ages from all causes.
  • African-Americans ages 18 – 49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease
  • Those ages 35 – 64 are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure their white counterparts.
  • African-Americans are more likely to develop diabetes and stroke.


Risk factors for poor health can be a result of economic and social conditions such as poverty, unemployment, and access to affordable health professionals. Additionally, poor habits like smoking and inactivity contribute to the likelihood of developing a disease or illness.


Why It Matters:

Improving your diet can have major positive impacts on your health. But, it’s not known which diet can best address health needs at this point in time.  While there have been numerous nutrition studies in the past, many have not included African American participants. That’s one thing that sets this study apart – NEW Soul is only recruiting African American adults! In the end, they hope to learn which diets work best to help prevent heart disease and improve body weight to create a healthier community.


1. CDC Vital Signs: African American Health
3. South Carolina Radio Network Online
4. The Post and Courier Online