The aromatic flavours and tantalizing wraps of shawarma have long been a favourite in the street food world of Lagos and other parts of Nigeria; alongside Suya and the spicey Barbeque fish. It has taken the culinary world by savoury storm, becoming a global street food sensation. However, while the heavenly smell of sizzling meat on a steering spit captures the attention of food enthusiasts, health-conscious individuals have raised concerns about the nutritional value of this savory delight.
So, let’s dive into the nutritious aspects of shawarma and uncover its many health benefits.
Originating from the Middle East (Turkey), shawarma is traditionally made from marinated meat, such as chicken, beef, lamb, or even turkey, which is thinly sliced and stacked on a vertical spit. Slowly roasted, the meat absorbs a harmony of spices, infusing it with delicious flavour till it is tender and juicy for consumption.
Nutritionists and dietitians emphasise that the quality and composition of ingredients play a crucial role in determining the health benefits of any dish. Shawarma predominantly consists of lean meats, which are an excellent source of high-quality protein. Protein is vital for repairing and building tissues, supporting muscle growth, and maintaining a healthy immune system. To enhance dietary diversity, some shawarma options feature grilled vegetables, further adding essential micronutrients, fiber, and phytonutrients to the mix.
According to Healthguide, “While shawarma can be a delicious and satisfying meal, it is important to be aware of its disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantages of shawarma is that it is high in fat and calories.”
“The meat used in shawarma is often very fatty, and the addition of oils and sauces can add even more calories. As a result, eating shawarma on a regular basis can lead to weight gain.”
The health organisation also stated that in addition, the high fat content of shawarma can also increase your cholesterol levels and put you at risk for heart disease. The fatty meats used in shawarma are often high in saturated fats, which can lead to heart problems if consumed in excess. For these reasons, it is important to enjoy shawarma in moderation.”
“Shawarma is very high in sodium, which may make it bad for heart health. Foods that are high in sodium are not recommended for people with high blood pressure.”
Further reports reveal that there is also the risk of food poisoning, “Eating unhygienic foods is one of the main causes of food poisoning in Nigeria. Some shawarma that has been prepared in unhygienic conditions can lead to food poisoning. Thus, it is imperative that you only eat shawarma that is hygienic and well-prepared.” the report read.
On the other hand, one of the most renowned nutritional aspects of shawarma lies within its unique blend of spices. Commonly used, but not limited to, a combination of cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, and sumac. These spices offer more than a tantalizing aroma and taste. Turmeric, for instance, is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, while cumin and paprika provide antioxidants that can help combat oxidative stress in the body.
Moreover, shawarma is traditionally served with a variety of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and onions. These veggies offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, contributing to overall good health and weight management. Additionally, many shawarma lovers opt for whole wheat wraps, which are a healthier carbohydrate alternative to refined options, providing essential nutrients and a lower glycemic index.
It is important to note that, as with any cuisine, shawarma can be customizable to fit an individual’s dietary preferences and requirements. For those aiming to reduce fat intake, choosing lean meats and requesting minimal dressing can be a wise choice.
Additionally, modern shawarma eateries often offer vegetarian or vegan options, featuring plant-based proteins such as falafel (which according to Merriam Webster, is a a spicy mixture of ground vegetables such as chickpeas or fava beans formed into balls or patties and then fried) or seitan, which provide a plethora of nutrients and cater to diverse dietary needs.
Nonetheless, like any indulgence, moderation is key. Extra condiments, such as mayonnaise-based sauces or excessive amounts of added oils, although adding flavour, can contribute to an increased calorie count. Therefore, being mindful of portion sizes and selecting lighter dressings, such as yogurt-based or tahini (paste made from sesame seeds), can help strike a balance between taste and health.
Overall, shawarma can be enjoyed guilt-free as part of a balanced diet due to its array of nutritional highlights. Packed with lean protein, a variety of fresh vegetables, and a rich blend of antioxidants, this Middle Eastern gem that is celebrated in Nigeria not only satisfies taste buds but also nourishes the body.