The diversity in healthy eating.

"Relocating to Chicago for my service year, was my first time in the “windy city”. I did not know much about the neighborhood of Rogers Park, where my host site is located, other than it being on the far north-side of Chicago. Serving as a Health Educator at Heartland Health Centers has allowed me to become acclimated with one of Chicago’s hidden treasures. The neighborhood of Rogers Park is the most racially diverse neighborhood in the city of Chicago, with approximately 40 different languages spoken. As you might expect, the diversity of the community is also reflected in the patients that I see for health education who migrated to Chicago from countries such as, Mexico, Belize, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Korea, the Middle East, and beyond.

Other than adjusting to living in a different country, another commonality between many patients is indulging in fast-food. Not only did they have to adapt to living in a more fast-pace environment, but with busier schedules, many patients also adapted to eating fast food as it is more convenient and affordable. The long term effects of resorting to fast food have caused many to develop chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. As a Health Educator, my role is to aid the patients who suffer from these illnesses set goals that will help them make healthier lifestyle and behavior changes.

As a result of my service, many patients have not only seen improvements in their health but also learned information about food and nutrition that many of them admit to never being taught but unconsciously followed in the past, as it was their lifestyle. While assessing their eating habits, I learn about the foods they ate in their home country compared to the foods they were introduced to in the states, and we soon discover that the foods they grew up eating were healthier. Many of their favorite dishes are foods from their culture, so together we discuss ways they can incorporate these foods into their diet by meal planning, prepping, and making healthy choices when eating out if that is the only option they have that day.

Many times when we hear the words “healthy meals” we think of foods such as salads, wraps, and the small variety of mainstream recipes of what we are shown healthy eating to look like. As I continue my role as a Health Educator, I want to help more patients realize that you do not have to choose between you cultural heritage and your health. We can embrace our cultural traditions for the foods we love and still prepare them in healthier ways.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Deanndra Jeanbaptiste.

Deanndra is a Health Educator at Heartland Health Center - Devon.