Health disparities still exist among racial and ethnic minorities despite our nation's strides in pursuit of equality such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act which integrated schools and prohibits discrimination in employment and public places. For example, African Americans are at a higher risk for heart disease--the number one cause of death in the United States. This Black History Month, I want to shine a spotlight on the health inequalities and the smart lifestyle choices which can reduce them.
44% of African American men and 48% of African American women suffer from heart disease. African American men are at nearly twice the risk of having a first stroke and are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white men. Why? African Americans have the highest rates of heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure and obesity. Also, African Americans are 55 percent more likely than whites to be uninsured which can limit access to preventative screening and health education.
Fortunately, we can all reduce our health risks without even stepping foot into a doctor's office by healthy eating, regular exercise, and not smoking.
The first step to healthy eating is knowing which foods are best for you. I share 5 healthy food tips in American Heart Month Meatless Monday: 5 Food Choices to Keep Your Heart Healthy, including eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and skipping sugary snacks and animal products.
Not sure where to fit in extra frutas and verduras? Try these healthy options for each meal of the day:
A Day of Heart-Healthy Foods
- Breakfast: Serve a fruit smoothie full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with oatmeal, a whole-grain that can lower your blood pressure. Short on time? Smoothies can be made the night before and taken on the go. Crave variety? Change up the fruits to add new flavors daily. Check out these 19 fruit smoothie recipes and these 10 oatmeal recipes.
- Lunch: For a healthy lunch, make a sandwich on whole-grain bread with plenty of fresh vegetables such as the sammie recipe I share in Meatless Monday: Fresh Vegetable and Hummus Sandwich Recipe.
- Snack: Nibble on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Skip processed snacks including chips which are high in sodium and empty calories and can lead to high blood pressure and weight gain. I share more healthy snack ideas in Nutrition: 7 Ways to Snack Smart.
- Dinner: Pair a salad with a hearty vegetarian entree. I love to end the day with a whole-wheat pasta dish such as the one I share in American Diabetes Month Meatless Monday: Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Pasta Recipe.
- Dessert: You don't have to give up sweets entirely to be healthy. Choose fruit-based desserts and enjoy high-calorie foods in moderation. My students love strawberry-filled crepes and apple crumble. Check out more healthy dessert ideas in Meatless Monday: Latino Holiday Desserts.
Collective change begins with individual action. For Black History Month, honor the struggles and achievements of those who fought for racial equality by working to eliminate remaining inequities, including health disparities.
I teach my students about healthy eating so they have the tools and knowledge to make smart choices for themselves and their families, now and in the future. Increase your intake of healthy foods and reduce your risk of diet-related disease. But don't stop there--encourage your loved ones to do the same.
¿Need Meatless Monday inspiration? Click here to read more of my recipes.
A teacher by day, The Wise Latina Club’s Natalie Wagner Fierro is the co-founder of the Institute for Student Health. She equally loves food (cooking or dining in Washington’s restaurants) and burning calories by distance running, practicing yoga, and archery. Click here to read more about and connect with Natalie.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.What do you eat each day to protect your health?