People of color need to see others who look like them, eating, being well, and thriving.
My new favorite vegetable is kale. As of late, I like it sautéed in garlic and olive oil and topped with chicken, salmon, or shrimp.
If I’m being fancy, I’ll add some chopped nuts and craisins to make what my 5-year-old calls “warm salad.”
This is just one way I up the nutrition in my eclectic diet. It also includes green smoothies, baked macaroni and cheese, ice cream, cake, and pralines. I call it balance.
When I’m looking for more inspiration, I check in with the experts.
The eight dietitians and nutritionists below know the ins and outs of how to eat for optimum health while embracing the foods we love, the foods we think we hate, the foods we crave, and the foods we refuse to let go of.
Maya Feller is a registered and certified dietitian residing in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Master of Science degree and came to nutrition as a second career to help people of color care for themselves.
Feller believes there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for entire groups of people regarding nutrition and that representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) matters in the health and wellness world.
“We cannot talk about nutrition [and] our health without having diverse voices in many positions, the same way we cannot have conversations about women’s health from a public health perspective without having women in decision-making positions,” says Feller.
Feller believes representation in nutrition should extend beyond racial and ethnic groups.
“We need to have discussions about Black trans lives in wellness. We need to make space for Black LGBTQIA+ leaders…we need to see representations of different types of Black families…we need to talk about weight bias and stigma…and the fear of the Black body,” she says.
In her work, Feller is breaking down the stigmas people of color face around nutrition and disease. To do that, she recommends that any nutrition plan be individualized, personal, and supportive of a person’s overall health.
An Oklahoma native who now lives in Washington, D.C., Tambra Raye Stevenson said she became interested in nutrition after watching many family members die from diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
The founder of NATIVSOL Kitchen, Stevenson, who has a bachelor’s in nutritional science and a master’s of public health, is a self-proclaimed food freedom fighter. She believes racism is baked into the public health system from the farm to healthcare and needs to be disrupted.
“The system is intentionally designed to create nutricide in our communities, meaning death by fork,” she says.
This includes food deserts and lack of nutrition access in Black communities.
Stevenson advocates for people of color, especially Black people, to return to their food roots by eating more beans and greens.
Stevenson also created Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture (WANDA) to inspire women and girls “to become the food heroes in our communities on the frontline of [the] food fight.”
Jessica Jones has been working as a nutritionist for more than 10 years. She pens an official health column for SELF magazine and was recently named a member of the Bay Area Dietetic Association.
She has a passion for helping people from diverse backgrounds transform the way they eat and make peace with the food they love.
Jones doesn’t focus on weight. Instead, she wants people to know that they can pursue health at any size. With an “all foods fit” approach, Jones makes sure her clients don’t have to worry about being judged for their choices or their habits.
Wendy Lopez is a registered dietitian who focuses on providing nutritional counseling and diabetes management to clients in a clinical setting.
Lopez co-founded the healthy living website and podcast Food Heaven and co-authored 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot, a guide to plant-based eating, with Jessica Jones.
Alicia C. Simpson is a registered dietitian based in Atlanta. She came to the nutrition field after working in pharmaceutical sales and noticing how many people of color depend on prescription medication to live.
She realized there was a better way.
“I made the decision that my life and the community would be better served learning how to prevent…chronic health conditions rather than continuing the cycle of normalizing medication over lifestyle changes,” Simpson says.
In her work with PeaPod Nutrition, she brings much-needed inclusivity and representation to the nutrition and wellness space.
Simpson wants to break down the myth that healthy food is not delicious food and that people have to accept having diabetes and other chronic diseases as inevitable.
“Growing older does not mean growing sicker. You have the power to change your quality of life [with] every single meal you eat and every single step you take,” says Simpson.
Aja Gyimah is a registered dietitian in Toronto, Canada. As the founder of Compete Nutrition, Gyimah specializes in using nutrition to improve athletic performance.
She says she wants to broaden the “all foods fit” message to include healthy and traditional foods from cultures of color.
“Right now the image of healthy eating doesn’t include many traditional foods of BIPOC cultures, leaving us feeling that we need to ditch our foods in order to be healthy when this is not the case,” says Gyimah.
According to Gyimah, eating more fruits and veggies — even the canned or frozen kind — along with drinking water and eating less processed foods can make a big difference in a person’s overall health and wellness.
Gyimah believes you don’t have to throw away all the foods you love.
“It’s not what you eat that’s important, it’s more about figuring out how all of the foods you eat can fit into a healthy diet,” she says.
Marisa Moore is an Atlanta-based registered dietitian. As an integrative and culinary dietitian, she believes in meeting clients where they’re at.
Moore’s emphasis is on focusing on what can be added to a plate to make it healthy and nutritious instead of what should be taken away.
“Giving up your cultural foods is not a prerequisite for health,” she says.
Moore also advocates for Black people to embrace their traditional foods, such as greens, okra, sweet potatoes, and black-eyed peas. She believes representation is essential in the health and wellness space.
“It’s important for people of color to see people in the wellness space who look like them, eating, being well, and thriving,” Moore says. “There’s comfort in knowing that the person in front of you gets it!”
For Moore, “getting it” has led her to want to help people pursue wellness and prevent chronic disease with delicious food in a realistic way.
Vanessa Rissetto is a registered dietitian. She currently serves as the dietetic internship director at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She was formerly the senior dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Rissetto doesn’t believe in quick-fix reset diets. On her Instagram, she advocates for full-fat foods, no processed meat, balance, drinking lots of water, and getting sleep.
She is the co-founder of Culina Health with Tamar Samuels, also a registered dietitian.
All of Culina Health’s practitioners are trained in cultural competence as well as “cultural humility.” For Samuels, this means helping people enjoy the foods they love while directing them to achieve their goals around food and nutrition.
All people need and deserve to see themselves and their cultural food represented. These experts are taking big steps toward making that a reality for people of color.
The movement toward health can be specific, like a plant-based approach, or more of an “all foods fit” formula.
These dietitians and nutritionists know that what you eat fuels your body, and they can help you figure out the ideal fuel for you.
Nikesha Elise Williams is a two-time Emmy award–winning news producer and author. Nikesha’s debut novel, “Four Women,” was awarded the 2018 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Award in the category of Adult Contemporary/Literary Fiction. “Four Women” was also recognized by the National Association of Black Journalists as an Outstanding Literary Work. Her latest novel, “Beyond Bourbon Street,” will be released August 29, 2020.