RALEIGH, N.C. — Challenging what people see as "healthy" is something Jasmine Westbrooks has made her life's mission. The dietitian is the co-founder of Eat Well Exchange, a nonprofit providing nutrition education that highlights and celebrates traditional foods.
What You Need To Know
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which for many households means delicious homemade meals for everyone to enjoy
But not every recipe is health-conscious, especially those passed down for generations
Jasmine Westbrooks is providing nutrition education with a focus on culture, all to give back to communities in need
Westbrooks says historically there are not many African American dietitians.
"That's kind of crazy when we think about it. When we think about a lot people of color that actually have medical conditions. And we know that representation matters a lot too," Westbrooks said.
Westbrooks' organization serves low socio-economic communities with limited access to healthy resources. It's something she knows well, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, where the closest grocery store was miles away.
Her grandmother and grandfather also died from complications of diabetes.
"You have like food swamps where you see all these fast food restaurants and convenience stores. It's not that people don't want to or people of color don't want to be healthy, it's just what resources do we have and what food is available," she said.
Westbrooks says breaking generational curses doesn't have to mean abandoning who you are and where you came from. For example, making a low in saturated fat, high in fiber and protein-rich mac n' cheese.
In early November, she served the dish to a Raleigh cooking class free of charge. It was a moment for the group to enjoy but also reflect on their past eating habits.
"My father has a triple bypass, my brother died at age 39 of a massive heart attack, so I learned immediately cut out those greasy foods and the pork items," said Alycia Hill, a participant.
Hill was at the class with her friend Kim Bedgood; the two are breast cancer survivors with a shared family history.
"[My family had] some cardiac issues, you know, heart disease, diabetes. You want to know better ways to cook, you know, to prevent that," Bedgood said.
For Westbrooks, she says teaching a cooking class feels like home. And family doesn't just love each other, they protect each other.
"Every person that I serve, I feel like I see a grandparent, a cousin. You know, my mom, my dad, in them," Westbrooks said. "It's not just eating just to eat, but it's eating to live. And so, for me, it's like them saying, 'Jasmine, we choose life through nutrition.'"
November is also Diabetes Awareness Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 37 million adults and children have diabetes in the United States.
Right now, Westbrooks is hosting a free cooking class at a Raleigh YMCA.
Click here for more information about the Eat Well Exchange and events happening in your community.