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Nerissa Mixon is out to educate her community about the wellness surrounding proper nutrition. Photo: George Pagan III/Unsplash
Nerissa Mixon is out to educate her community about the wellness surrounding proper nutrition. Photo: George Pagan III/Unsplash

Proper nutrition goes a long way to battling COVID-19 and other illnesses

A new partnership between Independence Blue Cross and The Philadelphia Tribune will offer free nutrition classes to the community through Family Food.

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In 2018, Nerissa Mixon was preparing for left knee surgery when she learned she was pre-diabetic following a blood test.

In her own words, it was a “shock” to someone who was vegetarian, ate relatively healthy and exercised prior to her knee surgery.

Regardless, Mixon knew something had to change.

“That was a wake-up call to me to really change my eating habits,” she said.

So, she went to her insurance company, Independence Blue Cross, which included six nutritionist visits as part of her healthcare plan. 

“I wanted some help with nutritional planning. How should I approach it? How can I change my behavior in terms of eating?” said Mixon.

It linked her up with Krista Latortue, founder and owner of Family Food, one of the Philadelphia region’s longest-running teams of registered dietitians. The organization offers one-on-one, personalized nutrition sessions for clients to cater best to their situations.

Mixon had always wanted to go vegan, but could never make the jump without proper guidance. A vegan herself, Latortue was able to guide her on her journey.

She introduced her to new ingredients to include in her new vegan diet — tofu and black salt quickly replaced eggs and sea salt among other food products. 

Latortue also taught Mixon how to meal prep and provided other tips when working out.

Rather than eating the standard three meals throughout the day, Mixon also learned that her body was more apt to six small meals.

After working with Latortue for a couple months, Mixon went back to her doctor for another blood test ahead of surgery on her right knee. The results revealed the impact of Mixon’s change in diet.

“I’m no longer pre-diabetic and I’ve learned tremendously,” she said.

Now, through a partnership between Family Food, Independence Blue Cross and The Philadelphia Tribune, is giving community members an opportunity to get free nutritional guidance from registered dietitian nutritionists like Latortue.

That doesn’t mean the goal is for everyone to go vegan.

“My main thing was to make sure that I didn’t repeat my mother in my eating,” said Mixon.

Her mother migrated north to Philadelphia from the South. The southern influence came out most in her cooking.

“She liked ham and pork chops and all those things fried, mostly fried foods, which now people call soul food, but I feel like it’s a detriment to my community,” said Mixon.

She went on to point out how the diet has also left the Black community more susceptible to pre-existing conditions.

By the numbers, African-Americans have the highest rate of cardiovascular disease in the country at 47%, according to a study published in 2018 by the American College of Cardiology. They are also leaders in obesity according to the CDC and are second in the rate of diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association.

This disparity in pre-existing conditions has been further exposed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as African-Americans and Latinos represent the most deaths of any demographic from the virus. 

Mixon saw these disparities first hand with her mother. 

For a number of years, she served as her mother’s primary caregiver. Her mother’s ailments included diabetes, a heart attack followed by stents, COPD, and congestive heart failure.

“I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to paint a different picture of me going into seniorhood,” she said.

Mixon also said she wanted to set an example for her children.

“I wanted them to see that no matter what stage you are, you can make a difference in your life,” she said.

Now, on the other side of her journey, Mixon is also out to educate her community about nutrition. A big part of those discussions is flipping the negative connotation to something positive.

“I think sometimes because historically we didn’t trust medicine or we don’t trust folks in the medical field, a nutritionist is sometimes conceived by people in my community as something being wrong, not wellness,” said Mixon.

The end goal is to show how one’s culture can also be tied to nutrition.

As part of the training at Family Food, Latortue said all of its registered dietitian nutritionists go through cultural humility training.

“It takes on the mindset of being a forever student,” she said. “So our role is to be that support system, to be that nutrition expert, and the science, but then allow the client to really take that and incorporate it into their own life and what that looks like for them.”

In presenting it to her own community, Mixon says it’s more like a gradual change rather than a sudden, drastic one.

Those changes over time improve the quality of life of those undertaking them.

“That’s what I want to spread the word on,” said Mixon. “You can use these services to tailor your lifestyle so that you can begin to plan to have a life of wellness.”

With the new partnership, that reality becomes possible for many more people.

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