July 20, 2015

By Natalia Rawls


natalia-photo-(1).pngAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans and Latinos have the highest obesity rates in the United States. Many health problems are associated with being overweight, including diabetes and heart disease.  Considering the costs connected with weight problems, it is important for all of us to incorporate healthy eating and cooking habits into our daily lives. This is particularly true if you are a member of a high-risk minority population.

Food doesn't just feed our bodies, it also nourishes our minds. If you are living with mental illness, eating well is especially important for you, because what you eat can affect your daily life, mood and energy level.

The Benefits of Eating Healthy

There are many benefits to eating healthy, and they aren’t all physical.  Eating healthy is just as important to mental health as it is to physical health.  Research linking diet and mental health shows that food—along with other factors—plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease.

While our bodies need many nutrients every single day, the five most important nutrients are: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals and water. When equipped with adequate amounts of all the right nutrients, healthy eating improves our energy, mood and overall wellbeing.

So Why Don't We All Do It?

In a perfect world, we would all be leading healthy, fit and fabulous lifestyles. Unfortunately, due to busy schedules and lack of budget-friendly, healthy meal and grocery options, it can seem nearly impossible to practice healthy eating habits every single day. Sometimes you may feel lucky enough to have time to eat, and other times you may barely have enough money to afford fast food.

As a person with a busy schedule and a limited budget, I used to think it was too challenging to eat well.  Now, I’ve learned to lead a more health-conscious lifestyle. I do this by making my own simple, nutritious meals at home instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. This way I’m saving money and crave junk food much less.   

For many people living with a mental health condition, the challenges I have encountered may be familiar. Budget, time, access and routine can be barriers for all of us to overcome. In my case, my journey wasn’t easy, but here are a few resources that helped me to become health conscious:  

  1. Inspiration: I have found support and inspiration from those living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. In my case, my coworkers helped me change my unhealthy patterns. For example, my coworker Mariah—a health-conscious vegetarian and health blog writer—shares how food, movement and self-love can help you live a brighter, fuller and happier life.  She has taught me that gaining a positive mindset about your body and loving yourself can really make a difference with practicing healthy eating. Sources of inspiration will be different from person to person, but it is important to find a support system that best fits your needs.
  1. Technology:  With the help of the free MyFitnessPal app—a reliable calorie counter, which allows you to set a daily calorie goal—I record my food and exercise to make sure I stay on track with reaching my calculated calorie goal. What I like most about MyFitnesPal is that it sends alerts when you’re consuming too many nutrients or when you haven’t reached your daily calorie goal. 

I also did a lot of online research about healthy eating, such as where I could locate reasonably priced and nutritious food items. While buying fresh and organic produce can often be expensive, Safeway is my go-to store for all my organic needs. I always buy Suja Essentials, a pressed juice line packed with vital nutrients, amino acids, omegas and antioxidants (my favorite is the Twelve Essentials vegetable juice). Another way to limit costs is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in-season and then freeze them to enjoy year-round. For example, apples are at their peak–and cheapest–in the fall.

  1. Budgeting and having a smart shopping list go hand-in-hand. You  can make healthy eating affordable if you know what to buy. For example, I love buying dry items like grits and instant oatmeal because they are inexpensive, plentiful and I can do so much with them. Other healthy and cheap staple options are: lentils, brown rice, whole-wheat pita bread, frozen vegetables, canned tuna and canned beans. Again, look for items packed with essential nutrients, and that you can use to make a variety of quick meals with. Cutting back on dining out should allow more funds for smart grocery shopping. For more on ways to save money on healthy food, visit: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20362429_5,00.html.

If your schedule allows, try to prepare meals for the week ahead of time on a day that isn’t too busy for you. It may require a little more effort and sacrifice for some, but everyone can benefit from eating healthy.  Not one person or expert has all the answers, so do what’s best for you. 

Try this delicious spin on a simple, yet highly nutritious tuna and garbanzo bean salad at home:


  • 2 cups canned green beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup chopped red onions (about ½ a medium onion)
  • 1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces (about 3 cans) chunk light tuna, packed in water, drained
  • 4 cups spinach, arugula or any in-season greens of your choice
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Combine green beans, onions, chickpeas, tuna, greens, and garlic in a large bowl.
  • Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, oil in a small bowl, stirring well.  Add mayonnaise mixture to salad mixture and toss gently to combine.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Natalia Rawls is the 2015 NAMI Multicultural Action Center Summer Intern, and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, as part of NAMI's partnership with the sorority. She is currently obtaining a dual MA in Corporate Communications/MBA from Johns Hopkins University.

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