By David Brand
Chronic health problems impact low-income, immigrant communities throughout Queens, including Jackson Heights, where one-in-four people live below the poverty line and nearly one-in-three residents have high blood pressure.
One health clinic is addressing those health disparities in the neighborhood by helping residents overcome a lack of access to healthy, affordable food. SOMOS Community Care’s Dr. Diego Ponieman has introduced a 10-day, plant-based diet plan for residents who want to prevent or manage chronic health problems like diabetes and hypertension.
“It’s a whole-food, plant diet — legumes vegetables, nuts and seeds — and what I’ve seen in my own practice is that people want to have the option to eat healthy,” said Ponieman, who has worked for many years in Harlem. “With healthy food, you can make a lot of progress with chronic diseases.”
SOMOS provides ingredients and recipes for clients who enroll in the free 10-day program. On paper, any healthy diet plan looks great. But the key to success is ensuring that the foods are accessible, affordable and tasty, while also respecting cultural norms and dietary customs, Ponieman said.
That is especially relevant in Jackson Heights, one of the country’s most diverse communities, where immigrants account for 60 percent of the population, according to the 2018 community health profile. About 64 percent of Jackson Heights 179,844 residents are Latino. About 60 percent of residents were born outside the United States and 25 percent live below the poverty line, according to the city’s 2018 community health profile.
“The plan has to be culturally competent,” Ponieman said. “You’re going to follow the plan if you like what you’re eating.”
Ponieman said the 10-day plant-based diet plan incorporates foods popular in the Latino community, such as mangu, rice and beans and Goya products.
The health care system mostly depends on “reactive medicine,” Ponieman said, adding that the nutrition program takes a proactive approach.
“What we do with Somos is we try to give other ways of working with chronic disease,” he said.