Just in time for American Heart Month in February, a local group offered a look, and taste, of food that’s good for both the individual and the environment.
“I think this is the first time we’ve put the two together,” said Gloria Lloyd, one of the founders of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, which sponsored a session Saturday called “Healthy Heart, Happy Planet.”
The event, at the University of Mary Washington’s The Center, included tips from a local nurse practitioner who’s used a plant-based diet to improve her own health, as well as that of her patients. Three UMW students who are vegans and eat no products from animals also provided recipes—and lots of enthusiasm—for dishes without meat.
Then, the 50 or so people who gathered, from children to great-grandparents, enjoyed a potluck that included chickpea salad sandwiches and sesame noodle salad, chili and risotto, fruit, veggies and banana-walnut cookies.
“This may be the first plant-based potluck ever held here,” Lloyd said, “so you all are pioneers.”
Mishell Ellis, a nurse practitioner and integrative nutrition health coach, talked about coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
“Which is surprising,” she told the group. “I would have thought it would be cancer.”
She explained how plaque, made of cholesterol deposits, builds up in the walls of arteries and can cause clots and heart attacks when the body tries to break them up naturally. Medicine and surgeries can treat the problems caused by coronary heart disease to a degree, but Ellis believes a bigger factor is a person’s lifestyle.
“It’s very important that people understand medication only works as well as your diet does,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
She’s seen in her own life the way chronic conditions can be reversed by eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts instead of burgers and chicken nuggets. Her father died at age 48 of renal failure and diabetes, and when she saw those same conditions manifest in her body, she made a change.
“I decided enough was enough,” said Ellis, who’s 39 and switched to a vegan diet. Not only did eating more beans, broccoli and bananas help her lose 40 pounds in six months, but it also also fixed problems with her kidneys.
College students and sisters Brenna and Payton Creamer and their friend, Laura Tutko, giggled while they chopped up vegetables for chili and mixed oats and dates, coconut and walnuts for “Energy Balls.” After combining ingredients for the latter recipe in a food processor, Brenna and Laura scooped out spoonfuls to shape into balls.
“Or if you want to, you can totally eat them like this,” Payton said, laughing, as she held the processor handle in one hand and a spoon, which she raised to her mouth, in another.
All three became vegans for ethical reasons first. Brenna, who wore a shirt proclaiming “Animals are Friends,” also believes the practice helps her “live more in harmony” with the environment. Payton doesn’t want any parts of “factory farming,” and Laura was being proactive to ward off digestive problems and a family history of high cholesterol and blood pressure.
During her talk, Ellis showed a cartoon of a doctor telling a man he had two choices. The doctor could do a triple bypass surgery, take a vein from his thigh and open his chest to sew the vein into his coronary artery. The operation costs more than $100,000 and will keep the patient laid up at least two months.
“Or, we could put you on a vegan diet,” the doctor said.
“A vegan diet?” the patient questioned. “Gee, Doc, that sounds pretty extreme.”
Ellis encouraged patients to research the benefits of plant-based food, to look for scientific reports and not just read quick posts on social media. She suggested books such as “Plant-Based Nutrition” by Julieanna Hever.
The Fredericksburg Food Co-op, which looks to open a community-owned grocery store focused on local foods, natural and organic products and sustainable practices, is working on a similar session in March, which is National Nutrition Month.
With Mary Washington Healthcare, the co-op will present “Food as Medicine” hosted by Faye Krause, a local dietitian nutritionist. The event will be held from 7–8:30 p.m. March 12 at Stafford Hospital, Conference Rooms 5 and 6.