Oct. 2, 2009
Interview: Laura Gruen, M.D.
Normally I don't do too many interviews on Happy Herbivore, but since its the vegan Month of Food (MoFo) I thought I'd break the mold a little. I had the chance to sit down and talk with Laura Gruen, who happens to be the older sister to my best friend Jim, about her work as a cardiologist and her recent switch to a vegan diet. Here's what she had to say:
So you're a cardiologist, did your work have any effect on your decision to adopt a vegan diet?
Yes absolutely! Every day I see the impact that poor lifestyle choices such as overeating, smoking, lack of exercise, on patient's health and in particular, their heart arteries. My job is to stent open heart arteries that are occluded with plaque. It seems we are seeing more and more women with occluded arteries, and more younger patients too! (which is scary, but likely to be the trend given how inactive our children are and the increasing rate of obesity and diabetes). Did you know that plaque buildup in the arteries begins as a baby? So yes, definitely, I do try to make healthy choices when I can!
How did you first hear about veganism?
Probably by watching the movie "Supersize", in which Morgan's gf was a vegan. And then, my brother told me about your awesome website, happyherbivore.com where I became educated on what it truly is.
What convinced you to change your diet to a vegan one?
I suddenly became very aware of all the poultry in my diet--daily really. That's not the way I want to eat. I already made otherwise good choices, so I didn't think the switch to vegetarian would be a hard one. And since I'm kind of an "all or none" person (ie, I run, therefore I run marathons; I want to help people, therefore I am an interventional cardiologist who gets called to the hospital in the middle of the night for emergencies)...I thought if I'm going to do this, I will go all the way to vegan!
What was your diet like before?
Not terrible, but turkey sandwiches for lunch everyday and usually some chicken for dinner. Plenty of fruit, not enough veggies. Lots of dairy--yogurt and cottage cheese. The occasional cookie, or entire bag of cookies, on a stressful day.
Are you motivated by health, environment, financial, animal rights or a combination of factors?
I am mainly motivated by health reasons, but I'm interested to see the financial impact as well! Plus, every time I see a duck swimming in a pond, I feel terrible that I have ever ordered duck at a restaurant. The duck is a terrific animal.
As a doctor, you're frequently on call and have an other wise busy schedule. What are some quick vegan foods you like to eat and snack on during busy days?
I have found trail mix, fruit and PB and apple butter sandwiches to be quick and easy. Oatmeal is a quick breakfast, so is soy yogurt. A veggie burger in the microwave is a good dinner, with a large sweet potato!
Has anything about veganism and your new diet surprised you?
Although I'm just starting out on a vegan diet, I've been shocked by a couple of things...for sure I was amazed where dairy products pop up--almost everything processed it seems. (even non-dairy creamer has milk product in it...I had no idea!) But the nice thing is that I'm surprised how easy it is. Most people think "vegan" is extreme or fanatical, but really it's a very easy way to eat and think about food. I'm surprised how fun it is, and how many amazing recipes you have on your website, happyherbivore.com for vegans.
Have you noticed any changes since adopting a vegan diet?
So far, I feel more energetic and have had to drink much less coffee to stay awake! But it's only the first week, so I will keep you posted on other changes!
How do you keep your heart healthy?
I have never touched a cigarette, I exercise almost daily, I drink green tea, I keep a check on my blood pressure and cholesterol, I try to maintain a healthy weight, and eat a heart-healthy diet (which includes red wine on occasion).
Do you feel the medical community in general is informed on nutrition?
Yes, but a lot of us feel that we do not have the time to really sit down and educate our patients, which is sad. We need the help of dietitians, websites like your own, and other experts to help us educate our patients. Then again, I ate lunch in the hospital cafeteria yesterday with two other cardiologists who were both eating hamburgers. ( I ate peanut butter on a bagel and an apple!) So maybe we should remember to lead by example too...like, becoming a vegan!
Do you know any other vegans and vegetarians?
You (Lindsay, author of happyherbivore.com) are the first vegan I have ever met! I know some vegetarians who adhere to their diet for religious reasons.
Any else you'd like to share -- advice, expert insight, etc
I cannot stress enough how important it is to take steps early to avoid developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, stop. If you are overweight, you are at risk for type II diabetes and high blood pressure. Get your cholesterol level checked based on your doctor's recommendations for your age. Some risk factors including genetics, age, and gender cannot be modified, so we must do our best to modify the risk factors that we can. I'd also like to stress that women are not immune to heart disease--we are seeing it more and more in women, some of whom are young and otherwise healthy. Everyone, even doctors, needs to take charge of their own health! I want to be a vegan because I always want to improve myself and challenge myself to be better tomorrow than I am today!