I'm starting a new column here on Happy Herbivore: once a week I want to showcase YOU, my wonderful Herbies and your amazing stories! This week's guest is Tita!
Two weeks ago, Tita sent me this simple 1-line email "A new vegan due to coronary artery stent!" I wrote back that I hoped she was feeling better and she replied that not only was she feeling great, she was back to running 5 days a week again! I knew right that I had to interview her.
Tell us about your history prior to adopting a plant-based diet:
I've been a runner for 38 years, five days a week, an hour a day. My cholesterol was perfect with high HDLs, low LDL, low triglycerides. I had moderate hypertension and a family history of cardiac disease.
In May of last year, I was running and felt out of breath with chest tightness which I attributed to yoga the day before. Two more episodes later I went to the doctor for testing which revealed a blockage. I had an 85% occluded LAD coronary artery which required stent placement.
A few months after the placement I started experiencing shortness of breath again when I climbed stairs and noticed I also had less stamina during my runs. I went back to the Doctor for more testing which revealed the stent had reclogged and I would need another stent. I ultimately had a second stent placed directly inside the original.
What was your initial reaction when you received the news about needing stents?
I was stunned and in disbelief that I would have coronary artery disease. I was told that if it hadn't been for my regular running, good diet, etc. I would have shown signs and symptoms long before I was 68 due to my family history.
How did you get turned on to a plant-based diet?
My primary physician told me about the book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn MD (this is the book behind Bill Clinton's change to a vegan diet). I decided to give nonfat vegan a chance to see if I might improve my chances of preventing another occlusion. Stents are just like bandaids. Sooner or later you need another stent or another procedure like bypass if its serious enough.
What kind of dietary changes did you make?
The rules in the book are simple: you can not eat anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry or fish, no dairy, no oil, no nuts, no avocados). That is quite a tall order by I was determined to change my health.
It's been six weeks and I've followed the rules but occasionally did have some fish (we went to Mexico for 10 days), I use Pam for my nonstick pan and I occasionally use a tiny amount of sliced almonds or other nuts sprinkled on food but these are my only departures; no meat, no dairy; no oil, butter, eggs.
Now the big question: How do you feel?
I can honestly say that I've never felt better! I have regained my stamina, have no shortness of breath and am back to running 5 days a week, one hour a day -- at 6am! I'm due back to the Doctor in December and I'm curious to see how my new diet has impacted my cholesterol (even though it was perfect in the first place). I have to take Lipitor 40 mg a day, and this may be continued regardless of my cholesterol levels, but I'm going to ask my Doctor if its still necessary.
How has your dietary change affected your family and home life?
It is a challenge everyday to make meals satisfying and interesting while still pleasing my husband's normal diet, but I've always enjoyed cooking for myself and my family so this is just another challenge. I miss egg whites, cheese and olive oil. I don't miss meat products. It takes longer now to shop for food but that may be because I'm busy looking for some of the suggested replacement items. I got a bag of nutritional yeast, for example, and am starting to use that. It has a delicious yeasty odor and flavor.
How did you find happyherbivore.com?
I'm really delighted with Happy Herbivore! If you google search you can find plenty of vegan websites but the key to my particular need is "no fat" vegan. It's easy to make vegan food with fatty items like oil or vegan butter, the real challenge is not having any fat. This website was a good find and I ordered The Happy Herbivore Cookbook too. It's great. I am trying new recipes everyday and sharing them with my family and friends. They are simply amazed that I have adopted these principles so easily and without looking or feeling deprived.
Any other surprise benefits resulting from your new diet and lifestyle?
A pleasant surprise..... I have lost a few pounds. After the first stent I thought I may as well eat whatever I wanted since my good diet apparently didn't prevent me from having coronary artery disease. I went through this huge "pity party for one" and of course put on a few pounds.
Now I'm happy to report those extra pounds are gone which is good for my heart. The extra pounds add extra stress to the heart and it made it much more difficult to do my daily runs.
Do any of your friends follow a plant-based diet?
I have a high school friend that I saw for our 50th High School reunion recently. She lives in Hawaii and is also on a vegan diet (not a zero fat one like mine, but vegan). I told her about happyherbivore.com and now we try recipes together, share recipes -- it's fun to share this experience with someone else even if they don't live nearby.
My daughters are really impressed. My husband is impressed. My mother is 89 and impressed. So, thank you for your terrific blog, recipes and encouragement. If nothing else this has been a new challenge and experience for me.