Herbies of the Week: The Dern Family

Meet our Herbies of the Week: The Dern Family!

After her mother suffered a heart attack at the age of 43, Jenna's parents made the decision to go plant-based after watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta's CNN special on plant-based diets.

It's been 3 years since making the switch and the Dern family is happier and healthier than ever! Jenna's parents both lost 20lbs while she lowered her own cholesterol and is at a "very low risk" for heart disease!

Continue reading for The Derns' plant-based journey!

My mother is a doctor. This has always been a fact that has provided me with great comfort, knowing that the choices my family made were in my best interest for my health and overall wellbeing. Nothing could have prepared me for the day when I learned that my mom had had a heart attack at 43 years old. I was only 13 at the time, and this news clouded the days that followed the event with sadness and fear. My family had always eaten healthy and exercised moderately. My parents were young and we had a happy, stress-free life. We had no idea at the time that my mom’s genetic predisposition to heart disease and the Standard American Diet that we were following would have such an impact on my mom’s health. Now, at 17, I know the simplest answer to health and wellbeing: plant-based foods.

The last vacation that my family spent together before becoming plant-based was in Hawaii, the summer after my mom’s heart attack. There, we feasted on gelato, Spam musubi, and Hawaiian barbecue food. Our vacation was amazing, the island that we stayed on was beautiful, and the food was tasty. However, my family looks back on this vacation with a twinge of bittersweet sadness—we had no idea at the time that the food we were eating was doing more harm than good to our bodies.

Only 2 weeks later, my parents watched Sanjay Gupta's "The Last Heart Attack" that focused on vegan diets. After learning about Bill Clinton’s remarkable health recovery after following a plant-based diet and delving into more documentaries, books, and research articles, my parents decided it was time to go vegan for the sake of my mother’s, and the rest of the family’s, health.

That day, we rid our fridge of all animal products. By doing so, we also emptied out tons of processed foods. We then stocked up on new foods that would be the staples of our diet: beans, rice, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds. The diet was so simple that it was almost too good to be true. But this lifestyle change has been the most significant moment in my life so far. Going vegan has had a remarkable affect on my family’s life.

Neither my mom nor my dad had ever been overweight, but before long, both of my parents had happily lost about 20 pounds each. My own cholesterol was about 110 the last time that I had it checked, and my LDL to HDL ratio was 1.5, classifying me as at a “very low” risk for heart disease!

Eating clean, whole foods has also allowed my physical strength to increase tremendously: as a young teenager, I could hardly run a couple of miles without feeling sick, but the plant-based lifestyle has changed this all. Now, I look forward to a 3 mile run in the morning with my parents, and I never feel exhausted or nauseous anymore. This feat may be small to some, but I always look up to my mom, who just ran her first half-marathon this year, as a source of constant positivity and inspiration. My mom proves to me every day that through nutrition and awareness, I can truly put my health first and take every step necessary to live the longest, most comfortable life possible.

Perhaps the most remarkable change that has taken place after going vegan is in my own eating habits. I have been a picky eater since I was a toddler. My parents used to have to feed me instant breakfast drinks in order to be sure that I was getting enough protein and vitamins each day. As I got older, I always disliked eating meat but would have chicken nuggets any time I went out to eat because they were just one food on a list of about 5 food items (including mac and cheese, cheese pizza, and plain pasta) that I could tolerate. Since this lifestyle change, I have welcomed an array of new fruits and vegetables into my life. I am still expanding my palate, but in this past summer I have found a brand new love for spinach and arugula salad and avocados! These steps may be small, but it feels great to know that I am constantly allowing myself to take in even more vitamins and nutrients with each new food that I welcome to my diet.

As a senior in high school, my life is just about to start. When asked what they want to do for a profession, nearly all students claim that they want to help others. Since becoming plant-based, I have longed to help others more than ever before. When asked the dreaded “What-do-you-want-to-do-in-the-future” questions, I wholeheartedly hope that others know how sincere I am about wanting to help people. I see the shocking statistics and articles about my generation’s health, the affects of the body when consuming animal-products, and the inhumane conditions that animals must suffer through, and I know what I am supposed to do.

I know that I have the ability to be anything that I want to be--if I wanted, I could pursue a career in medicine, chemistry, or mathematics. For a long time, I wondered if I would still contribute to society if I didn’t pursue an “important” career. I know I could do anything, but I truly love being creative, taking photographs, and connecting with people—after becoming plant-based, I began to learn that I can be important, all while doing the things I love. This summer, I created a food blog, where I share my vegan recipes, reviews, and tips. I find so much joy in making recipes, trying new fruits and vegetables, and helping others embrace this lifestyle. Who’s to say that that isn’t important? If I can change one life by touting the benefits of a vegan diet (there are just so many!) then I would in a heartbeat! I know the power of plant-based foods: it turned me from a picky eater to an adventurous lover of all things green. If I can prevent someone else from developing a sickness caused by diet, I don't think I think I would break down in tears of joy.

I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am that my family has made this switch in our lives. I have never felt more alive, passionate about health and wellbeing, or happy as I have in the past 3 years that my family has been figuring this whole lifestyle out. For a while, in the beginning, I thought I would one day revert back to my cheddar-cheese-eating days. Today, I can happily order a custom pizza, sans cheese. I can make an amazing mac and cheese using a cauliflower and nutritional yeast sauce. I can make homemade almond milk or almond spread to put over toast. The possibilities truly never opened up until I embraced this diet. I can doanything with the power of plant foods and positivity.

Thank you, Lindsay for your amazing books, constant Facebook presence that always brightens my day, and everlasting passion for plant-based eating!

Thank you Jenna for sharing your family's inspirational story!