Today SevenPonds concludes our interview with Caryn Dugan, founder of the website STL Veg Girl and an expert on plant-based nutrition. (Read part one here.) Caryn began researching the benefits of a plant-based diet after a cancer scare in 2008. She later went on to study nutrition and health at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Roxube School of Cooking. Caryn has also trained at the Wellcoaches School of Coaching.
Kathleen: Can you speak a bit about some of the specific health benefits of a plant-based diet?
Caryn: Certainly. One of the biggest benefits of many plants is that they fight inflammation, which in turn can help fight diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, to name just two. I’ve seen it myself many times.
Kathleen: Can you give me an example?
Caryn: Sure. One of the most dramatic examples I can recall is the story of this 90-year-old woman who came to a class I was teaching on plant-based nutrition. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis. Her hands were like claws, and they were so painful and stiff that she couldn’t drive. She came to the class with her friend, who was also 90 at the time.
After listening to me speak about the benefits of a plant-based diet and learning how delicious it could be, the women decided to try it for a while. Over a remarkably short period of time, the woman with arthritis saw such an improvement in her symptoms that she was able to drive herself to class. It was the first time she’d driven in years.
Kathleen: That’s remarkable! But some people might say the fact that she got better isn’t proof the change in diet was the cause. Do you know of any studies that have shown that a plant-based diet actually reverses chronic inflammatory disease?
Caryn: There are many, many studies available that show this is more than just correlation. Rather than go into them here, though, I’d like to suggest that you and your readers take a look at the website, NutritionFacts.org. Its founder is Dr. Michael Gregor, a medical doctor who has been researching the connection between nutrition and health for years. The site has over 2,000 short videos and articles that discuss the latest findings in nutrition science. There’s no agenda. No one is trying to sell anything. The organization is a donor-supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and Dr. Gregor provides the information as a public service to help get the word out.
Kathleen: Sounds interesting! I’ll certainly check it out. Do you have any other suggestions for our readers who might want to learn more about the science behind plant-based nutrition before taking the plunge?
Caryn: As a matter of fact, I do. The Plantrician Project is another 501(3)(c) nonprofit that provides lots of information about plant-based nutrition. It was co-founded by a physician, Dr. Scott Stoll, who initially designed it as an educational resource for healthcare providers. But the information is presented in a very understandable way. I would suggest your readers start with the Plant-Based Nutrition Portal. They can look up information by topic or just click through the sections and browse what’s there.
And, of course, there’s also the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Their website has a large section on nutrition and health too.
Kathleen: Thanks for that information, Caryn. So, let’s say that I’ve read all the science and I’m ready to commit to a plant-based diet. Any tips on where to start?
Caryn: Well, most people try to tip-toe into it. Like anything else in life, it usually seems easier to go slowly and see where it takes you — like “Meatless Mondays” or “Meatless Fridays,” which were a staple of my Catholic upbringing as a kid. But if you want to really see a change in your health, it’s better to commit 100 percent.
As to tips, I would definitely recommend these for the first 30 to 60 days:
- Pick one or two plant-based cookbooks and stick with them until you feel comfortable with the recipes. Then you can branch out.
- Use the same ingredients over and over. It will help you adapt faster to your new cooking style.
- Spice things up! You can get lots of wonderful flavors using herbs and spices rather than sugar and salt.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables if you can’t find fresh produce. They’re really very nutritious, sometimes even more so than the produce you buy in the grocery store because they’re flash frozen shortly after they’re picked. The veggies at the produce counter might be several days (or weeks) old.
- Stay away from processed foods. If you need to buy something you can’t make yourself (like bread) look for items that have USDA Organic or Certified Organic on the label.
Kathleen: Thanks so much, Caryn. I’m sure our readers will appreciate this information and your valuable insights!
Caryn: You’re welcome!
Did you miss Part One of Caryn’s interview with SevenPonds? If so, you can catch up here.