As I celebrate my 43rd birthday, I am filled with gratitude. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for us to focus on our home and family. While this may be a negative for some (hopefully very few) and is frustrating to those whose loved ones are too far away to see with a reasonable car trip, it can still be a positive opportunity.
I wrote the above, as I later learned, about the time that my colleague was at work and suddenly stopped being able to talk. Thirty-six years old and a runner, father of three, working as the only doctor on site. How cruel can reality sometimes be? With that said, I took the next blog I was writing and meshed the two together as the themes are the same. From last week I wrote:
I had a conversation this week with a friend from Ohio as he sat in a hospital room recovering from multiple injuries from a fall. He is a man who looked after me in the fire department in Canton, where I volunteered (yes, I was a firefighter; most people who worked with me knew that medicine was my true calling). A big man with an even bigger heart who fell from a height while at work at his regular job of 23 years. The fall resulted in multiple fractures. He cannot walk, is understandably in pain, and requires his wife for assistance with the basics of daily functions. These are unfortunate accidents that can happen to any of us. And while we talked about his anticipated recovery and the challenges that come with it, it was other aspects we discussed that I felt more poignant.
At over 400 pounds, the weight loss took time and dedication. No, my friend is not a plant-based eater, and until the time of this phone call, he did not know I was. The specifics of what he ate he did not tell, but exercise by walking up to eight miles a day became a routine for him, which helped him lose 150 pounds! His weight alone is challenging enough, but he had dropped more than 150 pounds while better understanding his depression. Depression, he knows, contributed to his obesity. Because of the pain he was experiencing at the time, we did not extend our conversation into the details of the topic mentioned above. We instead discussed how his wife and family were doing in recent months, as well as reminiscing about the strength of our firefighter community.
He is no longer an active volunteer firefighter; thus, the exertion and stress that come with that profession have not been present in recent years. But it was two familiar faces on the ambulance who took care of him from scene to hospital. The community of people within the fire service has already built a ramp at his house to aid him when he gets home. While I know there is research to support plant-based eating helping with mental health issues, obesity, and other diseases; I do not pretend that it is the be-all treatment of all things. The support of the people around you, those that matter most, are often the driving force. Community is a huge factor in our life. The more we engage our community, the better off we all are.
For firefighters, every third day of their life, they are away from their own families and spend time instead with their professional families. Firehouses are often sensationalized on TV or mocked by others for sitting around the firehouse and washing the apparatuses. But make no mistake, there is camaraderie. You spend a third of your life with people who know you as well as your own family does. For volunteers, it is not much different, though the hours may not be as consistent. I enjoyed sitting and talking with someone I call a friend from my firefighter days after much time between conversations; it was good to pick up where we left off years ago.
And so I return to the present, to my 36-year-old physician colleague who, three days ago, could not speak. When he arrived to work, our co-worker recognized he was showing symptoms of a stroke. He received clot-busting medicine (called “TPA”) with no improvement and was transferred to the large academic center in town. He had a subsequent seizure, needed to be intubated (to be put to sleep and put on a ventilator machine to breath for him). After a few days, he recovered (only complaining of a headache). Our community of doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical techs have formed a meal schedule for his nuclear and extended family. I was fortunate enough to be the first person to deliver food to the family. He was kind in his text in thanks for bringing a “healthy dinner” to his family. Yes, it was vegan and I apologized that my supply of brisket had been exhausted years ago.
The point of all this is another example of the hospital community coming together in short order to look after his nuclear and extended family as they look after him. The world is not fair. What is happening to my friends is not fair. The injustice that has existed for those of color and is now dominating the press is not fair. But the hope of our communities coming together and looking after one another is the positive light in this seemingly dark abyss. I implore us all to be better human beings to each other, starting with our communities.
As I continue the journey into engaging this community with plant-based eating guidance, I hope I will learn more about you as we build our community together.
My mother-in-law lives one hour from Canton, Ohio. Her house sits on a corner of a rural highway, a mile and a half from where she grew up. She has neighbors that are either farmers or Amish. The small town’s grocery store closed about six years ago and basic staples can be obtained at the “Drug Mart” and “Dollar General” that is driving distance to the small town. Her other option is to drive to Canton or another town 45 minutes away to go to a traditional grocery store.
Access to food is one of many systemic problems for our country. While this rural example is but one, food discrimination is just as prominent in urban environments. A common term used is “food deserts” to describe neighborhoods that lack any sort of grocery access (defined as more than 1 mile to food access in urban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas).
One or ten miles respectively may not seem like much, but for many, the distance is even greater. Whether it is lack of access to transportation, financial means, local mass transit or infirm from age or disease, food deserts exist in most metropolitan areas.
Often in areas of low socioeconomic neighborhoods, food deserts make it challenging for families to prepare quality meals and more often have to rely on options such as fast food or boxed/processed foods. As most of my Emergency Medicine work is in a city hospital, I see the complications of this every day. These foods are inexpensive and quick to make, but they are low in nutritional value, low in fiber and typically high in salt, fat and cholesterol. When these are a family’s best options, it proves my point: there is a problem.
There are multiple solutions to this problem. While moving is one option, it is not realistic for most. Instacart.com, Amazon Prime for Whole Foods or other food delivery services are good options, but they come with several barriers. Subscription services have an annual fee and grocery deliveries are often more expensive. Also, rural access, such as with my mother-in-law, is not offered by most of these delivery services.
Food pantries or food banks are places for those with a tight budget (or sometimes no budget at all). While, traditionally, canned goods and other nonperishable items were what mainly existed at these places, a shift towards healthier options has taken place and more and more fruits and vegetables are available. There is always a strain on inventory for these places, but if this is your best option, that is what they are there for. If you have the means to donate to local food pantries that can in turn dispense to those in need, thank you.
Community gardens are one answer which, when there are enough volunteers, shows a lot of promise, This is especially helpful regarding older populations such as those that rely on Meals-on-Wheels. I recall being a young idealistic Family Medicine doctor delivering these meals to see where my patients lived and do home visits, as well. It never dawned on me that these meals, while important for sustenance, probably was not the most healthy of food options.
Community gardens have so many benefits.
Typically, they are started by either donations from nurseries or by community members wanting to help themselves and those around them. Some of these gardens sell plots at minimal cost for individuals to do their own gardening. Often times, surplus food is donated or dispensed in the area to neighbors. Volunteerism, social engagement, physical activity, mental wellness: these are good things that can come from this concept.
In Dr. Musa’s area of Canton, Ohio is www.cantonfarmersmarkert.com/garden
Here in Richmond, Va. there are multiple options: www.richmondgov.com/CommunityGarden/index.aspx
And then there is taking matters in your own hands at home. Make your own food. Below is a picture of my raised bed. I am fortunate to have a few 4 feet by 4 feet raised beds with irrigation. But you do not need all of this. A large pot will do. A big planter is even better. After you buy that, you can buy a big bag of potting soil for less than 10 dollars. What you see before you is a row of carrots sprouting ($1.82 for the pack of seeds….and still plenty of seeds to spare) with a tomato root that came up from last year's planting. The rest is all lettuce ($1.82 for a pack of seeds, also with more seeds to spare). Lettuce itself typically costs anywhere from $1.50-3.50 per head at most stores. If you can grow even a quarter of this lettuce and cut the leaves (if you do not pull the roots it will keep growing during the season) you will get a HUGE return on your investment. You do have to water it and occasionally pull some weeds. But after the initial time of planting, this is low maintenance.
One comment on grocery stores regarding more whole food plant-based options is that we can vote with our mouths. Because I occasionally travel to rural areas or other states where doctors are needed temporarily, I go food shopping in a variety of stores. Options can be limited for my needs simply because that is what is shipped to the area. The more we demand with our purchases, the more will become available. We are all consumers to one degree or another, but the more we take control with our purchases and manage the things we buy, the more we will get the things we need and ultimately it will lead to better health.
This is taking control of your health. Happy eating!
At the time of writing this entry and its posting, maybe four people will read this. But the internet postings are forever. Hopefully it will have a positive impact on others in the future. It has been a month since the death of George Floyd. Inaheartbeet’s goal is to bring people together no matter your color, creed, financial status or otherwise.
Racism is a cruel fact. Make no mistake, we ALL have preconceived assumptions about others, from the color of their skin to what they wear to how the act. These preconceived assumptions can cause fear, lead to hate and the violence that we are seeing; not just in George Floyd’s death, but others that have come before him.
The reality is that the disproportionate amount of violent acts against people of color has been unchanged for decades; we are only now seeing a small amount of those acts recorded. If our ignorance about our fellow man is a cause for the assumptions that lead to hate and violence, then dialogue and learning about one another is a step in the right direction. But words are not enough without action.
This site supports equality and we encourage everyone who is looking to make positive change in their life for better health and well being to join us.
I recently finished reading the Mitch Rapp Series. A fictional CIA operative that fights terrorism, flies all over the world, drinks soda and beer, eats terrible food, barely sleeps, is emotionally distant with his family/friends/loved ones and of course, is the hero that saves the day. And he can run a 5 minute mile in his 40s while being able to fight off any opponent. I wish we were all so lucky.
The truth is we can eat, sleep and act the way of this fictional character but we will not last very long being a productive human both for ourselves and for those around us. While this site focuses on nutrition, overall wellness is what we want for our patient’s, family and friends. So what constitutes health? Of course nutrition/diet is one. But the overall idea of health is known as The four pillars of health. While different sites or books include more than four, with such things as breathing and hydration additions, the general four pillars are:
Future posts will discuss 2-4 but I would like to establish the nutrition a bit more in the short term. There are arguments for and against this statement all over the internet: “nutrition is the single most influential factor on an individuals health.” Whether you agree or not, you have control over what you eat and drink. The purchases from the grocery store, the fast food, the sit down restaurants are choices we make. Whether the choices are out of time, convenience, cost or otherwise, we can always do better. So what is better?
Of course I can say fruit and veggies. This is what patient’s hear over and over. Much in the same way me telling them “don’t smoke,” this short dialogue means little to nothing. So let’s talk about why whole food plant based eating is proven to make you healthy.
Eating plant based is the only type of diet that has been researched showing proven continued benefits both short and long term. It reverses heart disease. The documentary “Forks over Knives” illustrates this fact using small studies on American patients with heart disease who applied themselves with guidance and if they ate as instructed without deviation they saw remarkable results (your health matters, so eating food that makes your body sick is not in your best interest. The word ‘cheat’ has a negative connotation so why include it in your eating habits). A large study in china aptly named “The China Study” showed how the population was healthier in certain parts of the country relative to the less animal products consumed. Heart Disease kills far more people in the United States than cancer and diabetes, accidents and respiratory disease combined (Source: CDC). Your food choices matters!
I thought I ate healthy all my life and through what I was taught and information I read, I was. So why did I have blood sugars that would spike to > 200 and then plummet to as low as 32 (I would check my blood sugar while volunteering on an ambulance in college) and make me feel so sick? The phrase “ you are what you eat” is still a good mantra to eat by. Looking back I clearly ate too much processed foods that were high sugar but more importantly high in FAT. Fat is the mind blowing key to tackling diabetes, not sugar.
I will go on to discuss diseases in more detail in the future as patients may be reading this having seen us in our respective practices and are wondering how plant-based eating affects my: cancer, constipation, erectile dysfunction, diabetes and the list goes on.
We will get there together.
I am a husband to an incredible wife, son to loving parents, and brother and uncle to an amazing family. I am also a doctor. Having practiced both Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine I had been so focused on the treatment of the sick that I lost track of the more important prevention. I do not want you to be sick or injured. The majority of the medical care I provide is treatment, but I would rather help you prevent unnecessary treatment by helping you take control of your own health.
Half-way through my 30 year career in medicine, I have been fortunate to care for an array people from different backgrounds and in different parts of the world. In many ways, we are all the same. We construct our lives by what is around us, what our family and friends, neighbors, etc. are watching, buying and eating. I was no different. My mid-life crisis, so to speak came, as I was turning 40. Having had blood sugar problems for 25 years and always believing I was eating healthy, I found my erratic blood sugars becoming more frequent. I reached out to Paula Evans for guidance. She was a Registered Dietitian. I had worked with Paula a decade earlier. She opened my eyes to plant-based nutrition. I read the information and promptly ignored it!
Three months later and feeling worse over, despite competing in endurance sports, I finished a 5 and a half hour triathlon. It was a personal best time, but I was so sick from low blood sugar that my wife took me immediately to McDonald's. I then proceeded to eat four burgers. I immediately felt worse. The following day, I reread the information Paula sent me months ago, and knew I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself.
And so began the journey transitioning to plant-based eating. While most people, including my wife, will make a lifestyle change a little slower, I have a personality that sees something new and goes full speed ahead (neither approach is wrong, do what is best for you. After all, it is your life and your health). In three days and a couple of failed attempts at eating some frozen chicken bites later, I was fully plant-based. Sitting in my freezer was fresh lamb meat from my Uncle Richard’s farm that I had yet to taste because I was saving it for after my race (friends were kind enough to take it off my hands and enjoyed it). So there I was making a big change to my health which now nearly 3 years later has helped me not only live healthier but be a better physician and educator.
As we talk about plants on this website, know our goal is to guide you. We are not here to tell you what to do. It is our belief that positivity will take us further together. It is not our intention to chastise anyone for eating meat or eggs. That is just not true. The definition of “diet” is: the kinds of food that a person or community habitually eats.
Our community is focused on plant-based eating. Want to eat healthy? Lose weight? Improve your cholesterol, blood pressure, digestive problems, blood sugars and more? Plant-based nutrition does all of this. There is a large amount of science and research to support this and we will sprinkle that in from time to time. Through education of plant-based eating, the health issues you may be facing and medicines you are on that you hopefully want to get off of (yes, this happens) and much more, our site will show the benefits to your life overall by making simple changes to your daily habits (it may not seem so simple, but in time, you will realize it is).
Along with this blog, you will learn to shop healthier, eat better, and feel younger. We are what we eat.
If you are a patient that has been referred here by Dr. Roger Musa or myself, then you have seen the passion in our eyes for what lies ahead. If you have been referred by other medical personnel, family friends or beyond, we welcome you.