Plant-based eating is a way of life for the Esselstyns. After all, the patriarch of the family is Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., whose research and powerful presentations on how to prevent, halt, and even reverse heart disease have inspired people all over the world to control their health destinies to an extent they never thought possible.
During the past two decades, Dr. Esselstyn worked in tandem with his wife Ann to treat many of his cardiac patients. It was a natural fit. When the two adopted a plant-based diet themselves, Ann became an extraordinary chef, so it made sense that she would teach patients the nuts and bolts of meal planning and preparation. The partnership continues to this day, and Ann’s delicious recipes are featured in Dr. Esselstyn’s landmark book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.
The couple’s daughter, Jane Esselstyn, is a registered nurse and busy mother of three who has always created fun and nutritious meals for her family. Jane often works with Ann preparing meals for family gatherings, and the synergy between the two ultimately led to their decision to develop a new plant-based cookbook together. Now finished, The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook includes more than 125 delicious, easy, and nutritious recipes. It arrives in stores everywhere on September 2.
We are pleased to share with you our recent interview with this dynamic duo, which includes behind-the-scenes scoop on their book, their advice for families trying to establish a plant-based tradition, and more. Note that the two answered in a single voice below, except for the last question.
Why did you decide to create The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook?
We have not stopped creating recipes since we started eating this way, and Jane was fresh off creating recipes for My Beef with Meat, so we were ready to work on a new cookbook. Really, it was Jane who persuaded me to call our publisher. Suddenly, it is July and the cookbook is about to come out! Essy has two new research studies out and is ready to start his next book. So, soon enough, Jane and I will have to get “back at it.”
When we started eating plant based over 30 years ago, the only guide was Mary McDougall. Today, there are endless absolutely fabulous plant-based cookbooks available, but almost none are written with heart disease patients in mind. It’s easy to love eating plant based with things like vegan mayo, nut-based spreads, cashew cream, etc. being a part of every dish? But, all those nuts and oils add up to high-calorie, high-fat eating. The problem for heart disease patients is that so many delicious recipes seem to start with nuts — so our book has great recipes with no nuts, no avocado, no oil, and very little salt or sugar.
What is your favorite family meal?
Our absolute favorite family meal is black beans and brown rice. And our new favorite black bean recipe (in our new book) is called Matt’s Sofrito Black Beans. The fixings can include corn, salsa and chopped tomatoes, peppers, water chestnuts, mango, arugula, carrots, etc. We love it most of all with the Mango Lime Salsa recipe in our book. Ideally, with this meal, we would have a large pile of kale.
The Esselstyns are a tight group, and there are now three generations of the family successfully eating a plant-based diet. What advice would you give to other families trying to establish a plant-based tradition?
Set an example. Be steadfast yourself. It is surprising how eventually others in the family will come along. Or, at best, they will always know, on the edge of their minds, that there is another way. It is tricky business, because others simply have to want to change how they eat. One of the most effective tools for helping people change how they eat is to watch Forks Over Knives. Suddenly, instead of being told you should eat plant-based, they think, after seeing the movie, “Oh, maybe I should change how I eat.” Coming from within is very different than being told.
What advice would you give to someone starting a plant-based diet?
Just start. Don’t dabble with “just a little of this or that.” Jump right in 100%, especially if health issues are involved. No one is perfect, so if you eat something ghastly, jump right on the bandwagon again at the next meal. Most exciting of all is that your taste changes. Incredibly — it simply does.
What is a common misconception about eating a plant-based diet?
Where do we get our protein? Oh my gosh, this country has been so brainwashed about protein. Protein is in everything … including lettuce! The only reason people starting plant-based diets sometimes say they “feel weak,” is because they are not eating enough calories! Think about it. Meat, dairy, and oil, are all the biggest sources of calories. Cut them out and yes, you could feel weak. So, eat plenty of whole grains, potatoes, beans, and of course, all the fabulous fruits and vegetables possible.
Ann, you’ve been instrumental in helping many of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients adopt this lifestyle. Is there one particular success story that stands out?
Ann: There are so many. Too many to ever choose. Each patient has his or her own very touching story. The changes for people are like magic! They are so thankful and appreciative.
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