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End of Shift: Plant healthy habits

When a nurse spends 20 years in acute care, specifically oncology, he or she learns a lot about health and wellness by default — in other words, what not to do. I saw unwise lifestyle choices, terrible diets and poor health habits force people into the hospital for acute and chronic care for too many years. It caused me to seek a radical change in my own lifestyle.

Like most people, I was raised on American fare. I lived in Southern Louisiana — an area famous for its decadent cuisine — for 25 years. My parents and extended family suffered all the ailments associated with fried foods, buttery sauces and lack of exercise, including cancer, stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Susan Theroux, RN

About eight years ago, in my 30s, I started on the path to becoming a vegan. At the time, I was working as a night-shift oncology nurse in central Colorado, a pretty active, young and healthy area. I met a lot of vegetarians, and as a Southern carnivore who had attended many funerals and many hospital bedsides post cardiac procedures, I was intrigued. So I decided one day to give up red meat. After several months, I gave up chicken. (I had never eaten seafood.) This was a pretty easy transition — I still ate dairy, and products made with eggs and dairy, although I did not eat eggs prepared alone.

I continued my vegetarian diet after moving to Southwest Florida. While living in Florida, I met a physician who applauded my vegetarianism, but proposed an even healthier alternative: veganism. I had never heard of this diet, so I researched it thoroughly. I decided this was indeed the drastic lifestyle change I was seeking, not only to avoid the fate dictated by my hereditary history of disease, but also to ensure a thriving future.

Vegans consume no animal products at all, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs or any product made with these, such as certain cakes, breads, spreads, drinks and frozen foods.

Why vegan? Books and internet information painted a gruesome picture for me of the dairy, meat, chicken and egg industries. This was all I needed to make up my mind, along with the substantial health benefits of a completely plant-based diet.
I think making a slow conversion in phases, eliminating one food category at a time, was the key to my success. Also, if I accidentally ate something I did not prepare that had dairy or egg ingredients, I didn’t get discouraged or overly critical of myself. I just worked harder to find the right foods and become knowledgeable about everything I ate and drank. I asked a lot of questions, such as: “Does this have dairy or egg?” and “Can you substitute olive oil for butter?” I have found that if you are polite, restaurant chefs will work with you. In fact, most will go above and beyond to help you.

However, I found preparing my own food and purchasing food from vegan restaurants are the only completely safe options.

Allergy ingredient labels can be helpful in identifying “egg and dairy” as ingredients. As a vegan, one also must look for less-obvious animal-based ingredients, such as milk proteins, whey, casein and sodium caseinate. Many health food stores and groceries such as Whole Foods offer vegan sections, and the word “vegan” may be printed directly on product packaging.

Produce (organic, if available), especially greens, are essential for calcium. Protein can be found in tofu, beans, nuts, seeds and grains. There are wonderful vegan milk substitutes available, including almond, coconut (my favorite), soy and rice varieties.
I start each day with a vegan protein smoothie made with frozen berries and coconut milk, take this out the door to start my shift and bring snacks such as nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans) to work. My organization offers veggie burgers and a prepackaged hummus snack in the cafeteria. So veganism is pretty attainable, even in our fast-paced nursing world.

After about a year, I looked and felt amazing, and everyone starting asking me: “How did you do it?” I don’t lecture people on what to eat or not eat — that’s a personal choice. I share what works for me.

I feel I am an example to my patients and my peers in healthcare. If I do not represent health, then who does?

By | 2020-04-15T13:17:34-04:00 November 7th, 2011|Categories: Regional, South|0 Comments

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