High energy Houstonite Sherra Aguirre is passionate about empowering others to maintain vibrancy and good health, especially in the black and brown communities where there is high risk for diabetes and heart disease.
After she was diagnosed with heart disease and hypertension, Aguirre did extensive research with the help and guidance of her doctors. Adopting a whole plant-based diet improved her overall heart health and eliminated her symptoms of hypertension — despite significant family history of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.
In her book, Joyful Delicious Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease, the Lufkin, Texas native writes about the healing qualities of compassion, simplicity, and gratitude, and the ripple effect vegan eating can have.
How have you incorporated love and compassion in your own self care?
I checked into a health spa that featured whole plant nutrition at a time when I was dealing with the death of my mother and burnout at work. The owner described how what we eat affects the trillions of cells in our body which tirelessly work every moment of every day throughout our lives to keep us well. Each of our food choices either makes their job easier or harder. She called it complete and unconditional love in a way that I have never forgotten. The result has been a desire to reciprocate that love daily through my own food and lifestyle choices from a place of gratitude.
Typically, we Texans are meat eaters and we love our Southern home cooking. Any advice on transitioning into a more plant-based lifestyle, without giving up the Saturday night barbecues?
There is no need to give up a Saturday night barbecue!
One of my tips for great health is that “don’ts don’t work.” What works is focusing on what you will gain by taking animals off your plate, where you want to go and why, and to make it fun, a bit of an adventure and delicious.
Any delicious suggestions?
→ So, fire up the grill and throw on your favorite veggies – all seasoned to your taste.
→ Bake some potatoes, make a killer potato salad using mustard and/or vegan mayo. If you like, throw on some of the popular plant-based burgers, sausages, etc. and brush with your favorite barbecue sauce.
→ Of course, don’t forget a huge party-in-your mouth salad not as a side dish but as one of the main attractions. Then, no barbecue is complete without the beans, so make them spicy, smoky or sweet.
→ For dessert, there are literally thousands of plant-based cake, cookie or pie recipes online, and some of my favorites are in my book. Need I say more?
What about when the family says, “But your grandma made this turkey and dressing!”
The key is to be comfortable with the choice you’ve made which allows you to be more relaxed and gracious. I usually say, “That looks so good. I’ll pass this time but please enjoy!” If they insist you can say “I’ve made a commitment to myself to change how I eat for my health. If you like, we can talk about it sometime. Right now, I’m just here to enjoy everyone.” Then go give your grandma a big hug!
In your chapter on food addictions and cravings you give a simple “secret” to making healthier food choices.
The secret is to focus forward and not backward. This is sometimes called the law of attraction. We live in the middle of natural abundance which we take for granted. And because we take it for granted, when we arrive at a point where change is necessary for our health, our joy, or any goal that expands our opportunities for growth, we focus more on what we have to give up than on what we have to gain.
What are your favorite eateries in Houston that offer tasty plant-based options?
My long-time Dallas favorite is Spiral Diner and Bakery!
In Austin I enjoy Casa de Luz Village.
What are your tips for eating as a vegan in mainstream restaurants?
The first tip is to have a healthy snack before and not to go hungry! In Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease, I teach the art of gaming a restaurant menu, scanning for items you can work with and then how to order. Again, the mindfulness trick is to think abundance, i.e. seek and you shall find. I can have a satisfying meal just about anywhere there’s real food on the menu.
What small changes can we make in our everyday lifestyles to begin to prevent and reverse chronic disease?
The changes are really pretty simple. The most important thing is understanding the power of food and the ability of our bodies to rebound when we feed our health and not disease. The top three are:
♥ Eat primarily fresh vegetables, fruit, beans, peas, grains, nuts, herbs and spices prepared in ways you enjoy.
♥ Find healthier, tasty plant-based substitutes for milk, meat and fish to lower inflammation.
♥ Practice gratitude for the health you enjoy by treating your body with respect, love and compassion.
Cover photo courtesy Sherra Aguirre
Leona Barr is a freelance writer in Austin.