By Carol Stark
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Take a trip to the grocery store with Becky Mitchell and there's a lot of things you won't see. You probably won't eyeball the price of chocolate chip cookies with her. In fact, you probably won't even get the chance to walk down the chip or cookie aisles.
The same goes for the aisle where big boxes of sugary cereals are sold. And forget about the boxed dinners.
You won't browse the meat aisle or pick up a carton of milk -- at least not the kind that comes from cows.
But you will spend lots of time with Mitchell in the vegetable and fruit aisles.
"Vegetables are the most interesting part of the meal anyway," says Mitchell, 64, of Joplin, who has operated Ozark Adworks since 1984.
And, of course, there is whole grains.
Mitchell plans her meals around a plant-based diet, but it was only in the past few years that she made the lifestyle change (although she did say that she has long avoided processed foods, just like her mother). It was after watching the 2011 CNN one-hour special "The Last Heart Attack," based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta's research on avoiding heart disease through nutrition.
Through the TV special, Mitchell learned about the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., a director at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Center. He's a longtime advocate for pure plant-based eating and an advisor to former President Bill Clinton, who adopted a plant-based (and eventually vegan) diet after undergoing a quadruple bypass in 2004 for blocked arteries. Esselstyn's book "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," has helped Mitchell and her husband, Ron, a Joplin attorney, revamp their lifestyles. Esselstyn has also written "Forks Over Knives," a book has Mitchell used as well.
Diet Wards off Heart Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with more than 600,000 people dying from the disease every year. And each year nearly 800,000 Americans have their first heart attack. Another 470,000 of those people will go on to have another heart attack.
"When Ron was president of the Missouri Bar, we spent a lot of time traveling and would find ourselves sitting around a table for hours with heavy meals in front of us," Mitchell said. "Even then I tried to order the vegetables as a way to avoid so much eating."
Mitchell gets her protein from kale and grains. She takes a B-12 supplement and snacks on almonds, dates, walnuts, humus and fresh veggies. She also bought a food dehydrator and makes her own kale chips (see recipe on 3C).
The couple start their day with steel-cut oatmeal and salad for lunch, perhaps a dish with lentils and mushrooms for supper.
And, yes, there is the occasional "cheat." While being interviewed, Mitchell sipped on a cafe mocha that included skim milk. Most of the time she avoids all meats, eggs and dairy.
"I keep my iPad close by, and when I want to find a recipe, I find one. There are plenty of websites out there for help," she said.
Mitchell says the Joplin area offers a variety of restaurants that cater to vegans. Among them are Mohaska Farmhouse and Eagle Drive-In in Joplin and Eden's Bakery in Webb City. She said even Steak 'n Shake is offering a veggie burger.
The healthy eating doesn't stop with one generation. Mitchell's daughter, Whitney Backsen, who lives in Lake Ozark with her family, writes the blog Squash Blossom Babies. There she gives healthy recipes, some of which Mitchell shared.
Mitchell said that one of the many the payoffs of a plant-based diet is feeling energized.
"It helps with weight, and you don't feel stuffed. In fact, you feel great."
Zucchini and black beans over quinoa
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
11/2 cups zucchini, quartered and sliced (1 large zucchini or 2 small)
1/2 green bell pepper (or any other color you have), diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cheddar cheese (optional)
1 cup quinoa
Combine 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer; cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the zucchini and peppers. Cook for about 8 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes and water and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve in a bowl with a large spoonful of quinoa and the zucchini mixture on top. Serve with grated cheese if desired.
Source: Squash Blossom Babies
Kale freezer pops
Note: You don't have to tell anyone there's kale in them.
2 cups kale
Clean the strawberries, peel the bananas and rinse the kale. Blend in the food processor or blender until smooth. Pour into freezer pop molds, freeze and enjoy.
Source: Squash Blossom Babies
'Cheddar' kale chips
1 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup cashews
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon olive oil (Mitchell substitutes water)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Blend all ingredients in a blender, then pour over one bunch of kale stripped from stem and torn into chip-size pieces. Coat evenly and spread on dehydrator trays. Mitchell uses an Excalibur dehydrator.
Source: Ani's Raw Food Essentials
Homemade vegan chicken-style broth powder
1 1/3 cup good-tasting nutritional yeast flakes
3 tablespoons onion powder
2 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 1/2 teaspoons garlic granules or powder
1 tablespoon soy milk powder
1 tablespoon white beet sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon finely crumbled dried sage (not powdered)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Blend in dry blender. Makes about 11/2 cup. Store in an airtight container and use 1 level tablespoon per cup of water.