February is American Heart Month, which makes it an ideal time to chat with Jane Esselstyn, co-author of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook: Over 125 Delicious, Life-Changing, Plant-Based Recipes about the importance of vegetables in a heart-healthy diet. Jane is an RN who has worked as a science and health educator for more than 25 years, along with being a researcher.
We talked to Jane after a show in Chicago where another book, The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet: Eat Plants, Lose Weight, Save Your Health, was being debuted. When she talks about eating a plant-based diet, her enthusiasm bubbles over. “The body,” Jane says, “is so amazing, so powerful. You can fuel your body by eating a heart-healthy diet and your body knows exactly how to use that fuel.”
Her statements about the value of a plant-based diet, she says, are fully backed up by research, including that performed by her father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. “He has conducted a tremendous amount of research showing the connection between plant-based eating and reduced heart disease,” Jane shares. “In fact, he has conducted the longest longitudinal study to date on the subject, and the strongest data points to the consumption of plants for healthy living.”
We talked with Jane about how well-intentioned parents often tell their children that, if they eat their vegetables first, they can go on to eat other foods on their plates. By positioning vegetables that way, children may perceive that the other food is the good stuff, and vegetables the necessary evil to get out of the way first. “But,” Jane says, “there is so much power and beauty in vegetables.”
Jane’s mother, Ann, lives next door, and she has the nickname of “Bully for Good.” As just one example, Ann provides whole artichokes for everyone in the family on their birthdays. “Because we have a large family,” Jane says, “there’s a whole lot of birthdays, so that’s a whole lot of artichokes! And, when our children were little, they didn’t necessarily love them but, on our daughter’s 12th birthday, she actually requested artichokes to be on the menu.” Jane is personally a big fan of the artichoke. “They have such an amazing flavor,” she says, “and, when you inhale after eating a bite, there is almost a humming sensation on your lips.” Another specialty of Ann’s is the Delicata squash. She carves it in half, bakes it and drizzles it with maple syrup. “But it’s so good,” Jane says, “that you could enjoy it plain.”
Ann and Jane have dedicated their professional careers to promoting plant-based foods, and incorporated them throughout their daily living – and yet, when they visited the Culinary Vegetable Institute, they were exposed to varieties of vegetables that were brand new to them! “Jamie [Simpson] started us out with a long, skinny vegetable that we didn’t even recognize, which made our visit so fun and so different. Vegetables were in varieties and sizes that we’ve never even heard of before. The Culinary Vegetable Institute truly provides a unique boutique of vegetable dishes.”
In July 2016, University Hospitals put out their list of the top ten heart-healthy vegetables, and we thought we’d share them (you can read their entire article to discover the reasons why each of these is so heart friendly):
If you’re looking for delicious new ways to eat these vegetables, Jane’s books provide plenty of mouthwatering recipes (she also advocates just enjoying their natural flavors). These books include:
A fourth book currently is at the publishers.
Note how you can also use fresh produce to create one-of-a-kind temperance cocktails! Plus, the Culinary Vegetable Institute hosts ongoing events that celebrate fresh, heart-healthy veggies.