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Published on September 16, 2022

Talk and Walk: Taking Steps Toward a Healthier You‘Talk and Walk’: Simple Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle

Dr. Elissa Thompson encourages people to take advantage of the outdoor spaces on Cape Cod and offers tips on how to incorporate plant-based meals into your diet.

Earlier this month at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham, “Talk and Walk with a Doc,” part of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, continued with its second of three installments—a sunset event featuring a short trail walk around the nutrient-rich Nauset Marsh and a talk from cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, about the overall health benefits of good cardiovascular nutrition.

The evening kicked off with a talk from Ranger Daniel Blankenship, who touched upon the Three Sisters (corns, beans and squash), the surrounding nutritious landscape along the Cape Cod National Seashore and a brief history of the Wampanoag Nauset Tribe, who cultivated and lived off the land.

After the trail walk, participants settled into their seats and Dr. Thompson launched into a discussion about getting back to nutrition basics; taking advantage of the open spaces and nature trails on the Cape; and offering practical tips on how to incorporate plant-based meals into one’s diet. She then opened it up to a Q&A.

“We don’t always think of how Cape Cod can be used as healthful,” says Dr. Thompson, a cardiologist at Cape Cod Healthcare since 2014. “Your health depends on the outdoors, and your health depends on nutrition. I’m always trying to help people understand the basics.”

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“Talk and Walk with a Doc” continued with a trail walk on Aug. 4, the second of three installments, at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham.

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Thompson and many of her colleagues recommend a whole-food, plant-based diet because there is ample evidence, says Thompson, that shows if we consume less animal fat, less animal protein and fewer processed foods, the rate of heart disease will go down, the rate of obesity will go down, the rate of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease will go down.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is essentially the Three Sisters: Whole grains, legumes and squash, with greens mixed in. She said it’s very important to realize you don’t have to go to Trader Joe’s or a specialty health-foods store. “You can go to Stop & Shop or Shaw’s. The ways to interact with your nutrition can even be in your own backyard. It can be as simple as having a garden. We can use the land in a very healthful and meaningful way.”

One of the things she likes to underscore: If you change your diet now, it still counts. It still matters. You can change the trajectory of your health by changing your diet. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complex. Nutrition doesn’t have to be something that causes confusion and costs a lot of money.

“We have a beautiful resource on Cape Cod,” says Dr. Thompson, “and the more you know about this resource and the more you know about what it’s meant in the past and how pertinent it is to what we are experiencing today in healthcare, I think it helps you to be more conscientious and more empowered to improve your health overall.”

Some highlights from the Q&A session:

Q: You mentioned a plant-based diet, but what about fish?

A: One of things I hear from my patients: “I eat a lot of fish.” A lot of fish isn’t great. Some fish can be very healthful, but fish in today’s world has a lot of mercury. Eating fish doesn’t count as much as eating a lot of beans, greens and legumes. Fish isn’t necessarily evil, but it is an animal-based source of fat and protein. There are five places on the planet called Blue Zones—where people have the least amount of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia and cancer. Their diets are almost 100 percent based on plant-based proteins and fat sources, with very little fish.

Q: Where can I get sources of protein on a plant-based diet?

A: Beans and whole grains. Ounce for ounce, there is more protein in spinach than a chicken breast.

Q: If I am on a plant-based diet, should I take supplements?

A: For people who consume only plant-based sources of fats and proteins and never eat any meat, you should take B12, an essential vitamin. It helps us with our neurologic health and helps with the development of our red blood cells. B12 is really the only nutrient you can’t get from a strict, whole-foods, plant-based diet. Any B12 will do. It’s important to have your B12 levels checked before you start taking supplements.

Q: What is the best source of vitamins?

A: The best vitamin store of all is the produce section or your garden. If you have a garden, it’s the best place to get your vitamins because when you go to the grocery store, produce likely came from California or the Valley in Mexico and probably picked way before they were ripe and have been in a container for many weeks.

You don’t necessarily have to buy organic. If you go to the grocery store and see a sign that says, “Picked from South Hadley, Mass.,” you know it’s fresh. We have plenty of local farmers markets on Cape Cod, and I highly recommend supporting our local, organic farmers markets. That’s where you really need to get your vitamins from.

Q: What are your views on adding super foods like chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds to your meals?

A: Super food is the latest watchword. I put chia seeds in my smoothies or oatmeal because they are an excellent source of protein and fat. They also have a ton of fiber. All of these ancient grains are high in nutritional value. Also, pomegranates or blueberries—anything that is deep in hue that will stain your clothes—that’s what you want to eat. That’s my quality test.

Q: Is no-fat milk better than whole milk?

A: It’s actually worse. When the milk is stripped of the fat, it doesn’t taste very good, so all you have is water and some lactose. So they add back emulsifiers to make it go down better, and they are not very good for you. If you are going to drink milk, drink the whole milk rather than the 2 percent (which gives you extra processing). If you like milk, I would recommend oat milk, which is a great alternative. It has a lot of mouth feel, and it’s not highly processed. There is also rice milk and almond milk. There are all kinds of plant-based milk that are delicious and not that expensive.

The next “Talk and Walk with a Doc,” at Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham, is scheduled for Oct. 1, 2022. For more information, visit https://www.capecodhealth.org/wellness-wise/healthy-parks-healthy-people/talk-and-walk-with-a-doc/

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