Gratitude — Start each day by acknowledging the things you are thankful for: an easy breath, sunlight streaming through a window, family, health, a second chance, or whatever you hold dear. What we focus on is amplified.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sherra Aguirre author of Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease.
Sherra founded and led a successful business for three decades, winning national awards for entrepreneurship, innovation, and service excellence, before selling the company in 2016 to focus on her passion for healthy diet and lifestyle. Having researched and read extensively about food related chronic diseases, Sherra eliminated her hypertension, despite family history, by making changes in her diet and self-care. As a health enthusiast, environmentalist, and food justice advocate, Aguirre writes about the healing qualities of compassion, simplicity, gratitude, and the ripple effect vegan eating can have on individuals, families, and communities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thank you. I grew up watching family members struggle with heart disease. My maternal grandfather died of a massive heart attack in his late fifties and my grandmother had a stroke in her seventies that led to partial paralysis. On my father’s side of the family, one aunt died of an aneurism and another from a simultaneous stroke and heart attack; and two younger cousins died suddenly in their forties from heart attacks. My parents were on high blood pressure medicines for as long as I could remember. As a result, I began to read everything I could relating to cardiovascular disease and its causes, particularly diet and lifestyle factors.
I had been mostly vegetarian since the age of thirty and initially thought eliminating meat alone would allow me to avoid the heart disease my family struggled with. In Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease I share that in my fifties I was shocked when my blood pressure started to creep upward. I was fortunate to get a referral to a cardiologist who used whole plant-based nutrition to help his patients reduce or eliminate medications. He used a science-based food and nutrition plan to treat the root cause of the problem — the inflammation caused by a diet high in processed foods and animal products, including dairy. It took some time, but I eliminated all medication and achieved normal blood pressure levels. As an unexpected surprise, I also got rid of arthritis pain, sinus congestion, bronchitis and headaches.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
My role as a plant-based health advocate and author is now my second career. Getting my book published as a first-time author has been the most surprising part of the journey, and the part for which I am most grateful. Early in the writing process I found cookbook editor Marah Stets who saw value in my story and the importance of the issue of heart disease. She introduced me to a network of highly talented and accomplished women who are industry veterans in the areas of publishing, editing, illustration, and marketing who made their skills and advice available. It was their encouragement and confidence in me that helped me get my story on the page and my book to market. The lesson for me was that when we follow a big dream, we attract the people and resources to manifest it.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes! My initial draft of the book was focused on the science of plant-based nutrition and its ability to prevent and reverse the epidemics of lifestyle illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. It was very focused on studies and data which for me were very compelling. One of the women who advised me was a book agent, who along with a couple of good friends who were also writers, told me that people may be interested in health data, but that is not why they will make a change to a healthier diet and lifestyle. And since that was the primary reason for writing the book, I had to learn a different style of writing that was more accessible and story driven. Had I not been given that advice, we would probably not have had this interview!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In addition to the mentors I met on my publishing journey, and my family, I am most grateful to my cardiologist who eight years ago provided me a food plan to improve my heart health and eliminate medications. Dr. Baxter Montgomery has done this for many patients as a patient education addition to his traditional practice of cardiology. He was also gracious enough to provide a blurb of support for my book.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Even before the Covid 19 pandemic, we were in the middle of a health crisis of preventable food and lifestyle illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many common cancers. These epidemics have strained our health care system for decades with no end in sight. Choosing a whole plant-based diet is the single most important thing we can do for our own health, that of our communities and for a healthy environment.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Self-Care — Treat yourself with kindness, care and acceptance. It is the first step toward compassion for yourself and others.
- Connection — Find common ground with others outside your usual circle of friends and family. Hear their stories and find shared experiences.
- Meditation — This can take many forms. Create the space to quiet your mind and spend time away from daily activity — in a park, by a river, or a quiet space in your own home.
- Gratitude — Start each day by acknowledging the things you are thankful for: an easy breath, sunlight streaming through a window, family, health, a second chance, or whatever you hold dear. What we focus on is amplified.
- Service — Support someone facing a challenge or be of service to a cause or organization you care about. Helping others expands feelings of love and connection.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The movement for a plant-based diet has always been with us historically, and for the last decade has been rapidly gaining momentum. What is exciting and encouraging is that it has now converged with the effort to end the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and obesity; with the growing concern over animal abuse; and with the science regarding the impact of our diet on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water and air pollution. The purpose of my advocacy is to share the message that making this one choice will have the most impact on human health, compassion for animals, and the health of our planet.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Before I started my book and focus on health advocacy, I wish someone had told me that…
- This would be an incredibly challenging and expansive chapter in my life and so worth the effort.
- Resources and people would show up when I needed them most, and sometimes before I knew I needed them.
- My appreciation for a vegan lifestyle would become fuller and more meaningful.
- Starting a new career as an author and activist at 70+ is totally logical when motivated by purpose and passion.
- Learning new things and adapting to change can keep us vibrant at any age!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
They are all very interconnected. Our biggest threat is that we are moving ever closer to environmental destruction to the point that human life on Earth would be unsupportable. That said, veganism is my focus because most people are not aware of the huge role of our food system, particularly large scale animal agriculture, plays in climate change. Consider a few facts:
- Meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, but use 83% of farmland, while 850 million people go to bed hungry every night.
- Going vegan for just two-thirds of meals while still occasionally eating animal products would cut food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by almost 60 percent.
- According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock generate 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions — more than the entire transport sector, automobiles, trains, ships, and planes.
It turns out that what we eat will do more to determine a livable future on Earth for our grandchildren than what we drive.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!