Changes for a Healthier You

By Saska Sookra Winslow MD –

“And the hospital cafeteria is all vegetarian”. What?! It was February 2000 and I had flown to Loma Linda California for a medical school interview at Loma Linda University. Though I had been exposed to vegetarian cooking growing up, this was a first for me, seeing plant-based eating on a corporate scale.

Eight months later, I was blessed to be part of the incoming class of new medical students at Loma Linda University. Medical school and residency prepared me well to take care of my patients.  However, it wasn’t until I was in practice as a family physician, that I realized how important nutrition was.

We have an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer in our country. I wanted to be able to help my patients more, not just with more medicines and surgery. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.”

In 2011, the movie Forks Over Knives came out. This was a documentary on the health benefits of a vegan diet. The evidence was convincing for a vegan lifestyle.  I started to work on my diet as well.

One of my patients, Mr. M. had suffered with high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, fatty liver disease and sleep apnea. I showed him a clip of Forks Over Knives after discussing his labs and his interest was piqued. Three months later, he came back, 35 pounds lighter, no longer needing blood pressure medications or a CPAP machine. His liver function tests had normalized and he just felt better!

Success stories as this one and seeing the evidence for a vegan diet, continue to encourage me to make plant-based choices on a regular basis. I still like steak but now we have so many delicious choices and alternatives for eating plant based.

My advice to those who are contemplating a vegetarian/vegan dietary change:

  1. Feed your mind first – find books, movies and articles to inspire and encourage you in your journey to a healthier diet.
  2. Surround yourself with like-minded people – this may come in a fitness group or an online community on Facebook, but the key is keeping yourself accountable and supported.
  3. Know Thyself – One size does not fit all. Some people may be able to make a drastic change and stick with it. Others may like to dip their toes in the water so to speak and have a more gradual transition.
  4. Commit to trying new vegetarian/vegan recipes weekly so you will build a repertoire of delicious plant-based meals.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Know that the road to healthy eating is a marathon, not a sprint. Each meal is a choice. If you fail, stand up, dust yourself off and keep going. You can do this!

Here are three recipes that are on my list of plant-based meals:

  1. Holiday Nut Loaf
  2. Mock Salmon Spread
  3. Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Holiday Nut Loaf – This is a good entrée for a Sunday meal or a holiday meal, served with mashed potatoes, cranberries and gravy. There is no oil in this recipe other than from the nuts. This is one of Jim and Neva Brackett’s recipes from the Seven Secrets Cookbook that I love.

1 cup tofu and ½ cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos or 2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground sage or Italian seasoning
3-4 cups soft whole grain bread
2 cups pecans (may use walnuts, almonds or cashews)
2 cups finely chopped onions


  1. Blend tofu with water, garlic and seasonings.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add blended tofu and mix well.
  3. Place mix in a non-stick or lightly oiled loaf pan. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F for one hour.
  4. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
  5. Top the nut loaf with the sweet tomato topping and bake for another 5 minutes
  6. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes to give it a chance to set up before removing from pan.


Sweet Tomato Topping

8 ounce can crushed pineapple
8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
½ teaspoon basil
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Blend together in the food processor and use for the topping for the nut loaf.

Mock Salmon Spread

Mock Salmon Spread

This is great for dipping for veggies or for crackers or sliced bread for an open-faced sandwich. Pair a slice of bread with the spread and add a bowl of vegetable soup and you have simple and healthy vegan meal.

2 cups raw almonds
1 cup raw carrot pieces
½ to ¾ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ celery stalks, cut in pieces
2 tablespoons of dried chives
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika

1-2 tablespoons Wright’s Hickory Seasoning or other Hickory smoked seasoning (optional)

  1. Place almonds, water, lemon juice and ½ cup of carrot pieces in blender or food processor. Blend into a puree.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend briefly to grind the carrots and celery into a spreadable consistency. Add chives last and blend a few seconds to mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Vegan Shepherd’s Pie – This is a healthier alternative to the traditional shepherd’s pie. My kids really enjoy this recipe. I found this recipe in Vegan for Everybody – America’s test kitchen

2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup minced fresh chives
4 ounces white mushrooms trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons of red grape juice or Madeira
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups vegetable broth
2 carrots peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
12 ounces vegan protein crumbles broken into small pieces

  1. Cover potatoes with water in large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to simmer over medium-high heat, and cook until potatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes and return to now empty saucepan. Using potato masher, mash potatoes until smooth, then stir in almond milk, 2 tablespoons oil and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and set aside.
  3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in broiler safe 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook until bottom of skillet is dark brown, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in red grape juice or Madeira and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, carrots, Worcestershire, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently until carrots and mushrooms are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Discard thyme- sprigs and bay leaf, stir in vegan crumbles and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Adjust oven rack 5 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Spoon mashed potatoes and spread over vegetable and vegan crumble mixture. Can use a silicone spatula to do this. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet and broil until potatoes and golden and slightly crusty for about 5 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Changes to a Healthier You
Saska Sookra Winslow MD
LifeStream Family Medicine
1957 Worth Court
Bradenton FL 34211
Phone: 941-755-0433



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