I am so excited to share this Q&A with you all! Dr. Eileen Natuzzi (on the right in the photo above) was my mom’s surgeon. Dr. Natuzzi is so special to me because of all the attention and thought she put into everything concerning my mom and our family. I felt so safe with her, she was a rock for me during this time. There were so many doctors I dealt with while my mom was in the hospital, and not all are created equal! Dr. Natuzzi made herself so generously available to us and is just an all around cool person! Bear and I really enjoyed spending time with her and meeting her awesome partner Lynne.
Towards the end of my mom’s hospital stay, I gave her my book The Kind Diet and some mykind Organics vitamins. I wasn’t sure if she’d actually read The Kind Diet, but she did and it turned her into a flirt! Now she has nearly one full year of plant-based eating under her belt! Dr. Natuzzi, thank you for letting me interview you and for all that you do!
How long have you been vegan?
I have been a vegan for just under one year.
Why did you make the change?
I went “cold turkey” in adopting a vegan diet while I was taking care of my mother who had end stage dementia, and working as a trauma and acute care surgeon. It was a demanding and emotionally exhausting time for me and I wanted to move into a more healthful diet. Meeting Alicia Silverstone and talking with her about her vegan diet and lifestyle certainly helped me make those changes. Transitioning to a plant-based diet was a logical progression for me as I had been limiting my intake of meat and other unhealthy foods for years. As a “foodie” and the chief cook in our house it was a challenge to learn where to find and how to use a whole lot of new foods.
Following the shift, did you notice impacts it immediately had on you?
Shifting my diet while traveling to work as well as traveling to care for my mother was a challenge but I felt a great deal less encumbered and no longer weighed down by a diet high in fats. The post meal sluggishness was gone. While working doing trauma surgery it is not uncommon for me to be up all night operating and treating injured people. I found my energy levels were greater with my vegan diet allowing me to keep up with the younger trauma surgeons I work with. I am far from perfect in my vegan discipline. I do slip occasionally and eat cheese. Currently I am adjusting foods to optimize essential nutrients and avoid excess caloric intake.
How has your family, friends, and co-workers responded to your diet and health changes?
My spouse has been very supportive and while she is still a meat-eater, she will eat vegan dishes that I prepare for her. If a meal passes the “Lynne test” then I know it’s a good one. She has given me vegan cook books as gifts and together we loaded up our garden this year with all kinds of good stuff. My siblings and in laws are not judgmental and are in fact curious about making the shift to a new way of cooking and eating. When we get together they make sure there is a non-meat, non-dairy option for me and I in turn introduce them to new foods. For friends and family who are not vegan and ask about it I am happy to tell them the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I also advise friends, family and patients if you can’t go total vegan then at least try to “drop the flesh from your diet.”
When your diet comes up in conversation with non-veggie friends, do you have a favored elevator pitch to encourage them to eat more plants? If so, what is it?
Here is the pitch I give: “Do you know that eating flesh and dairy products comes with a number of negative health impacts especially cancer, heart disease and stroke? Studies clearly show that a plant-based diet is a healthier one and transitioning to it can halt and even reverse some of the physical damage a poor diet has caused. Cultures that eat a plant-based diet have been shown to have lower rates of cancers and heart disease when compared with western diets. And while we cannot change our genetic predisposition toward diseases we can change what we bath those genes in by consuming a healthier diet. Consider going vegan for all the reasons out there: your health, to stop abusing animals, and to be mindful of our fragile environment. But put your health first and in doing that all the other reasons to be a vegan become co-benefits. You can choose to be an activist, or passivist, but consider making the change for your health.”
In addition to my mini lecture I also invite my non-vegetarian friends out to a vegan restaurant. I have noticed some of my friends are concerned that vegan food will be boring. I tell them it is anything but boring! Dining at a restaurant is a great way to convince friends about the good taste because they get to sample a number of different dishes.
What is a typical?
Breakfast: Oats and fruit with almond milk / tofu scramble with red and green bell pepper and smoked tempeh
Lunch: Whole wheat pita bread pocket with avocado, cucumber and tomato / a spicy asian vegetable soup loaded with carrots, bok choy, kale, shitake mushrooms, tofu and wheat soba noodles / radicchio whole wheat pizza
Dinner: Stir fried vegetables with brown rice or farro / Moroccan Couscous with saffron and Turkish spices / roasted vegetable with a mushroom burger drizzled with a tahini cheese
Snack: usually fruit but on occasion I will treat myself to Nada Moo ice cream / chips or carrots with a fresh cilantro lime garlic cashew dip
**One very important addition to my vegan diet is taking supplements daily, especially B12, plant-based iron and Vitamin C. Supplements are very important in order to avoid vitamin deficiencies.
What are some of your favorite spots to dine at (in whichever city you spend the most time)?
Where do I start?
In Encinitas (home) I like the restaurant EVE. The food is fun, fresh and healthy. It is my favorite place to take vegan curious friends. And it has passed the “Lynne test.”
Also in Encinitas is a great healthy Filipino restaurant, CARiN de RiA. They have a really delicious Sizzling tofu sisig and a vegetable coconut stew (Ginataan).
In downtown San Diego I like Donna Jean a plant-based restaurant where the Midwest meets California without a cow in sight.
In Sonoma (my second home) the restaurant Star in Glen Ellen is terrific. They have fire roasted vegetable dishes with great sauces.
In Bakersfield (when I am able to get out of the hospital) I go to Café Smitten for a wake up breakfast because their almond milk lattes and vegan breakfast burritos are so tasty. For a cool treat on one of the many over 100 degree days in Bakersfield, I get a vegan ice cream at Rosemary’s Family Creamery.
Do you have a favorite book or film that you like to share with friends who are vegan-curious?
My daily go to bible is The Kind Diet. I have a hard copy in the kitchen and a digital copy on my phone for quick reference in the store.
There is a video that Dr. Brian Pazevic, one of the anesthesiologist I work with, produced titled “Longevity Macro to Microbiome.” It is a comprehensive, evidence based discussion about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/BUf9VxN2FMg
What non-profit organizations are you energized and inspired by?
I support the Climate Reality Project and am a member of the US Climate Health Alliance.
Another new non-profit I support is the FAXY fund established in memory of a friend who recently passed away. FAXY fund supports animal rescues and scholarships for high school students who have special education challenges.
About Eileen Natuzzi
I am the second of 5 children in an Irish Italian family. I am the only doctor where most of my family are teachers and I work as a General and Trauma Surgeon in San Diego and Bakersfield, California. For the first 15 years of my career, my practice focused on treating vascular disease where I saw first hand the cumulative vascular damage that results from our animal fat diets and unhealthy choices. I recently obtained a Master in Public Health in order to become more involved in a preventive approach toward health.
In my spare time I enjoy gardening, writing and walking as an exercise. I confess I am an avid gamer, as a way to keep my laparoscopic dexterity skills up and to have fun. I love a challenge so switching to cooking and preparing a vegan diet has introduced me to new foods, new techniques and new places to shop.