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Get Healthy Pittsburgh gets folks curious about a plant-based diet – TribLIVE

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It can be quite difficult to make a lifestyle change, but at least 70 people did just that with Get Healthy Pittsburgh when they embarked on a seven-day challenge of plant-based eating.

It was a challenge created by Humane Action Pittsburgh. They had their celebration and reveal night this week after holding the challenge from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20.

Barbara Ernsberger and her husband did the challenge for the second time.

Her goal the first time was to lose weight. In combination with the lifestyle change and exercise, she was able to lose 70 pounds.

But it wasn’t just about the weight loss, Ernsberger said: “You feel better, you are doing something for yourself and seeing these positive results, so it creates this positive feedback.”

The challenge allowed Ernsberger and her husband to explore cooking South Asian meals and they began shopping at Salem’s Market. However challenge participants could find the recommended foods at any grocer.

This time, she’s fine-tuning her knowledge of plant-based eating.

“Anyone can do this,” she said.

This is the third iteration of Get Healthy Pittsburgh, an annual seven-day, plant-based challenge where everyone is welcome.

This year they offered the program on a “pay-what-you-can” basis — even if that was nothing. They offer biometric screenings before and after the challenge so participants can see tangible health improvements.

The event was funded through public donations as well as a grant from A Well-Fed World, which is an international hunger relief and food security organization, and the animal welfare organization Humane Action Pittsburgh.

Local partners were Integrated Health 21, The Latin American Cultural Center, Summon Health, and Plant-Based Pittsburgh.

“We understand that animal issues are interconnected with so many other issues, including human health,” Natalie Ahwesh said, executive director of Humane Action Pittsburgh.

“We encourage people to eliminate animal products from their lifestyle — not only because they are helping animals by not eating them, but also because that has proven to be the best diet for us.

We want people to see that connection, and then this also helps climate action goals,” Ahwesh said.

The Latin American Cultural Center hosted the kickoff and reveal party Wednesday night. Humane Action Pittsburgh also did a “lunch-and-learn” for employees prior to the challenge to explain the event and plant-based diets.

While the challenge was focused on eliminating animal products, it is also about encouraging a whole food, plant-based lifestyle.

Integrated Heath 21 conducted the biometric screenings. Sandra Sobel, an endocrinologist and CEO of Summon Health in Bloomfield, and provided meal plans that were plant-based and high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and met protein targets.

The meal plans left room for participants to try new things. One of the meals was a scrambled tofu.

Sobel wanted to make sure that the participants weren’t thinking of the challenge as something radical, or boring in flavor.

“It can’t be radical, because radical is unsustainable,” Sobel said.

“One of things that has been happening in the modern health system there really isn’t enough time during these regular doctor visits,” Sobel said, “A lot of the importance of how lifestyle can impact health gets lost.”

People don’t always understand that making healthy choices can reverse some of the complicated health conditions that they have.

Sobel’s passion is cardio metabolic health.

“There’s a lot of impact from nutrition and exercise on the levels of someone’s blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol,” she said.

Sobel recommends for a healthy cholesterol to maintain having triglycerides and LDLs less than 100 to prevent long-term complications.

For Plant-Based Pittsburgh, this event aligned perfectly with their mission to adopt and sustain healthy habits.

Once the participants finish the program they connect with the group to sustain plant-based eating habits.

They can get recipes, participate in pot luck meals, and cooking classes. They also have monthly meetings, which take place at the Murrysville Library and the Green Tree Library.

Sally Lipsky, nutrition educator from Plant-Based Pittsburgh, introduced the program to the employees at the Latin American Cultural Center in the Schenley Farms Historic District. She led a meditation with “gentle yoga,” emphasizing the idea of being kind to yourself.

Lipsky defines plant-based eating as healthy eating. She advocates for eating veggies, grains, legumes and fruits, using minimal salt, oil, sugar and processed foods.

“Plant-based eating is so vital,” Lipsky said. “80% of chronic diseases are due to lifestyle impacted by what we are eating. A plant-based lifestyle has been shown to have fewer rates of disease and stronger cognitive and emotional health.”

Sobel focuses on how food can be used as medicine: “Let’s eat real food — mostly plants — and watch how your health transforms.”

At Summon Health, Sobel has a teaching kitchen where she works with patients to try out and prepare healthy foods.

“It’s all about empowerment,” she said.

Sobel’s family came from Perú, and she is first-generation American. She grew up outside of Chicago.

“For my community, we are disproportionately affected, as many ethnic minorities are, by cardio metabolic disease, by fatty liver disease, by Type 2 diabetes, (and) we are seeing soaring rates of childhood obesity.

We can use the foods we are familiar with, like arroz con frijoles, that we enjoy without adding all this additional sugar, salt and fat,” she said. “We can reclaim health in that way.”

Citing a Mediterranean diet as the healthiest way to eat doesn’t mean anything to Sobel’s family in Perú.

“Talking about it in those terms — that we can get our fiber from our beans and the lentils that we love, and we can choose our brown rice over the white rice, and when we have our potatoes, just make sure that the skin is on,” she said, that makes the difference.

Shaylah Brown is a TribLive reporter covering art, culture and communities of color. A New Jersey native, she joined the Trib in 2023. When she’s not working, Shaylah dives into the worlds of art, wellness and the latest romance novels. She can be reached at [email protected].

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