Wellness 360 to launch Green Wellness Program

Cooking classes and support from group sessions make a greener, healthier lifestyle possible.

The School of Nursing’s Wellness 360 clinic is introducing a holistic, plant-based approach to wellness with the new Green Wellness Program: Plants-2-Plate.

The new program will launch its pilot sessions on Sept. 17 with cohorts from the School of Nursing, and plans for a second cohort open to all starting in October. Participants enrolled in the six-month program are challenged to follow a whole food, plant-based nutrition plan. A plant-based diet is not vegan or vegetarian, but does focus on eating foods that come primarily from plants, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes.

“Switching to a predominantly plant-based diet can have significant benefits for people living with chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension or obesity,” said Heidi Benavides, MSN, RN, CMSRN, director of the Green Wellness Program, health coach and clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing.

After researching plant-based nutrition and implementing the diet in her own life, Benavides began noticing an incongruity with her patients in recovery.

“I would see my patients in the hospital that just came back from a cardiac procedure because they had blocked coronary arteries, and in the recovery room they’re being served refined carbs, chicken and pork, all the things that are not correcting the underlying cause of their disease,” Benavides said. “By getting people on a plant-based diet, we’re helping to fix the underlying problem rather than putting a band-aid on the problem with invasive measures like surgery.”

Comprehensive studies like the China Study and the EPIC-Oxford show that the more fruits and vegetables a person consumes, the better their health outcomes are, while high consumption of refined carbohydrates and processed meats are strongly correlated with poorer health outcomes.  Plant-based diets have also been shown to decrease the risk for cancer and chronic diseases, and have even led to some diabetic patients to no longer need medication, Benavides said.

With this in mind, Benavides reached out to her colleague, Christiane Meireles, PhD, RD, LD, registered dietitian and clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, to help her put together a program with a new, preventive wellness approach.

“This will not be just a weight management program,” Dr. Meireles said. “It goes beyond that. It’s a program that can really make people healthier in all senses, physically and mentally.”

She noted that the program will focus on making small changes that will have big impacts, and take cultural aspects into account, which is especially important in a region that loves Tex-Mex food and red meat.
“In order to be successful and make a long-term impact, we want to teach people how to incorporate plant-based eating with their preferences and elements from their culture in mind,” Dr. Meireles said.

To accomplish this, the program will offer virtual cooking classes that will teach participants easy recipes and coach them on how to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes into dishes they already love. The program also encourages a strong support system, and includes in-person group sessions that will help participants to build accountability and learn from each other. In addition to nutrition planning, participants will also be coached on ways to reduce stress through meditation, proper sleep, yoga and journaling.

Along with Benavides and Dr. Meireles, nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor, Paula Christianson-Silva, DNP, FNP-BC, ANP-BC, completes the team of experts for the program, monitoring health stats and serving as the health care provider for participants.

“This is going to be a very supportive environment,” Benavides said. “The whole team is excited and eager to get involved with the participants’ health goals and help them on their journey to healthy lifestyle change.”

Those interested in joining the program may sign up by completing the Green Wellness Program: Plants-2-Plate online form. For more information, please contact Heidi Benavides, MSN, RN, CMSRN, at benavidesh@uthscsa.edu, or call Wellness 360 at 210-567-2788.

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