California Lawyers Association

Consider a Plant-Based Diet for Health and Wellness

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Are you curious about the link between plant-based diets and health? Are you looking for ways to incorporate more plant-based foods into your daily meal plans? Our Health and Wellness Committee (HWC) is delighted to share some of its recent research with you.

In its formative year (2019-20), the committee has assembled a passionate and diverse group of volunteers determined to positively impact the wellness of legal professionals. The group identified several areas of wellness on which to focus, most of which are represented on the HWC web page with a collection of resources. One of these topics is physical wellness – more specifically, dietary health.

Gary Laturno, HWC member and past chair of the CLA Real Property Law Section, shared with the committee his enthusiasm for plant-based diets. Gary was a fitness advisor of the FBI for 3-4 years in his last assignment in San Diego before going into private law practice. His mother died of a stroke in her mid-forties and her father died of a stroke at 42. Gary’s father lived to the ripe old age of 86 but Gary noticed how miserable his father was for the last decade of his life. When Gary would ask doctors what he could do, if anything, to avoid a similar fate, he would receive responses like, “I don’t know,” “it’s genetic,” or “it’s a natural part of aging.” Gary did not accept this to be his future and so began his search for more information.

The HWC made its webinar debut during the 2020 Lawyer Wellbeing Week (May 4-8). Gary Laturno was joined by special guest Lera Blevins, Esq. to discuss how to conquer chronic disease and preexisting conditions as well as how to approach a plant-based diet. This session was an informal follow-up to an MCLE webinar Gary gave in early April 2020, Conquering Chronic Disease & Preexisting Conditions in the Age of COVID-19. Gary shared some of the science behind plant-based diets and parts of his personal journey toward adopting a plant-based diet. Lera shared how she worked toward adopting a plant-based diet for her family (including an active police officer spouse and infant son) and gave some suggestions to replace animal products on your plate with plant-based alternatives. See the full conversation immediately below!

As his journey continued, Gary learned a great deal about true avenues to reverse chronic disease. Many of the facts he faced pointed to power through plant-based diets:

  • Certain areas of the world have almost no cases of heart or chronic diseases. What was common among these less impacted regions was low-fat, plant-based diets essentially void of any animal products.
  • Many high-fat, animal products, and sugary foods are highly addictive to humans, making the “everything in moderation” approach a slippery slope.
  • We are not destined to die from the same diseases as our ancestors. “Genes are the seeds; nutrition is the fertilizer.”
  • There are no nutrients in animal foods that are not better provided by plants, including protein.

Later in life Gary found himself with rising blood pressure and cholesterol, and a knee without any cartilage. When Gary asked his doctor if there was an alternative to surgery and long-term medications, his doctor said there may be dietary changes Gary could make, but that the doctor had no expertise or training on the matter. One might be able to conclude that there are financial or economic incentives for our health care professionals to study and therefore promote surgery and prescription drugs. As our next medical professional, Dr. Vanita Rahman, points out, the knowledge gap is primarily a product of medical school curriculum glossing over the subject. 

In July the HWC was pleased to host a webinar with Dr. Vanita Rahman, a certified nutritionist, personal trainer, and board-certified internal medicine physician, practicing at the Barnard Medical Center. Dr. Rahman moved to the United States from India as a pre-teen, adopting the American diet and leaving behind the vegetarian diet and active lifestyle her family once had. Before the age of 30 she had weight issues, cancer and was in need of multiple knee surgeries. Similar to Gary, she was confounded that her own health care team had not mentioned plant-based diets. As a medical professional herself, Dr. Rahman looked into why so few doctors are suggesting lifestyle improvements like plant-based diets. It turns out that during medical school approximately 19.6 hours are dedicated to nutrition education, which makes up less than 1% of the total educational hours (on average). Of those 19+ hours, most are focused on biochemistry, so it’s no wonder doctors do not know about plant-based diets and their benefits!

Dr. Rahman finished her presentation by connecting the dots between the rise in greenhouse gases (global warming) and the consumption and production of animal products and meat. In brief, the emissions from growing and distributing plant products is minimal in comparison to the emissions from growing feed for, raising, and distributing animals for consumption. See Dr. Rahman’s full presentation, Benefits of Plant-Based Diets, immediately below!

Since embracing a whole food, plant-based diet, Gary has experienced improvements across the board: blood pressure and total cholesterol levels dropped; energy levels went up; no surgery needed to address his knee and comfort when exerting himself; and his weight dropped by almost 40 pounds! Click on “Finding the Right Motivator” below to see a partial list of many reasons why a person would want to break free from unhealthy eating habits from Dr. Barnard’s book, Breaking the Food Seduction.

Finding the Right Motivator
  • Your family and friends will have a healthier you;
  • You will slim down;
  • You will cut your risk of cancer;
  • You will reverse heart disease;
  • You might prevent or reverse back pain;
  • You will stay young sexually;
  • You can prevent or reverse diabetes;
  • You can reduce blood pressure;
  • You will have regular bowel movements;
  • You will be safer from food-borne illnesses;
  • You will keep stronger bones;
  • You will reduce menstrual symptoms;
  • You will be healthier in old age;
  • You will be more likely to make it to old age;
  • You will find new and exciting tastes;
  • You will save money;
  • You will save serious money in direct medical costs attributable to animal food consumption. 
  • You will be kind to animals; more than one million are eaten every hour in the U.S., according to the Department of Agriculture data.

The Health and Wellness Committee continues to pursue additional programming and education opportunities for CLA members regarding plant-based diets. Here is a peek at what we have coming up:

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 @ 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that afflict us can be controlled or even reversed by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. Join the CLA’s Health and Wellness Committee from the comfort of your home for a free viewing of this documentary!

The story line traces the personal journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. On separate paths, their discoveries and groundbreaking research led them to the same startling conclusion: Chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes can almost always be prevented—and in many cases reversed—by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet.

The idea of food as medicine is put to the test. The film follows everyday Americans with chronic conditions as they seek to reduce their dependence on medications and learn to use a whole-food, plant-based diet to regain control over their health and their lives.

With Dr. Anthony Lim

Tuesday, October 30, 2020 @ 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

It’s the food! Currently, approximately 86% of U.S. health care costs are attributable to chronic disease. Over 70% of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese; 50% have either prediabetes or diabetes, and coronary artery disease continues to be the #1 cause of death for men and women in the U.S. The tragedy of these dismal figures is that the majority of chronic illness in the U.S. could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle changes, especially in the area of nutrition. A whole-food, plant-based diet has demonstrated the ability to prevent and reverse the majority of chronic illnesses. This session will explain what a whole-food, plant-based diet is, the evidence supporting its ability to reverse chronic illness and radically improve one’s health, and practical steps for adopting this lifelong joyful way of eating.

  • A Conversation with Dr. Michael Klaper

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 @12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Details and registration information coming soon!

As the shelter-in-place persists, we have heard frustration and/or lament from members over weight management, limitations on physical activity, and burnout from cooking at home (due to quarantining or having more mouths to feed at home with schools being closed for in-person learning). HWC member and Program Supervisor of the State Bar of California’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), Michelle Harmon, shared with us some plant-based recipes that have been a huge hit with her kids. If you would like to make these recipes without any animal products, you can use a plant-based alternative (e.g. Kite Hill, Almond Breeze, Silk, etc.) or simply omit the ingredient. Click “Kid Approved Recipes” below to see the three recipes Michelle suggests!

Kid Approved Recipes


Please see below a few recipes that my kids love. They are all vegetarian/vegan. The first two are just recipes we made up or adapted from others and they are really easy. The last came from a friend of mine who got it out of a cookbook so it has been published but I don’t know who to attribute it to. It is more time-consuming, but my kids love it.

Hummus and Pita “Faces”

My kids love to make faces out of the below ingredients on a pita. The portions are approximate. It can be made vegan by leaving out the feta. You also probably don’t have to make a face, but can layer like a pizza or split the pita and make a sandwich.


1 container hummus

1 cucumber, peeled if desired and sliced into sticks or coins

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives

6 sliced mini sweet peppers

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

6 pieces naan or whole wheat pita bread


Allow kids to arrange ingredients as desired. I spread the hummus on a whole pita and put the other ingredients in different bowls and they will decorate the face with what they like best (i.e. cherry tomato eyes, cucumber stick mouth and feta hair).

Avocado Pasta


12 ounces angel hair whole wheat or protein pasta

2 ripe avocados, flesh scooped out

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

2-6 cloves garlic, to taste

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved


Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well.

Combine avocados, basil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and blend with hand-held immersion blender (or use a food processor).

With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until emulsified.

In a large bowl, combine pasta, avocado sauce, and cherry tomatoes.

Serve immediately.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie


1 Tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, crushed

¾ cup green lentils, rinsed

14 oz can crushed tomatoes

2 ½ cups vegetable stock

2/3 cup water

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp light brown sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup frozen green peas (optional)


2 lb. potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

1 ½ Tbsp butter

¼ cup milk

Beaten egg or shredded Cheddar cheese


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions and carrots until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, stock, water, tomato paste, soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, then mash well with the butter and milk.

Season the lentils to taste with pepper and stir in the peas, if using. Divide among four to six ramekins or other small baking dishes. Spread the mashed potatoes over the lentils and mark ridges with a fork. Cool, then refrigerate. Or, cover with plastic wrap and freeze; thaw overnight in the refrigerator when needed.

To cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the pies on a baking sheet, brush the tops with beaten egg (or sprinkle with cheese), and bake until golden and piping hot, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and check the temperature before serving.

Don’t forget that there is an online community dedicated to Health and Wellness! Join the conversation, share your success stories, crowd source healthy recipes, and so much more. If you have any questions about the Health and Wellness Committee, feel free to reach out to CLA’s Initiatives Coordinator, Lauren Elledge.


If you are interested in learning more about plant-based diets, please consider the resources noted below:

  • Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings–And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally, by Dr. Neal D. Barnard
  • The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II
  • How Not to Die, by Michael Greger, MD
  • , from Dr. Michael Greger
  • Overdosed America; The Broken Promise of American Medicine, by John Abramson
  • Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.
  • Rethink Food: 100+ Doctors Can’t Be Wrong, by Shushana Castle and Amy-Lee Goodman
  • The Starch Solution, by Dr. John McDougall
  • Undo It: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, by Dr. Dean Ornish and Anne Ornish

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