Interview with Dr. Danielle Belardo, The Veggie MD

Danielle Belardo

Danielle Belardo MD is a Cardiology Fellow, and American Board of Internal Medicine, Board Certified Physician. She advocates for plant-based nutrition to prevent and reverse heart disease in addition to traditional cardiovascular care. She started a plant based preventative cardiology clinic at Lankenau Medical Center, in Philadelphia PA, where her patients are empowered to make lifestyle modification using evidence-based nutrition.

How long have you been vegan and why did you go vegan?

I have been plant-based for pretty much my entire adult life. I never particularly liked meat products, and after learning more about evidence based nutrition, I became fully plant-based myself. Then over time, after learning more about the terrors of factory farming and the dairy industry, being vegan became a part of my entire life. I became more mindful of everything, from the beauty products I use, to the clothes I wear. And now I can’t imagine living my life any other way.

What results/benefits have you seen by going vegan?

I am incredibly busy, and as a Cardiology fellow, I work long days, long nights on call, and it can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. I can’t imagine being able to perform at work being fueled by any other diet. I have so much energy from eating a whole food plant-based diet, that I truly feel it has impacted not only my ability to focus on my patients and clinical responsibilities, but it provides me the ability to have the energy after work to dedicate toward fitness and working out, which is incredibly important to me.

Are there any foods you miss? If so, how do you deal with it?

To be incredibly honest and transparent, I do not miss a single food that is derived from animal products. Literally, not one.

Do you have any favorite vegan food brands?

I tend to focus on whole foods, so a lot of my favorite foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and I don’t particularly subscribe to any company for any individual items. I do try to eat locally sourced produce when possible, and eat fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Do you find any challenges being vegan?

Luckily I haven’t found it difficult to be vegan. My entire family and my friends are mostly plant-based, so I am fortunate in that I live in a little bit of a bubble where birthdays, and holidays, are rather easy. I am thankful that so many people in my life have transitioned to plant-based eating, and we can explore this incredible world of healthful eating together.

What is your typical breakfast?

It truly depends on the day, and this varies greatly depending on my schedule. If I know I am going to be in a long day of procedures, I will try to eat a bigger breakfast and usually prep some overnight oats loaded with fruit, nuts and seeds to give me a lot of energy through the day.

What is your favorite dinner?

I am pretty simple when it comes to plant-based eating, and I enjoy fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes without a lot of fancy flair. I love a simple bowl of quinoa, lentils (black lentils are my favorite!), greens: spinach, kale, you name it, Brussels sprouts, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, some avocado, maybe some tofu and throw a little tahini and lemon on there, and I am a happy girl.

What are some favorite vegan “treats” you allow yourself?

Vanilla cashew milk ice cream!

What’s your favorite quick energy snack to tide you over if you’re hungry between meals?

Berries! I absolutely love raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. They are easy to snack on all day, and give you tons of energy with antioxidants and gut healthy fiber to keep you powering through the day.

Have you been inspired by any other vegans?

So many vegans have been an inspiration to me. Physicians like Dr. Michelle McMacken, Rob Ostfeld, Mauricio Gonzalez, Joel Kahn, Kim Williams, Neal Barnard, Michael Greger, Garth Davis and Caldwell Esselstyn to name a few.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of going plant-based?

Give it a try, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to stick to, and you’ll enjoy a whole new world of food. Try meal planners like Forks Over Knives, to help make the process easier and find recipes you enjoy!

And if you don’t think you can go all in right away, try to do a meatless Monday, then meatless two days a week, and so on. You’ll be surprised how much you’re looking forward to your meatless days, and before you know it you may give up meat and dairy completely!

I think it’s important for people who are younger, to start to focus on nutrition as not just a treatment for chronic disease down the line, but to focus on the importance of prevention. Fatty streaks appear in arteries in children, and heart disease develops over time. Prevention is the best form of treatment, and so much of coronary heart disease is preventable, but prevention starts now. A whole food plant-based diet in addition to lifestyle modification with exercise, can help to prevent a lifetime of chronic disease.

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