Plants Can Change Your Life

What if I told you that plants could change your life? That your body can thrive on plants and you can reach an overall sense of well-being beyond anything you have ever imagined?

These were the questions Rip Esselstyn posed to our associates at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) during a worksite health presentation in May. A nationally-recognized health advocate, and former world-class professional triathlete and firefighter, Rip is passionate about eating plants. Though he grew up in a family that, as Rip says, “ate everything under the sun—ice cream, soda pop, pork chops,” their diet changed when his father, a physician, began researching ways to prevent and reverse heart disease. What his father found was astonishing. “Cultures in rural China, Japan, and Central Africa that didn’t have heart disease and stroke all had one thing in common,” Rip says. “They ate a primarily plant-based diet. No meat, no processed foods, no dairy.”

The idea of not having hamburgers and chicken can be difficult for many people to consider. And when you need to give up cheese and other dairy products too…well, it can be easy to dismiss the idea completely. However, there are many reasons to try it, or at least try to make plants and whole foods a bigger part of your diet.

Current research supports that eating whole plant foods is the most effective way to prevent and sometimes even reverse heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases, as well as sustain optimum weight.

Rip’s energy and motivation inspired over 10 percent of the BCBSRI workforce to take his “28-Day Challenge” and adopt a plant-based diet for four weeks.

So, what was on the menu? Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, 100 percent whole-wheat bread, etc.), legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, etc.), all vegetables, and fruits, as well as nuts and seeds in small amounts. What was out? All highly processed foods (like vegetable oils, white flours, sugar, etc.) and animal products (including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs) were eliminated.

The results were astounding. Over 75 percent of our participants lost between 2 and 14 pounds—but it wasn’t all about the weight loss. Over 50 percent of participants reduced their total cholesterol between 12 and 52 points, and reduced their “bad” cholesterol (LDL) between 10 and 53 points! More than half of participants also noted more energy, a better overall sense of well-being, improved digestion, and clearer skin, fewer migraines, improved athletic performance, and more sensitive taste buds, as well as less hunger, fatigue, and joint pain.

Sheila, a BCBSRI participant, said, “I will remain plant-based 75-80 percent of the time with exceptions of holidays, social events, and restaurants.” In the 28 days, she lost 5 pounds, reduced her total cholesterol by 43 points, and reduced her LDL cholesterol by 53 points. Ennio, another BCBSRI associate, says he plans on staying “plant-strong.” During the Challenge, he lost 8 pounds, reduced his total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and lowered his blood pressure. And now three months after the Challenge, he is down a total of 20 pounds!

Dieting is always a difficult task, especially for those of us who are always on-the-go. However, nutrition is a critical part to living a healthy lifestyle, and comes down to understanding and planning for what you put in your body and how it affects you.

I encourage you to put more plants on your plate! And how about taking on a plant-based challenge for 28 days? Or 14 days? Or maybe just for 7 days? Your body will thank you for that. For more information on plant-based nutrition, visit Rip’s website at And see the tips below on how to get started.

* Please check with your healthcare provider before making changes to your diet.

Narine Lemme is a passionate plant-based enthusiast who lives in Rhode Island with her husband and three plant-strong kids. Narine brought her passion into the workplace and established the role of Manager of Associate Wellness at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, a position recently developed under the leadership of BCBSRI Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Dick Kropp. 

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