Shawnee resident benefits from hospital's food education program

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star
Leslie Coots, at center, completed the Veggie Rx program offered by SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee.

According to an old, popular adage, “You only get one shot; make it count.”

Taking care of one's body is a lifelong journey; one of the vital aspects to achieving that, is proper food education — and who better to lead that charge than Shawnee's hospital?

Veggie Rx is a program introduced to the community last year by SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee, in conjunction with Blue Zones Project of Pottawatomie County and the Avedis Foundation.

The program connects the medical system and the food sector by creating a relationship between medical staff, their patients, and local grocers in encouraging patients to make healthier food choices, with an emphasis on increased consumption of fresh produce, Blue Zones Project Engagement Lead Korie Perez said.

Participating health care providers write prescriptions for their patients to eat more fruits and vegetables, Perez said, which are filled at participating grocery stores at no cost to the patients.

Participants also receive virtual nutrition educational opportunities including cooking demonstrations, grocery store tours and resource information sessions. To help measure the medical benefits of the program, participants engage in pre- and post-lab work, as well as weight and BMI measurement, Perez explained.

When Shawnee native Leslie Coots enrolled in the Veggie Rx program, she said she expected to save a few dollars on her grocery bills — but she ended up transforming her life.

Coots said she has struggled with her weight and associated health issues for much of her life.

She grew up with a traditional meat-and-potatoes diet, with plenty of red meats, fried foods and starchy breads, she said — but little produce.

Coots said for years the majority of her meals consisted mostly of fast food and prepackaged foods due to the perceived ease of preparation and low cost.

“People avoid fruits and vegetables because they think they are too expensive or it takes too much time to prepare them,” she said. “This is absolutely the perception I had prior to participating in Veggie Rx.”

Coots said she learned about Veggie Rx through the Blue Zones Project. She said she decided to participate in order to add years to her life through better health.

A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribe, Coots had attended occasional cooking demonstrations offered by the tribe.

“But nothing on the scale of the comprehensive 12-week Veggie Rx program,” she said.

The produce prescriptions are an essential component of Veggie Rx, but there’s much more to the program, Coots said.

“The educational aspects of Veggie Rx have proven invaluable to my health and well-being — the Zoom meetings, Facebook Live sessions, recipes, tips and group learning in such a supportive environment,” she said. “The program felt customized for me since I was able to ask questions relevant to my own history and dietary preferences.”

Coots said she found the teachings on more informed grocery shopping to be particularly helpful.

“Veggie Rx dispels myths and concerns about the expense and complication of healthy shopping, as you are educated as to exactly what to look for on labels and what to avoid,” she said. “For example, it was shocking to learn that sugar is unnecessarily added to so many prepackaged foods.”

Also, fresh food goes bad more quickly than foods containing preservatives, she said; she learned the importance of determining the quantity truly needed and usable in a reasonable time frame.

“I’ve also gained a better understanding of what serving sizes really mean,” Coots said. “Recommended guidelines have always intimidated me, as they call for what seems to be an unreasonable quantity of servings of fruits and vegetables every day.”

She said she's learned that it’s more important to determine appropriate portion sizes rather worrying about the number of daily servings.

Benefits

The benefits inherent in dietary education and increased access to healthier options are evident, Perez said.

“Eighty-nine percent of participating patients in the 2019 pilot Veggie Rx program increased their overall produce consumption,” she said, “while 94 percent reported eating fruits and vegetables made a difference in their health and 73 percent lowered their BMI.”

Coots attested to the health benefits she experienced by participating in Veggie Rx.

Through the 12-week program she lost weight and has seen a significant decrease in triglycerides — which, she said, are often a sign of conditions such as obesity that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Coots said she also lowered her overall cholesterol levels, while increasing her high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol, i.e., the good cholesterol.

For many years Coots said she had attempted to raise her HDL levels but was unsuccessful until she increased her consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Though she has completed the Veggie Rx program, Coots said she intends to continue educating herself about the dietary choices she makes, and to share her enthusiasm and newfound knowledge with others.

Coots said she has used recent grocery shopping trips with a few close friends as an opportunity to share some of what she's learned through the program.

She said she also is sharing her experiences with her young adult son and encouraging him to choose a more balanced diet.

“Veggie Rx facilitates a process of unlearning the unhealthy habits I had become comfortable with,” Coots said. “I want to reverse any damage I’ve done to my body due to poor choices, and the program has supported this transformation by opening my eyes to the true health benefits of eating healthier foods.”

Coots said success for her requires daily effort — planning ahead, shopping weekly, washing and chopping produce, measuring proper serving sizes, researching nutrition facts and asking questions about the foods she consumes.

“I now have the knowledge needed to make better choices — and just as importantly, I truly believe that I am worth the time and effort required to maintain a healthier diet,” she said.

She said she's grateful for the opportunity to improve her health, and she appreciates the doctors and dietitians at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee for teaching her how to live her best life possible.

“The power to control what I put into my body and the impact it has on my health is priceless,” Coots said.

Award

The Veggie Rx program was recently awarded a Telligen Community Initiative grant, allowing SSM Health St Anthony – Shawnee to continue its efforts to connect the medical system and the food sector.

To check eligibility to participate in the next Veggie Rx program cycle contact a SSM Health St Anthony – Shawnee primary care physician or one of the hospital’s registered dietitians at (405) 273-5801.

For more information about Veggie Rx, visit facebook.com/VeggieRxOklahoma.