Eating for Life: A Plant-Based Diet

  • By:  Emily Baine
2012 was a banner year for Bruce & Heather Rozeboom, who got married and opened a restaurant at Hilltop.  ©ALFY Photography by Amanda Francis ( 2012 was a banner year for Bruce & Heather Rozeboom, who got married and opened a restaurant at Hilltop. ©ALFY Photography by Amanda Francis (


When we were children, our parents served us vegetables that we’d push around our plate until either we gave in and ate them or tossed them in the trash when no one was looking

As adults, we know we should eat vegetables and fruits, but often it’s easier not to. In our fast-paced world, grabbing fast food is so simple compared to preparing a healthy, plant-based meal. However, when we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, we miss out on all the valuable benefits they provide, as well as a host of delicious meal options.

Our on-demand world is constantly offering quick fixes to lose weight. We get caught up trying to slim down for bikini season or the next big social event. Nutritionists and other health care professionals emphasize that we shouldn’t count on a short-term solution or the latest fad diet to solve our weight issues. Instead, the key is to focus on a long-term lifestyle change that will reprogram our systems for better health and wellness. Not sure where to start or what will work best for you? Many people here in Tidewater are passionate about eating a healthy, plant-based diet and can guide you on your journey toward a healthier pathway.

Jennifer Van Horn has been thin all of her life. When she was younger, she was thin to the point that her health was declining. Medication didn’t make her feel better. Something had to change, and Jennifer decided it would be her diet.

While trying to improve her own health, Jennifer discovered a deep-rooted passion for helping others live healthier lives. Jennifer went back to school to become a dietician, ultimately earning her Master’s in community health and health education from Old Dominion University. Now she serves as a teacher and guide, helping others find a healthier lifestyle through a plant-based diet.

Jennifer encourages everyone who wants to eat a healthier diet to become informed about the benefits of a plant-based regimen. A plant-based diet doesn’t mean becoming vegan or vegetarian, though those are two options. Building a plant-based diet means that plants form the foundation of what you eat. Plant-based diets aren’t a fad; they’re a reflection of continuing health and nutrition research. In 2011 the USDA scrapped its MyPyramid in favor of the fruit-and-vegetable rich MyPlate icon.  Having more plants in your diet, Jennifer explains, provides numerous benefits that lead to a higher quality of life.

According to Jennifer, changing your diet doesn’t mean you have to jump in the deep end right away. She suggests you start with one healthier meal a day. Try to build variety in your meals by planning a rainbow on your plate, she suggests. A colorful plate full of natural purples, blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens will make you feel great and provide a wide range of nutritional benefits. Colorful fruits and vegetables  include mangos, carrots, apricots, plums, eggplant, grapes, beets, radishes, and pumpkin, for example.

“Try and make your plate beautiful.” Jennifer said. “The greens are the key to health.”  

She suggests including avocados, broccoli, spinach, and other dark leafy vegetables in your diet as great sources of calcium and potassium. Additionally, the chlorophyll helps with the body’s normal cleansing response.

Does deciding to move to a plant-based diet mean that eating meats is wrong? “Meat is not the bad guy,” explained Jennifer. “It’s just that people tend to eat too much of it. and it bogs down the body. Fruits and vegetables tend to be easier to digest, which leaves you feeling better and with more energy. After you eat, you shouldn’t be tired. You should be energized.”

Think of eating a healthy diet as driving a more gas-efficient car. As you begin your journey toward a plant-based diet, you’ll become more conscious about what you put in your mouth, Jennifer explains. This will better connect you with your food and make you feel more in control of your health.

Last year was a busy year for Bruce and Heather Rozeboom. They got married in June, one month after they helped opened Fruitive, a juice bar and restaurant in Hilltop featuring tasty, nutritionally complete fresh-pressed juices, smoothies, and a variety of freshly made plant-based whole-foods. Their mission, Bruce explains, is to create an environment for families where you “leave healthier than you come in.”

Health and diet have become an essential part of Bruce’s life in the past few years. At his last job Bruce had been called “the human trash can” because he would eat all the leftovers that everyone would bring to work. “I knew which spouses knew how to cook and which ones didn’t,” he said. “I’d accept all donations, but then I’d know which ones to eat.”

Bruce’s horrible diet resulted in a number of health issues. On New Year’s Eve 2009 he spent five painful hours in the emergency room with his third kidney stone. Lying in the hospital that night, Bruce decided it was time to change his diet, including eliminating meat. Three months later Bruce met Heather, a vegetarian for 23 years, at the Heritage Natural Market, striking up a conversation over a vegan cookbook that led to friendship, bake sales, and romance.

Fruitive was born from a shared drive to bring a health-focused, environmentally friendly restaurant to Virginia Beach. When Bruce shared the idea with his brother Gregg, it quickly became a family affair. Gregg fell in love with the concept and came on board, becoming a co-founder, owner, and, with his wife Katie, developer of the store concept and design. Thoroughly researched and developed at a rapid-fire pace, Fruitive launched in May 2012, less than a year after being conceived.

Anyone at Fruitive will tell you that if you’re not normally a big fan of fruits and vegetables, juicing is a great way to get the benefits of plants in an alternative form. While developing recipes, the Fruitive family quickly learned that combining juices—like the green apple, pineapple, kale, spinach, cucumber, and celery in their “Nobility” juice drink—can help mask less favorable flavors and make a plant-based diet more appealing.

Not to be confused with smoothies or shakes, juicing is about extracting the juice from fruits and vegetables, rather than mashing them. Heather notes that ingredients high in protein and fiber can be added to the juice to provide more sustained energy and a sense of fullness. “Incorporate simple things into your juice,” she explained. “It doesn’t have to be time consuming.

Health specialists will tell you that juicing and a plant-based lifestyle is not meant for a quick-fix and extreme weight loss. “We like to stay away from the word ‘diet,’” Heather stressed. “It implies a short-term, temporary, quick-fix solution. Eating a plant-based diet is more of a lifestyle than anything else. There are so many living nutrients …and so many wonderful things that come from plants. When you eat a plant-based diet you just feel more alive and vibrant and lighter.”

“Everyone knows eating more fruits and vegetables is good for them.” Bruce echoed. “Our goal is to show people that eating fruits and vegetables can taste good and make you feel good at the same time.”

Cara Blume is the petite, cheerful, nutrition-savvy Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Food’s new Virginia Beach store. Navigating the maze of store aisles with the greatest of ease, Cara conducts regular healthy cooking classes. Additionally, she leads one-on-one and group store tours to show people how to shop for healthy, affordable meals.

Cara says many people have the same questions when trying a plant-based diet: “What do I buy, how do I prepare it, and how do I do it fast?” Part of what Cara does at Whole Foods is showing people that educating yourself on what to buy and how to prepare it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming challenge. Healthy eating classes and other tools are readily available

Changing your eating habits is easiest when you take baby steps in order to “retrain yourself how to eat healthy and enjoy your food,” Cara explained. “Food needs to be fun.”

Start with education and a healthy pantry, Cara says. Instead of reaching for a quick and easy snack at home or the office—like chips and cookies—“Keep healthy foods at your fingertips,” she said.

Whole Foods has made a commitment to educating consumers by offering tips, nutritious recipes, cooking techniques, and other tools to eat healthier in a delicious and affordable way. To help people seeking to improve their diet easily and naturally, Whole Foods launched its “Health Starts Here” initiative in 2010.  The program is built around a plant-based diet without salt and oil. Health Starts Here signs throughout the store serve as messengers for healthy food options and free recipe cards that are available to customers.

Nutritionists, such as Cara and Jennifer, encourage people to figure out what works best for them. Diet and nutrition aren’t one-size-fits-all. “Pick what you’ll stick to,” Cara emphasized. “Be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth.”

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive or tricky, Cara says. Look for plant-focused recipes and plan your meals before you go shopping. This will help keep you focused and less likely to buy more then you need. Taking advantage of daily and monthly deals offered by local grocery stores can also help save money.  

Shopping the outer aisles of the store is best, say Cara and Jennifer. There you can fill your cart with healthier options like fresh produce and whole grain bread and avoid the higher-calorie junk food options that occupy the interior aisles of the store. Educating yourself on healthy foodways and planning your shopping in advance can yield a lifetime of improved health.

No matter what type of diet you follow, experts agree that you should make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle, not a temporary push or fad. A plant-based diet—vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains—ensures your body gets the key micronutrients it needs to function at its best. Supporters of plant-based diets universally agree that this results in better health and a higher quality of life.

Ready to get started?

For more information:

Emily Baine is a freelance writer and Sr. Contact Strategist & communication specialist with BCF Advertising in Va. Beach. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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