SPOTLIGHT on Meatless Monday Ambassador Dr. Nyasha Spears

April 30th, 2018

Dr. Nyasha Spears, a family physician in Minnesota, is a vocal advocate of Meatless Monday for her patients. She understands the health and environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption. She became interested in the campaign after searching for methods people could use to help the environment on a daily basis.

Dr. Spears helped introduce and pass a resolution in the House of Delegates of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) for physicians to educate and recommend programs like Meatless Monday. To see the full resolution, please scroll to the end of this article.

We asked Dr. Spears how her patients have responded to Meatless Monday and her future plans on spreading the word.

How did you persuade the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) to pass a Meatless Monday resolution? 

To me, this was a no-brainer. We are in the habit-change business. Family doctors are perfectly positioned to help people make a shift in their habits. I mostly had to remind them how uniquely poised we are to make a massive positive change in the trajectory of chronic disease burden, health care costs, and climate change. As primary care doctors for kids, adults, and pregnant women, we are poised to be able to discuss the importance of dietary change in a variety of completely legitimate and organic ways. It makes sense for us to talk to people about this in well child visits, Medicare visits, diabetic visits, and hospital discharges. We are the ONLY people who see such a broad array of people in an intimate setting like an exam room. If we are able to make even small changes up front, the outcomes in one or two decades for chronic disease burden, health care costs, and climate mitigation are astounding.

How have your patients responded to your “prescription” for Meatless Monday, as you described it in the magazine for the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians?

I’ve been very pleased with how my patients have responded to the suggestion of eating less meat. I recommend a diet with less meat in several different contexts. As a family physician, I see people for a wide array of new diagnoses, as well as chronic maintenance of long-term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and obesity. In the context of well exams, we discuss the merits of a variety of screening procedures (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.). In the context of making new diagnoses and visits for the management of chronic conditions, we discuss lifestyle modifications to control disease.

It’s seamless for me to bring up eating less meat as a way to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, peripheral vascular disease such as stroke, and certain cancers. I can say “AND this is great for the planet too!” Often patients want to do the right thing for themselves but the motivation to change behavior can be low. The added benefit of helping the planet tips many people to be more motivated. Six months or a year after seeing a patient, I may hear they have implemented changes such as exercising every day or eating less meat. Patients are very happy to make this change and are proud of what they’ve done.

What do you tell patients who might be skeptical about cutting out meat one day a week to improve their health and the environment?

The context of a jam-packed office visit is not to get argumentative or into a debate. I will plant the seed of an idea then suggest getting more information, which is easily accessible on the Meatless Monday website. If someone is aggressively not interested, I rest, knowing they were at least exposed to the idea. After hearing the message enough times it may become “normal.”  Sometimes I will use the financial argument: It’s cheaper to eat no meat or to make a small amount of meat feed a lot of people.

How do family physicians have an important role in helping reduce meat consumption?

Family physicians have an obligation to help people live healthier lives in the healthiest environment possible. For me, this means helping people to quit smoking, encourage them to do at least 30 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise every day, and eat a healthy plant-based diet. My job is not just to tell people what to do, but to help them make choices in their unique lives andto empower them to sustain positive habit changes. Meatless Monday provides a great resource for me to direct patients and colleagues who want more information on how to adopt a more plant-based diet.

Do you have a favorite Meatless Monday “gateway” dish? Something even the most die-hard carnivores would like?

Wow, it’s hard to pick the best one. My husband says he married me for my black bean quesadillas. I really think Mexican and Italian food are great cultural cuisine types lending themselves to awesome meat-free grub and don’t seem too strange for the traditional meat-and-potatoes eater.

Dr. Nyasha Spears’ Black Bean Quesadillas
It’s yummy and really, really fast!

A can of cooked black beans
Prepared salsa
Corn or flour tortillas
Grated cheese of your choice
Fresh cilantro or parsley

Drain the beans and cook with the prepared salsa. Cook until there’s no liquid. Meanwhile, warm up tortillas in a dry pan. Spread beans and salsa mixture onto a warm tortilla and top with cheese. Bake or broil for a few minutes on a cookie sheet, until cheese is melted. Top with some fresh cilantro or parsley.

We’d like to thank Dr. Spears for her tireless commitment to making positive change in medicine and personal care. Meatless Monday supports and applauds her efforts. Thank you, Dr. Spears! This Monday, try Dr. Spears’ meatless recipe and let us know what you think! Take a photo, post it to social, use #MeatlessMonday and tag us @MeatlessMonday to share it with us!

If you want to learn more about bringing Meatless Monday to your dining hall, office, school, restaurant or organization, please contact us here for more information.

Resolution adopted by the MAFP House of Delegates in 2017

BE IT RESOLVED that the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians will educate family physicians statewide about the health benefits of a plant-based diet (such as the Meatless Monday program developed in conjunction with Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and encourage physicians to recommend a plant-based diet to patients to improve patients’ overall health and help manage chronic disease.