Enjoy a vegan diet with these recipes for taco salad, bean dip

I became very interested in heart health after losing my father to a sudden heart attack in 2008 at the age of 77.

It was devastating for my immediate family to have our father here one day and leaving the next. We all rushed to the hospital after our various Saturday activities. For us, we got the call at a music competition our kids were participating in at our local college.

It’s a surreal feeling to accompany your happy day, then see it turned upside down by a call that changes everything. We arrived at the hospital to find our grieving mother and the rest of our family, about 18 in all, just waiting to see if he would be revived. It wasn’t, and I learned that 50% of heart attacks result in death. No second chance for half of those who suffer a heart attack.

Our children were only 12 and 10 at the time. They hadn’t had enough sleepovers with Grandpa’s morning pancakes, moments of laughter both stacked on his lap, or outdoor adventures. Our beloved patriarch had just passed away, leaving a huge void in our family and our hearts.

Some time after his passing, and while I was still grieving, I came across a CNN Sanjay Gupta special called “The Last Heart Attack”. The premise of the show was that almost all heart disease we have in this country is preventable with lifestyle, including most stents, heart attacks, and bypass surgery.

All of the health care expenses, loss of life and impact on loved ones is largely due to our lifestyle, especially our diet. It was my first look at the standard American diet, high in meat and dairy and all of its fat and cholesterol, as a factor largely responsible for most heart disease.

It hit me like a brick. That day, I radically changed my diet, giving up animal products. This CNN special introduced me to the nutrition heroes I admire and still follow today.

I started reading everything I could find on heart health. Unfortunately, two years later, my stepfather also died of pneumonia. He too had pain in his heart and lungs.

Four years after my father died, my mother’s aorta burst. That’s what John Ritter of “Three’s Company” died of. My strong mother survived the operation when most people don’t even go to the hospital.

However, there had been a lot of damage and his organs never recovered. She left us in two days. She had great longevity in her family, and we expected to have 10 more years with her. She was 78 years old.

A good serving of an easy to make vegan taco salad.

I really started spending most of my free time reading digging up medical studies in the most prestigious medical and research journals. The loss of both my parents to sudden cardiac events set me on the path to finding the healthiest diet to prevent heart disease. But what I learned was that eating and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle also prevented most other chronic diseases and significantly reduced the risk of all of them.

Over the past 14 years I have continued my studies in lifestyle medicine and become more involved. I have a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies through eCornell and a graduate certificate in lifestyle medicine from Creighton University. I work as a Certified Food for Life Instructor through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC, and am also an Affiliate Member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Vice President of a Nonprofit nonprofit called Lifestyle Health Alliance. Finally, I’m a co-organizer of Plant Powered Omaha, a community dating group.

I sincerely believe that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is the easiest, fastest, and least expensive way to restore health. We all eat meals every day, but what we eat makes all the difference.

I want to help the United States fix the health care situation with food, one person at a time. Everything I do is in memory of my parents and for our children. I have a desire to live a long, full life, but only if my body and mind are healthy. Eating delicious plant-based meals helps me maintain my weight effortlessly at 61 and keeps all of my biometric markers in a superb drug-free range.

I encourage you to gradually replace animal products with fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and mushrooms. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to live the life you deserve.

I’m a great plant-based cook, but most of my meals are super easy and can be made in minutes without an actual recipe. Try my easy taco salad with an oil-free dressing and one of these toppings. Or try my similar Southwest Holiday Dip.

Melissa’s Taco Salad

Makes 4 salads


  • 4 heads of romaine lettuce
  • Add shredded red cabbage, baby spinach and/or kale if desired
  • 1 can black beans and/or kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 oz. grape or cherry tomatoes, or one diced roma tomato per salad
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • black olives, sliced
  • 1-2 avocados, sliced ​​or diced
  • 8 oz. frozen corn, thawed
  • Optional: a few broken tortilla chips for crispiness
  • Dressing: salsa of your choice, seasoning for tacos, vegetable milk

Put all the colorful salad ingredients in a bowl. Put about ½ cup of non-dairy milk in a jar and add taco seasoning until it has a warm, rusty color. Pour in ½ cup of salsa to thicken. Toss dressing into salad and dip in.

Melissa’s Southwestern Layered Dip

Empty a can of fat-free refried beans into a bowl and add a little non-dairy milk and plenty of taco seasoning. Spread the beans on a plate or in a dish (I like to use a glass pie plate). Add a layer of mashed avocado. Next comes a thick salsa to cover the avocado and prevent it from browning. Add finely shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, red onion, red pepper, black olives and maybe some corn. Serve with fries or vegetable dips. I love this dip with cucumber slices as a ladle!

It’s so simple, fresh and delicious that it will disappear without anyone realizing there is no meat or cheese. If you have leftovers (only if there are too many other foods), store them in the fridge to pour into a warmed tortilla for an instant meal.

Melissa Sherlock is a Certified Food for Life Instructor, Speaker, and Health Coach living in Omaha, Nebraska who has been plant-based for nearly 14 years.