Can you tell me a bit about yourself before you became a vegan nutritionist?
You’d be surprised to know that I was obese five years ago.
I wasn’t interested in nutrition as a child. I was however, interested in the arts. I loved to cook, sing, act and dance. Throughout middle school, high school and university I participated in various plays and musicals. Science was interesting but I never took any extra classes in school or pursued it outside of school. I was actually more interested in astronomy than any of the other sciences.
It’s difficult for me to remember my obese childhood. I repress most of the unpleasant memories, because I was teased in a lot.
The main emotion I felt was frustration. I always wished I knew how to be healthy and normal like everybody else. I didn’t understand why I was fat and the rest of my siblings were ‘normal.’ It was difficult for me to make friends and I blamed that on my appearance.
I suffered from depression in middle school, so I saw a psychiatrist. As a result of these sessions, I was prescribed antidepressants. It helped a little, but not much.
Find out more about my path to healthfulness.
Why did you shift to a plant-based diet?
I’ve went vegan in January 2013. I grew up eating the standard American diet of unhealthy, processed foods and animal products.
I originally became vegan because I had a bucket list. I had all sorts of items on my bucket list. Ironically, the Buffalo Wild Wings Challenge was also on my bucket list.
Going vegan for six months to test my willpower
When I went vegan in January 2013, I only planned on being a vegan for 6 months. That was the dare: eat a vegan diet for 6 months. Becoming vegan wasn’t about health, the environment or animal rights. Oddly enough, it was a test of willpower.
How did you get interested in nutrition?
During my first 6 months as a vegan I met my now husband, Rob. We started dating not long afterwards. He was the first one to teach me about nutrition. He got me interested in the effects of food on health and the body.
I could see that I was losing weight on a plant-based diet. This weight loss had evaded me my whole life. I was inspired to keep going with it. I also felt better, emotionally and physically.
The moment of success, when I gained victory over obesity!
I finally realized that I had changed my life. I had beaten obesity and reached a healthy weight.
I also realized that there were many others who were living the way I was before I transitioned to a healthy diet. Too many people are fat, frustrated, unhealthy and unhappy. I was inspired to educate others about healthy living and nutrition. That’s when I created my website, Carob Cherub.
What are common nutritional concerns with a vegan diet?
Most of the nutritional concerns about a vegan diet are unsupported.
Protein, the number one concern about vegan diets, is a joke within the vegan community. Worrying over getting enough protein is ridiculous. Protein deficiency is unheard of and nobody dies from protein deficiency. It’s practically impossible to get too little protein because protein is present in all whole foods, vegan or not.
In fact, I’d say that this obsession with protein is partially driving the unhealthiness of society. A high protein diet is associated with shorter lifespans.
Calcium is another “problem” that’s not a problem.
Plant foods have plenty of calcium. Calorie for calorie, there are various plant foods that have more calcium than milk. One example is kale. Calcium is found abundantly in leafy greens and citrus fruits. When you eat a high protein diet, like the SAD diet, the body’s need for protein increases.
Other concerns, such as iron, aren’t a problem with most vegans either.
As long as you follow a plant-based diet that includes a variety of grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, you should have very little trouble.
What are your nutritional concerns with vegan diets?
My main concerns with vegan diets are refined grains, iodine, B12, added sugars and oils, and omega fatty acids ratios.
Refined grains are a huge problem in the diet of westerners. Many vegans don’t care about eating refined grains. I’m concerned because refined grains are essentially devoid of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Refined grains are junk food. They aren’t treated or viewed as such but they should be. One of the first steps to becoming healthier is to switch to whole grains.
I pay special attention to iodine because I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Iodine helps regulate the thyroid.
Thyroid issues are common in the US. Unfortunately, when people try to become healthier, they remove iodized salt out of the diet. This can actually have negative effects as many people rely on iodized salt for their iodine intake.
To remedy this, I suggest adding a small amount of iodized salt to food, take a supplement or consume sea vegetables. I used a variety of methods from iodine solution to kelp powder each day.
B12 is an unusual vitamin derived from bacteria. You could in theory eat dirt to get B12. But the easiest way to keep B12 levels up is to take a supplement regularly. Vitamin B12 deficiency is serious, so you don’t want to risk it.
Sugar and oil
Added sugars and added oil go hand in hand.
They’re other common unhealthy aspects of a western diet. They contribute excess calories without providing suitable nutrition. Sure, they can make our food taste good, but they encourage overeating too.
I prefer whole-food or calorie-free sources of sweetness and fat. If I want something to taste sugary, I either add fruit or Splenda. I follow a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet so I rarely crave fat. My main source of fat is a tablespoon of flax each day. If you want to eat fat, eat a whole food source like avocado, durian, chia seeds or flax seeds.
Lastly: omegas. Omegas are important for mood health.
If you get too many omega-6 and not enough omega-3, you can suffer from depression and other mood disorders. You’ll also be at risk for neurological diseases.
The easiest way to stay happy is to keep omega levels in check. Balance omega levels by eating a diet heavy in legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Those who eat diets high in grains should maintain balance with whole food sources of omega-3, like chia or flax seeds.
What other health professionals advocate a plant-based diet?
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of health professionals transitioning over to whole foods, plant-based diets in the name of health.
A few of my favorite plant-based medical professionals are:
- Joel Fuhrman, MD
- John McDougall, MD
- Michael Gregor, MD
- Garth Davis, MD
- Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
- Neil Barnard, MD
- Colin Campbell, MD
- Jeff Novick, RD
- Jack Norris, RD
- Alan Goldhamer, DC
I have a soft spot for Dr. Barnard because he was born in my hometown of Fargo, ND.
I’m also inspired by Lindsay Nixon from Happy Herbivore. I love how her food is actually healthy. So many vegan recipes have added salt, sugar, oil and refined grains. Not so with Lindsay.