We are excited to share our interview with a fellow plant-based dietitian, Sharon Palmer. Sharon is the author of two books, The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered For Life. After following her work for years, I was thrilled (and a little starstruck!) to meet her at this year’s Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference. Today Sharon is going to share her best advice with us!
PEM: Describe your nutrition philosophy?
SP: I believe that everyone can benefit from eating a more whole foods, plant-based diet. The research is pointing in this direction. This diet is not only good for humans, it’s good for the planet and for animals. I encourage people to fall in love with plants, and they will love you back. There are more than 40,000 edible plant species on the planet—so much beautiful, healthful foods out there waiting to nourish us and protect our health. Even if you don’t want to be a vegetarian, start out by eating more plant-based meals each week.
PEM: Most people don’t know where to start when it comes to transition to a WFPB diet- what do you recommend as the very first step people should take?
SP: I recommend that people start out with Meatless Monday. Try one day a week to eat plant foods, and then you’ll see that it’s not so hard! In fact, you’re probably already eating some plant-based meals and you might not even know it, such as bean burritos and veggie lasagna. One of the first things I suggest is that you start out making veggie versions of your favorite meals—such as spaghetti, tacos, and chili. Why not make spaghetti with vegetables and mushrooms, or black bean tacos, or meatless chili with cornbread? Another favorite tip is enjoying more ethnic food—there are so many delicious plant-based foods in other cultures, such as Thailand (stir-fries), India (curries), and Central America (beans and rice).
PEM: How do you answer the age-old question “Where do you get your protein?”
SP: Yes, this is popular. People think of plant-based diets as some way to equally exchange for the typical American plate: a piece of meat, a scoop of mashed potatoes, and a small blob of cooked vegetables. But a plant-based diet is so different, it’s a range of wonderful foods on your plate, such as legumes (lentils, beans, peas), whole grains (quinoa, barley, rye, oats), and lots of vegetables (salads, soups, sautéed or roasted veggies). There are proteins in all of those foods! Many people might be surprised to find that some grains (1 cup cooked) have more protein than an ounce of meat! And vegetables can have 3 grams or more of protein in a 1/2 cup serving. All of those grams add up. Plus, I always have something protein rich at each meal, such as legumes, tofu, or nuts.
PEM: What do you think is the hardest part about eating WFPB?
SP: If you eat an entirely plant-based diet, it can be a bit challenging when you travel and in social situations. You have to consider these concerns and be prepared for them.
PEM: What is your best advice for social situations and traveling?
SP: I have several tips for this. If I’m going to a friend’s house, I always bring a healthy, plant-based dish that I know I can enjoy (it ends up being the hit of the night, too!). When I go out to eat, I check out the menu in advance and sometimes even call the restaurant. Although in general, I don’t worry too much because I always find something! My favorite thing to do is just to let the server know, so that he/she can tell the chef to get creative. Many sides on the menu are plant-based, so he can easily make up a meal based on a few of those dishes. When I travel, I pack along a few staples, such as nuts and whole food bars, because I may have a hard time finding something in a pinch. But it’s been getting easier and easier, as more and more locations are embracing a plant-based diet.
PEM: What’s your advice for people who feel isolated from friends and family because of their plant-based eating habits?
SP: I have experienced this just as much as anyone. I think that some people are automatically on the defensive when you eat a plant-based diet, as if you’re somehow attacking them! It’s such an odd reaction, as I really feel that a plant-based diet is the least threatening diet on the planet—it’s a diet that literally causes the least harm to anyone or anything! I try to never come across as preachy or judgmental, though. I always make it clear that this is my own personal choice, and if someone questions me, I tell them my age and they can’t believe how young I look or how healthy I am for my age! (I am often guessed to be a decade or more younger than my true age, and I say this in all modesty!).
When they question the appropriateness of the diet, I remind them that I am a registered dietitian with 25 years of experience in the nutrition field, and that I can vouch for the healthfulness of a plant-based diet. People often are curious, and they want to learn more.
PEM: We believe food is more than just nourishment- it is central to celebrations, memories, and traditions. How do you incorporate plant-based meals into your own celebrations and traditions?
SP: I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly—it’s a big part of my philosophy. I believe that food is more than nutrition—it’s nourishment for the mind, body and soul. It should be celebrated and savored. It should be delicious! All of my food and recipes are delicious. People are always amazed by how wonderful my healthy, plant-based foods can be. Most food cultures from around the world have plant-based roots. People used to eat a mostly plant-based diet, as these were foods they could grow in their backyards and forage in their regions—they were virtually free! Animal foods were considered precious throughout most cultures.
My mother grew up on a farm in Arkansas. Most of their meals (though she wasn’t raised as a vegetarian) were plant-based—a pot of beans simmering on the stove, foraged greens from the forest, a pot of green beans simmering from the garden, and cornbread baking in the oven. This was a very typical meal for her! It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I’ve always treasured her southern roots, which I pay homage to in my own cooking. I try to fix these favorite foods for my children, and I hope they remember them with their own children some day.
PEM: Any advice for people struggling to mesh their WFPB eating habits with the upcoming holidays?
SP: I think it’s really fun to get plant-based for the holidays. After all—even for meat eaters, holiday meals are often all about the sides, right? There are so many traditional side dishes, such as stuffings, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, succotash, black eyed peas, greens, and fruit cobblers—these are all plant-based! I have classic recipes for these dishes in which I have made them healthier and completely plant-based.
It’s also fun to get creative and think of a special entree. For example, I love my ancient grain nut loaf with mushroom gravy (from Plant Powered For Life) on the holiday table. It’s so savory and satisfying. My lentil patties with basil arugula cashew cream are pretty good, too! It’s fun to make something a little more special for the holidays.
PEM: Any favorite kitchen gadgets or cookbooks that a newbie plant eater should put on their Christmas list?
SP: I think my books Plant-Powered For Life and The Plant-Powered Diet are really helpful to get people going in the plant-based life. I also recommend a few handy kitchen utensils…
[left][/left][right]Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, is an award-winning food and nutrition expert, journalist, and editor. She is author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012) and Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes (The Experiment, 2014). Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Yoga Journal. She is editor of Environmental Nutrition and nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian, serves as the consultant dietitian for the Oldways Vegetarian Network and judge for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. Connect with Sharon on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram.[/right]