We recently met the lovely Laura Thomas who has a PHD in nutrition and practises as a Plant-based Nutritionist. We love learning about all things to do with wellness and nutrition, and although we aren’t vegan ourselves, we are certainly curious about the benefits a more (or complete) plant-based lifestyle.
More and more people seem to be turning vegan and advocating a plant-based diet, yet there is also curiosity around what it involves and whether or not you can do it. So, we decided to grill Laura and got her to answer some questions to clear up some of the perceptions/misconceptions around veganism and plant-based diets.
Tell us a bit about yourself, why you favour a plant-based diet and a bit about the science behind it?
I’m Laura; a nutritionist and wellness advocate specializing in plant based nutrition. I come from an academic background (I have a PhD in Nutritional Sciences- nerdy, I know!) and have spent a long time reading the scientific evidence on different diets, and to me it seems like a plant based one is the best. The people I work with will tell you the same thing about a whole foods, plant based diet too; they have more energy and they feel and look better. On top of that, it’s the best thing we can do to prevent long-term diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s. Pretty cool. The biggest reason for this is that plant based foods contain over 100,000 different disease fighting chemicals, or phytonutrients. Many of them we don’t even have names for yet. These phytochemicals all work together in complicated reactions to help keep you healthy inside and out.
What are the top low-carb plant-based foods & what are the highest protein plant-based foods?
I’m combing these two questions together because I’m not really into the whole low-carb, high protein concept. I’ve spent a lot of time researching this and, contrary to what people think, we don’t need a ton of protein. As a general rule of thumb, as long as you’re getting enough calories, you tend to be getting more than enough protein. I mean, when was the last time you met someone who had a protein deficiency? Exactly! PLUS, too much animal protein can be really bad for you; it’s hard work for our kidneys, and has been linked to some cancers. Plus animal proteins usually come packed with a ton of saturated fats. Not cool.
In terms of carbs, our cells literally run on carbs (sugar)! It’s important to get lots of the right kind of carbs in – ones from whole foods, that are packed with other nutrients, and that don’t make your blood sugar levels go all over the place. The best sources are things like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beetroot, whole grains like quinoa and millet, and beans and peas and fresh fruit. Beans and legumes also have all the amino acids you need to build proteins, without needing to eat animal proteins.
What are your top tips for eating out as a vegan?
I like to plan ahead if I can; I use the app/website HappyCow to check places that have plant based options. Or if I can’t tell from the restaurant’s website, I give them a call, they’re usually cool with making you something plant based if you give them a head’s up. If you can’t plan ahead and you don’t see a great plant-based option on the main menu, check the sides; there’s usually always tons of veg sides and you can order a bunch and cobble together a meal. Carry some Cholula with you too 😉 In a pinch, Pret and M&S both have a good superfood salad. We explore lots tips for eating out in my workshop Plant One On Me – http://laurathomasphd.co.uk/poom
Do you need to take supplements if you’re following a plant-based diet?
Yeah, I take a B12 supplement. B12 is a nutrient produced by bacteria that can be hard to get from plants that have been washed really well. It’s made from bacteria on our food. It used to be that we could get enough from the bacteria living in the soil our food grows in, but because we are so crazy about washing our food, and because of the widespread use of antibiotics, herbicides/pesticides etc., our food has become pretty sterile. Animal food still contains B12 because the bacteria that live inside them produce B12 that then gets absorbed into the animal’s flesh and by-products. B12 is fortified in some plant based foods like almond milk and nutritional yeast.
What benefits will you get by cutting out meat and animal produce?
Like I said before, people tend to have more energy, their skin looks healthier (reflecting how they’re doing on the inside), they have better recovery from workouts, their digestion improves, and I know from personal experience that conditions like eczema tend to clear up. But I just want to be clear that you also have to replace animal foods with whole plant based foods. What I’m talking about is a lot different from a junk food vegan, after all vodka and chips are vegan too!
What is the reason that people lose weight when they swap to a plant-based diet?
It depends on what the person’s diet was like before but it could be that they’re eating less fat, or that the foods they are eating support their metabolism rather than working against it. I once had a very overweight client who actually wasn’t eating enough food (I know, it’s confusing). I got her to ditch the animal proteins, eat a LOT more plant based foods, and switch to healthier eating patterns (i.e. no skipping b’fast) and she lost a ton of weight AND reduced a bunch of medication she was on. Obviously this is an extreme case but you get the idea.
Will you still benefit if you have an 80/20 rule? E.g. follow a plant-based diet 80% of the time?
People ask me this all the time and like the low carb-high protein thing, I don’t like the concept of cheat days. You body doesn’t suddenly stop because you’re having a day off. If you’re going to eat a big fat greasy cheeseburger, you WILL get arterial inflammation within a few hours, it doesn’t matter if it’s cheat day or not. I usually feel really gross after indulging too, so what’s the point?
PLUS, there are SO MANY great plant based ‘treat’ foods you can have, that taste just as good, and are so much better for you. Try my cashew cookies (http://www.laurathomasphd.co.uk/cashew-cookies/) or Minimalist Baker’s Salted Caramel Truffles (http://minimalistbaker.com/5-ingredient-salted-caramel-peanut-butter-truffles/) I tricked my boyfriend with those badboys)
Who are your go-to plant-based inspirations/success stories and why?
Tedi Sarah (http://www.tedisarah.com/) and Ashlee Piper (http://www.thelilfoxes.com/) are cool plant based lifestyle bloggers. Rich Roll (http://www.richroll.com/) is a former overweight alcoholic turned plant based ultra marathon runner and now runs a really inspiring podcast with amazing guests (and he’s hot!). I love Jessica Murnane’s story and blog (http://jessicamurnane.com/) – switching to a plant based diet stopped her from having to get major surgery. And The 300lb Vegan is a plant based American Football player (http://www.the300poundvegan.com/), showing that you can be big and strong on a plant based diet!