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The whole-food plant-based diet is gaining popularity — and for good reason. It’s not just another fad! A WFPB diet is a way of eating that is scientifically proven to promote heart health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is also the only diet that has been proven to prevent and reverse heart disease. That’s incredible!
However, there are a few common questions that pop up when it comes to plant-based nutrition. To answer these questions, we have Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Melissa Altman-Traub, with us today. Melissa Traub is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. After serving as a clinical dietitian, she is currently working as a Nutrition Professor at a community college. She also runs a blog where she shares loads of delicious plant-based recipes, healthy eating tips and nutrition information. I’m so glad to have her on ‘Health Talk’ today.
LET’S GET STARTED
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi everyone. I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist, wife and mom. I teach nutrition at the college level and also have a food blog. As you can imagine, I love to cook, and also to travel, walk, bike, and do crafty things.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the field of Nutrition?
I was always interested in cooking and health. Physiology was one of my favorite subjects in high school and I really enjoyed an introductory nutrition class in my first semester of college. Then, I changed my major to nutrition.
What did you find most fulfilling about your job as a dietitian?
I always enjoyed working with clients who were excited about making healthy changes in their food choices.
Now that you are a Nutrition professor, what does your typical workday look like?
Right now, classes are all online. In a typical day I may be preparing lessons, grading assignments, holding online class meetings, and meeting with committees and colleagues.
Tell us about your blog. Why did you originally create it? What is it about?
I actually set up a blog several years ago as a requirement of a recipe contest. I love cooking and started to enter recipe contests for fun. Then it became an occasional hobby that has now become a much more regular hobby. With the blog, I hope to share ideas for healthy living with plant-based nutrition that can help anyone learn to cook and add more healthy foods to their diet.
LET’S TALK NUTRITION
What does ‘healthy eating’ mean to you?
Enjoying food as part of enjoying life! Not having a restrictive mentality. Eating a variety of foods and learning to love a variety of plant foods. And having appreciation for all of the people who helped to grow and produce the food also.
What is the one nutrition misconception that you would like to bust?
That carbohydrates are bad! They should be the main source of our energy with 45 – 65% of our calories (Dietary Reference Intake: Acceptable Macronutrient Desirable Range). My blog contains recipes for healthy nutrient dense foods containing carbohydrates.
According to you, what are three food items that should be avoided at all costs?
There are different schools of thought about this: does the whole diet count, or individual foods? If you are looking to avoid certain foods or minimize them, consider the evidence about potential carcinogenic effects of processed meats such as lunch meats, bacon, sausage, and the like. You can read more about this from the American Institute of Cancer Research (https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/processed-meat-and-cancer/).
Your blog mainly focuses on ‘whole food, plant-based diet’. Can you explain what a plant-based diet means?
This is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts in natural states. For example, having whole grains like brown rice or bulgur instead of enriched flours and ultra-processed snack foods like sweetened flavored rice cakes. The emphasis is on health, so choosing more healthy foods and less sugars and oils has also been found to be beneficial for health. You can read more about this type of eating in this article.
Can you meet all your nutritional needs with a plant-based diet?
I recommend people see their health care provider to discuss this. Vitamin B12 is a concern because it is not in plant foods, unless they are fortified. There’s some in nutritional yeast, but it is not considered a reliable source.
Other nutrients of concern include calcium, vitamin D, iron, and zinc. People in some lifecycle groups have specific needs and may need additional supplements and attention to nutritious foods for good health: see the physician to evaluate this and you can meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist for individualized diet planning assistance.
What are the best sources of protein, calcium and iron when eating a plant-based diet?
Protein: legumes are the food group with the most protein, but nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables all contribute some.
Calcium: this takes some effort. Look for almonds, green leafy vegetables, oranges, fortified plant milks and some types of tofu. Here is a list of other ideas from Dr. Reed Mangels for the Vegetarian Resource Group https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.php
Iron: is in legumes, grains, fortified cereals, and dried fruits. Here are more ideas:
If you eat a plant source of iron along with a food high in vitamin C, much more iron will be absorbed.
What exactly is the difference between a plant-based diet, a vegan and a vegetarian diet?
There are many different types of vegetarian diets: some may eat seafood, eggs, and milk. Vegans don’t eat animal products, and people following a plant-based diet focus on healthy choices, with most foods from plant foods. The motivations for following this way of eating may encompass for their health, the environment, religious reasons, for animal welfare, and more.
What are some best ways to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet?
Buy really delicious, fresh produce in season. Starting a garden is also a fun way to have fresh produce as well as getting kids involved.
Finally, if you could give the readers a piece of health advice, what would it be?
Look for reliable sources of information. There is a lot of misinformation online. Many people are interested more in fads and selling a product. Look for peer reviewed (in scientific journals) research studies that support nutrition information you find.
Thank you very much, Melissa for being a part of ‘Health Talk’ and sharing some valuable information with us. It was such a pleasure interviewing you. Wish you good health and success in all your future endeavours.
Connect with Melissa Traub:
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