Earlier this year we got the dietician’s take on veganism as a diet and lifestyle choice. Following the release of his new book Eaternity, author Jason Wrobel talks about how he became vegan and why…
How did you first become interested in veganism?
The initial seed of inspiration to become vegan was observing the health issues in my family. In 1995, my Grandfather lost his second battle with cancer and it made me deeply question the lifestyle choices, diet and habits in my family. I took a good, honest look at how I was living and how I was eating. At that time, I took to the web to start researching nutrition, animal rights, global warming and factory farming. The more I learned, the more I realized that I was not living in alignment with my ethical or moral values. Over the course of a few years, I shifted from a standard American diet to vegetarian to eventually vegan. By spring 1998, I was fully vegan and I’ve never looked back. It’s been the single most important, defining decision of my life thus far.
How has it impacted your health?
When I made the transition to a vegan lifestyle, I immediately discovered how much more energy I had. It was like someone found an extra battery pack and plugged me in! Other than the immediate energy boost from eating fresh vegan foods, I find that my mental clarity is enhanced and my digestion Is more efficient. In addition, I discovered a plethora of incredible new fruits, vegetables and superfoods as a result of exploring the raw food lifestyle. It’s the opposite of deprivation - it’s like a whole new world of culinary delights opened up.
What are the common misconceptions about it?
People mistakenly believe that a vegan lifestyle is too difficult, the meals are too challenging to prepare, they won’t be able to get enough protein or that it’s too expensive to maintain in the long term. All of which are untrue, as you can easily maintain an affordable plant-based lifestyle with optimum nutrition, ample variety of foods and easy-to-prepare recipes.
Isn’t it a difficult thing to manage on a practical level in modern life?
Not at all. In fact, it’s never been easier. Most restaurants have vegan options on the menu these days and vegan products are more readily available at mainstream grocery stores now. I travel the world every year speaking in cities around the globe and I’ve never had a problem finding vegan options. As the demand for vegan cuisine has grown tenfold in the past decade or so, companies have invested heavily in the mass distribution of plant-based food options. So long as you know how to read labels and are educated on what to ask for, finding healthy vegan cuisine is a simple task.
How do you make it accessible?
I think giving people what they are accustomed to eating is a good first step. I try to create delicious, healthy and mouthwatering versions of classic recipes that people know and love. When you can create the same flavor, mouthfeel and sense of satisfaction in a vegan meal, there is no feeling of deprivation. I love to recreate classic ethnic recipes and comfort foods by making them just as tasty at the original versions, but with a lot more health benefits and nutrients when made vegan. Also, I think introducing vegan cuisine into the mainstream helps to make it more accessible. As more celebrities and athletes are becoming vegan, it creates a powerful ripple effect into human culture, thereby normalizing a vegan lifestyle and making it feel more approachable.
Are you in danger of malnourishment? Isn’t it difficult to get all the nutrients you need without meat, fish and dairy?
So long as you are mindful of getting a balance intake of nutrients, there is no danger of malnourishment. You can obtain any essential nutrient from a plant-based source, be it protein, iron, omega fatty acids, vitamin, minerals and antioxidants. In fact, many plant-based foods have a more dense nutrient profile than animal products, without the excess cholesterol and saturated fat that can potentially lead to serious health problems. I feel that a vegan lifestyle, when done mindfully and in balance, can be a fantastically healthy choice for anyone.
What are the common mistakes people make with veganism?
People can transition too quickly from a standard diet filled with artificial, fatty foods to a vegan lifestyle. This can cause the body to detoxify too quickly, and if a person doesn’t know how to handle this, it can be a very harmful process to the body. Also, a lot of people rely too much on heavily processed vegan foods and don’t eat enough fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Another common pitfall is eating too much of the same foods all the time. Optimal nutrition is directly tied to variety of food intake, therefore getting as many colors in your diet and a wide variety is a good idea.
What’s your advice to anyone interested in embracing veganism?
Start gradually. It’s never been easier to be vegan in 2016 with the venerable plethora of amazing options on the market, even in mainstream grocery stores. But it can also be potentially confusing with all the sub-genres of vegan diets out there: raw vegan, 80/10/10, whole food plant-based, macrobiotic, and so on. My advice is to be willing to experiment with new foods and recipes until you find things that feel good to you. What works for someone else will not automatically work for you. There’s a ton of pressure-filled dogma out there about the vegan lifestyle and the only way to cut through it is to listen your own body and keep trying new foods until you find what works for your individual constitution. There are a ton of great vegan cookbooks and amazing blogs with delicious recipes and health information out there. Also, try substituting just one thing in your diet at a time with a healthier vegan option. For example, instead of baking with eggs, use ground flax or chia seeds and water. I have an easy-to-use ingredient substitution chart in my new cookbook, Eaternity, that breaks down some familiar options to use in your home kitchen.