Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, vegan, Crossfit enthusiast and all around great human Ashley Kitchen stopped by to share her experience as a vegan and debunk some myths about vegans along the way. She also crafted and shared a delicious recipe with us! Discover more about Ashley at the end of this article and check out her recipe HERE.
What does vegan truly mean?
If you ask a two vegans what exactly does being vegan mean to them, you will more than likely get two different answers. We all have different reasons for going vegan. Some people adopt a vegan lifestyle for their health, for others it’s for the animals, and others still, it’s for the environment.
For me, the word vegan initially came with a strong correlation of improved health and well-being, increased energy and vitality, a healthy GI tract, and a way to heal myself. It meant eating wholesome, plant-based foods that were nourishing to my body and made me feel fantastic. Although this aspect of being vegan still holds true, the more that I have learned about this lifestyle, the more I have come to realize how much every aspect of this lifestyle resonates with me.
It’s a more compassionate way of living and it leaves a smaller footprint on the environment. The word vegan now has a broader meaning, encompassing a variety of reasons that help mold me into what I believe to be a better person.
How long have you been a vegan and why?
I started my vegan journey 5 ½ years ago. The transition developed over the course of a couple years. The more I learned and the better I felt, the more I wanted to keep going. I used to shy away from the question, “Why are you vegan?” but, the answer has become easier even if it is a bit “TMI.”
Growing up, I struggled with chronic constipation. I remember spending hours in the bathroom, missing out on time with friends and time in the backyard playing with my siblings simply because I couldn’t “go.” It was an issue that I couldn’t escape and as I grew older it only worsened. I followed the standard American diet and, for good measure, included extra fiber bars and cereals, drank lots of water, and exercised, but to no avail.
In my college years it came to the point that I tried over-the-counter laxatives to alleviate my discomfort. That one experience was enough for me to realize this was not a path I wanted to head down. I started researching various natural ways to heal myself of constipation and came across a plant-based, vegan diet.
After doing some more research and watching a couple documentaries, I gave up most meat and cow’s milk. From there, I continued to research this new lifestyle and almost immediately started feeling better. I continued to cut things out of my diet until finally, I became vegan. I have actively been engaging in this lifestyle to the fullest extent for almost 3 years now and I’ve never felt better.
What are the health benefits?
Many health benefits can come along with a well-planned, plant-based vegan diet. I try to stress the plant-based aspect when I talk about eating vegan. It is so easy to become a junk-food vegan, but this isn’t the lifestyle that I am subscribing to. While junk-food has its time and place, a whole foods plant-based diet is full of nutrients, water, and fiber in great abundance.
When an individual eats a plant-based vegan diet they should innately be getting sufficient carbohydrates, fat, and protein while also providing all of their vitamins and minerals, with the exception of vitamin B12. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements.
Working as a dietitian and trying to stay abreast the research on the health benefits of a vegan diet, there have been numerous people, some of whom I know personally, that have gotten off their cholesterol medicine, insulin, or just get sick less frequently.
Vegan diets are known to help people lose weight without having to control calories or count carbs. A vegan diet may help you maintain a healthy heart, reducing your risk of developing heart disease or even worse, having a heart attack. It can even potentially protect against type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
I understand when I think and say these types of things that they seem radical or too good to be true but as Ben Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
What are some of the difficulties and the solutions you've found?
I continue to learn how to navigate living a vegan lifestyle in a meat-centric world. The initial difficulties and ones that thankfully now only occasionally arise are eating out and going over to friends or family’s homes.
Most of my friends and family are aware and of how I eat and go above and beyond to make accommodations for me. When I know that I am treading into new territory though, I try to make sure that I am well equipped beforehand. Mostly, it just comes down to being nimble, prepared, and polite. If I am eating at a new restaurant with friends, I always scope out the menu to see what I can get. If the pickings are slim, I can just eat before going out, load up on side dishes, or politely speak with the waiter about meal adjustments.
Eating vegan, as a whole, takes a little more preparation. In the beginning, I found myself eating a lot of the same thing or eating more processed, vegan foods. Overall, it takes a little more planning and creativity, which I’ve grown to love.
Each week, I spend time planning out my meals and then subsequently meal prepping for at least four weekdays. This has drastically reduced any unnecessary stress during the week surrounding my meals and has been an amazing habit ever since becoming vegan. It ensures that I always have tasty and nutritious food to fill me up while living an active vegan lifestyle. I’ve found that no challenge has been too difficult to overcome. When you’re passionate about something, you’ll leap over any hurdle to make it happen.
Moment of honesty, I wish that losing weight was as simple as calories in and calories out. I wish diet products worked and once you lost weight you could resume life as ‘normal’ and maintain weight loss. I even wish the food industry could be trusted and that we’re not living in a world designed to make us obese via addiction. I wish weight loss was easy.
Before we dig in, let’s get some clarity on the elusive food industry. Most people who work in the food industry are not monocle wearing evil doers trying to take over the world by making millions of people sick.
Unfortunately monocles aren’t worn anymore. As for the people that work within the food industry, they’re humans like you and I who are trying to make ends meet. They have the same job description as the rest of us: go to work to bring a paycheck home to provide food, clothing and shelter for you and your family. Their job is NOT your health.
Your health is your job, unless you’re a child. Then your health is your guardian’s job. Life tip: never grow up. If you’re unable to avoid adulting, then today is the day to take control of your health. Be the boss of your booty and blood pressure.
The seafood counter can be intimidating. Most people scan the case, looking over different filets and shellfish, wondering how they taste, how fresh they are, and of course, the best way to prepare them. Ironically, most seafood is very easy to prepare, especially on the grill. If the tropical temperatures are inspiring you to throw a filet on the grill for your next cook-out, here are some things to keep in mind as you select your favorite fish at the store and fire up the grill.
With the 2016 holiday season in full swing and the eager excitement of ushering in 2017 is in the air, I crafted a gift guide for you and your loved one to enrich your worlds with health, happiness and quality of life. There's a little something for everyone on your list, including you!
The biggest lesson I have learned in all my years in the nutrition world: everybody eats.
Sure, that sounds obvious, but it’s so obvious that we overlook it and the real challenge that comes along with it is the struggle of eating well in a fast paced world full of options. While some sadly struggle with food scarcity, others struggle with making healthy choices and portion control. For this reason I am always in search of and sharing ways to make eating well realistic, affordable and delicious.
From my college days in the Pacific Northwest to my return to my home state on the range, Wyoming (it’s real, a state and not in Canada), to the quick minute I stopped over in Phoenix for 20 months to finally finding my forever hometown of Durham, North Carolina and all the places in between, I seek out these food gems.
Eating well is neither eating a diet exclusively of wheat grass, nor something that comes out of a packet. For shame, faux nutrition pushers, for shame! Kidding. Not judging. You do you…but for the love of all things good and kidneys, knock that malarkey off!