Heather Russell is the Dietician at The Vegan Society- so we caught up with her to ask about all the ins and outs of the nutritional side of a vegan diet.
When and why did you decide to go vegan?
I started my vegan journey in 2015 after reading a booked called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I found the ethical and environmental benefits of eating a vegan diet equally compelling.
As a dietician - have you found that more and more people are seeking advice from you about the vegan diet?
Currently, veganism is a fast-growing lifestyle movement, and it’s estimated that over half a million people in Britain are eating a vegan diet. In my role as The Vegan Society’s dietitian, I answer lots of questions about vegan nutrition every week.
What is the first thing you tell someone who is considering changing to a plant based diet?
As with any dietary change, research and planning are important. People need access to reliable information about vegan diets, and there are resources available at vegansociety.com/nutrition. If someone has dietary concerns, I recommend that they ask their doctor for a referral to a dietitian.
What are the common pitfalls of people going vegan without the proper research?
Every vegan journey is different, but it’s always important to learn how to get all the essential nutrients without using animal products. With this knowledge at their fingertips, a vegan will be able to balance food groups well, and make good use of fortified foods and supplementation. Most people can benefit from finding out more about eating well, and going vegan is a great opportunity to increase your nutritional know-how, and improve the quality of your diet. It’s recognised that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.
Please tell us about getting your job at The Vegan Society? Was it a dream come true?
When I heard that The Vegan Society was recruiting a dietitian last year, I knew that I had to apply. I love using my professional skills in a charity setting, and supporting vegans.
What are your thoughts on vegan replacements such as burgers, sausages and mince - can you eat them as part of a healthy diet or are they purely for the transition phase?
The nutritional content of meat substitutes varies considerably. Some of them contain a lot of salt, which is linked to high blood pressure. If you want to get the most out of a vegan diet, look for everyday recipes that include beans, chickpeas and lentils. These foods are rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, and an 80g serving counts as one of your 5-a-day.
Can you tell us what you eat on a typical day?
My favourite breakfast is porridge with fruit and seeds. At lunchtime, I might heat up some leftovers, like beans and pasta in spicy tomato sauce, and add greens. A typical evening meal might be lentil and pineapple curry with brown rice and peas. I like to snack on fruit, carrot and celery sticks, and nuts. Also, I aim to get through at least 400ml of fortified plant milk daily, and take a vitamin and mineral supplement designed for vegans.
What is your favourite vegan meal to make at home?
At the moment, I’m really enjoying stir-fried tofu, rice noodles, carrot and broccoli, covered with a sauce made using crunchy peanut butter. Going vegan has given me a whole new appreciation for the great tastes of plant foods.
Veganism is hugely popular right now - do you think it will lose its novelty or continue to grow?
More and more people are finding out how a vegan lifestyle can help animals and the planet, and realising that it’s never been easier to go vegan. I expect that the number of vegans in Britain will continue to rise, and The Vegan Society will continue to raise awareness of the benefits of veganism, and support vegans. We’ve just launched our biggest ever campaign called Plate Up for the Planet, and people can join our 7 day vegan challenge at vegansociety.com/plateup. Thousands of people around the world are already taking part.
Can you recommend any restaurants that serve amazing vegan food?
If someone wants to try vegan food, they’ll be spoilt for choice in some restaurants! I particularly enjoy eating Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine in local eateries.
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