Q&A with Aaron: Embracing Plant-Based, From Vegan to Reducetarian (Part 2)
If you haven't already, start with Part 1 of this interview. There was just too much goodness to squeeze into one post!
Disclaimer: The ideas in this post are not meant to be taken as health advice, as neither Aaron or I are qualified to offer that (...yet!). These are just some ideas we discussed openly, based on things we've learned through personal experience or research. Always do your own research before making any dietary changes.
Welcome back to this fun and informative Q&A with Aaron! Let's get right back into it.
Jessica: What advice would you give someone who either wants to go vegan or simply reduce their meat intake?
Aaron: Crowd out your plate with fruits and vegetables. Stuff your face with as much fruit and vegetables as you can, and then if you still want to eat meat or cheese, go for it. Just fill yourself up with the good stuff first and that way you know you're at least taking a step forward. My hunch is - and my experience has been - when we fill ourselves up with the good stuff first - especially if potatoes are involved - our satiety is met, and my assumption would be that most of us would decline that piece of meat because we're already satisfied and full.
More practically speaking though, take a look at the portion of meat that you tend to eat with a meal, take a little bit off each day or each week, and add keep adding more veggies or fruit in its place.
Also, educate yourself. Learn about the protein myth. Learn about animal enzymes versus plant enzymes. Complete protein. All this stuff. The bottom line is we don't need animal products. It's hurting everything, including us. There's also the sustainability factor; it's just not efficient for us to feed them (animals) and eat them when we can just eat what they eat and everyone can be happy and healthy.
Jessica: Can you dispel any myths about veganism?
Aaron: First, protein is not as big a deal as people make it out to be. We simply don't need as much protein as we're lead to believe. Also, plants have amino acid chains (the building blocks of protein).
[I looked this up on nutritionfacts.org after our conversation and confirmed that on average, adults require about "42 grams of protein per day" and that most of us get far more than we need, whether we're meat eaters or not.]
Second, it's not hard work to be vegan. It does take some thinking and planning. It doesn't have to be fancy or pretentious though. Think rice and beans!
Third, it's not expensive. It can even be cheaper. Potatoes for instance, which I eat a lot of, are quite cheap. Or edamame with rice and soy sauce, which is one of my favourite meals.
Fourth, carbohydrates don't make you fat. Carbs take different forms, some more health-promoting than others. Refined carbs (white bread, toaster strudels, muffins, etc.) have been linked to lots of potential health issues. But natural whole food sources of carbohydrates are some of the best foods to eat. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, and corn are good examples of carb-heavy foods that burn clean inside the body, and because of their relationship with fibre as they get digested, they don’t tax the body or cause problems the same way refined carbs do.
Jessica: Going back to the protein thing, every time I make a vegan meal, I include some kind of beans or nuts or seeds or tofu, etc, for protein. Are you saying that's not necessary?
Aaron: Totally! Some people just eat fruit - they're called fruitarians. I love fruit but that wouldn't be all I'd want to eat. There's a famous endurance runner who's a fruitarian and he eats half a watermelon at lunchtime. But that's not the point.
[And for the record, we're not recommending that anyone switches to an all-fruit diet! That's just bananas.]
The thing is, protein has been mislabeled. "Protein" is a descriptive term that people have adopted for a food that contains not just protein, but also carbohydrates and fat, etc. Beans are higher in carbohydrates than they are in protein! Even nuts are predominantly fat.
[For me, this was the most mind-blowing part of our interview. Of course, I knew this...Obviously. But I've definitely fallen into the trap of thinking of foods in terms of their food groups, not their actual nutritional makeup. I did some quick Googling and in case you didn't know, beans are "the pod-borne seeds of leguminous plants" (Have you ever heard a word more fantastic than leguminous? I have not.) Aaron was right (of course) about beans having more carbs than protein. One cup of pinto beans, for example, contains 15 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbs. They also have 15 grams of fiber and tons of nutrients. (healthline.com) As far as nuts go, a serving of almonds (28 g or a small handful) contains 14 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein, (healthline.com) so as Aaron said, they are more fat than protein! Luckily, it's the healthy type of fat so we can feel good about eating them in small portions.]
Even the International Olympic Committee recommends carbohydrate replenishment - fuel for muscles - versus a high protein fuel-up after a big workout.
I think if people just ate whole foods of different colours and sizes and didn't worry so much about protein, they'd be more at peace and healthier.
Jessica: What is your favourite healthy vegan meal to make at home?
Aaron: If there was one meal I had to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Buddha bowls. I like to make them with a handful of mixed greens, a handful of hearty greens, sprouts that I grow myself (i.e., lentil, mung bean), a heartier vegetable like a sweet potato (which can be cut up small and boiled quickly), edamame, and cashew cream sauce (made of cashews, nutritional yeast flakes, salt and pepper, ACV, and basil). You can add bulgur or quinoa or other grains but I don't always bother.
Burritos are great too. I put rice, beans, sometimes tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, throw it in a wrap, wrap it up, and eat it.
Jessica: What is a quick go-to vegan meal for you?
Aaron: Smoothies sustain me. I have a litre of smoothie every day at lunchtime, maybe with some seaweed chips or almonds on the side just for some crunch. In my Vitamix, I use a frozen fruit blend (mangos, raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate, cherries, blackberries, and blueberries), two big kale leaves, (fresh or frozen), frozen spinach pellets, some spirulina and moringa powder, a few chunks of raw turmeric root, some pepper, sometimes a bit of oat milk, 2 large unripe bananas, (the greener the better for digestion and gut health), and a handful of basil or mint leaves. Occasionally I'll put in hemp powder or vanilla protein powder for flavour and texture, but that's not even necessary. Then I add water up to the level of where the vegetables sit, then I hit go, then I hit turbo-go, and in 30 seconds I've got a meal!
Jessica: What are the most annoying things non-vegans ask you or say to you on a regular basis?
Aaron: I've been guilty of this too, I've asked some stupid questions; not stupid questions but...I've come from uninformed perspectives. Here are a few pet peeve questions and comments I get:
"Where do you get your protein?"
"Don't you run out of things to eat?"
To which I usually respond "there are a lot more plants than animal foods".
"Aren't you worried about getting man-boobs from eating tofu?"
But tofu contains phytoestrogen (plant estrogen), which is totally different than estrogen.
"I'd love to go vegan, I just don't think I have the discipline."
"I'd love to go vegan but cheese!"
They just enjoy eating what they're eating too much to want to make a change.
Now, I have all the time in the world to humour any person's question if they're coming from a place of genuine curiosity, and a desire to learn more to maybe effect change in their life.
Jessica: Do you have any resources to recommend that have been really valuable to you?
Nutritionfacts.org It's meta-analysis; as much information as they can get on one topic is simplified down into short videos, podcasts, and articles.
The Rich Roll Podcast for conversations about plants and trends and habits.
YouTube for cooking techniques.
Bad Manners (previously titled Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook) [One of my personal favourites!]
The Oh She Glows Cookbook - one of the best, most approachable cookbooks.
Jessica: Where can people find you?
Aaron: Anybody is welcome to reach out to me if they have any questions. I'm @aarononpurpose on Instagram.
Jessica: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
Aaron: I'd like to touch on empathy and compassion, or what I call the human part of it. What causes us, humans, to eat animals? I've rescued piglets from the side of the road and held them in my arms. One of them died hours later; the other one, I managed to bring to an animal sanctuary. They've snuggled in my arms. Their eyes, their mouths...They're not food, they're beings.
Personally, I've never felt stronger, more aligned, more at peace; never felt better in my own skin as I do when I'm not causing harm, when I'm spreading love, when I'm being enthusiastic and energetic. I would not have any of those things if I still ate the beings that I claim to love.
I want to send a huge heartfelt thank you out to Aaron, for sharing so openly with me and for the amazing day we had in Collingwood!
*Earlier this month (September 2021), Aaron started a Holistic Nutrition program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. He's looking forward to becoming a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and sharing his passion for plant-based nutrition with future clients!
Just this past weekend, Aaron and I had a blast at KW Vegfest! Learning about animal sanctuaries was quite eye-opening for me. I can't resist sharing the only photo I took at the event - it's food, of course! This amazing nacho platter was from the Chau Toronto booth. Plant-based sure can be pretty! And yes, it was delicious too.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A blog post - the first of its kind for Along the Way! If you'd like to chat with me about Self-Care, Sustainability, Mindfulness or Motherhood/Parenting, please reach out through either the contact form, Along the Way's Facebook page, or Instagram. I'd love to feature Q&A posts more often!
And in case you missed it, Aaron's vegan adventures are fun to follow on Instagram!