Originally posted on Forbes.com
If the idea of eating a plant-based diet sounds overwhelming, I get it. As someone who would eat turkey sandwiches for lunch every day and a bowl of ice cream each night, I could never have imagined that I’d be the kind of person to make that switch.
But now, after over a decade of being on a plant-based diet myself, my health has improved and I feel more energy than ever.
Don’t worry. I’m not trying to convince you to swear off meat forever. A 100% plant-based diet is not right for everyone. However, I do believe that there are incredible—perhaps lifesaving—benefits that happen when you integrate more whole foods into your life. And with most of us stuck inside cooking from home, now is a great time to experiment with new food and meal ideas.
That’s why I knew I had to talk to expert nutritionist, Julieanna Hever M.S., RD.
Best known as the Plant-Based Dietitian, Julieanna is more than the bestselling author of books including The Vegiterranean Diet and The Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. As the co-founder of The Healthspan Solution, which has worked with clients like Penn Jillette and Rich Roll, she is also an entrepreneur.
Last, but certainly not least, Julieanna was my personal coach when I began transitioning to a plant-based diet. With her straightforward and approachable guidance, her wisdom has transformed my life more than I could’ve imagined.
Now, I’m excited to share a few of my favorite nuggets I learned from our recent two-hour conversation, including everything from how to eat a plant-based diet to dispelling common myths about this lifestyle.
A Love for Nutrition
Julieanna has always been interested in nutrition and fitness, but it finally became her career-defining passion after she became a personal trainer. “As soon as I started,” she says, “everyone was asking me about what they should eat.”
Not wanting just to parrot what she read in a book, the ever-curious Julieanna began digging into the science of why certain foods were healthier than others. “I need to know what I’m talking about,” she continues. “What’s real? What’s the truth? It feels like there is so much misinformation out there.”
The more Julieanna studied nutrition, the more she read about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Still, she was unsure. Wouldn’t cutting out meat cause significant deficiencies in vital nutrients?
Despite the hesitation, curiosity again got the better of Julieanna, and she gave the diet a try. “It changed my entire health,” she remembers. “Everything changed about my body when I switched to a plant-based diet—and that was it.”
Many of her lifelong health problems began to vanish, including allergies, sinus infections, acne, and GI issues. She also lost the last few pesky pounds that she never could quite shake off.
“I had to tell the world! I wanted everyone to eat this way. I couldn’t believe how extraordinary it was.”
This was fifteen years ago, and she hasn’t looked back.
The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
To date, Julieanna has helped thousands of clients worldwide take on a plant-based diet. But what exactly does that mean?
“You could sum it all up into this one sentence,” Julieanna says. “We want you to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices in tasty combinations of soups, salads, side, and sweets.” Nothing is processed, and everything is eaten whole.
Some of Julieanna’s clients start on the diet as a way to enhance their already relatively healthy body. For others, like magician Penn Jillette, it was a matter of life and death.
Once overweight with severe cardiovascular problems and considering a gastric bypass surgery, Jillette instead went plant-based. In just a few months, one hundred pounds—and most of his health problems—disappeared.
“I’ve just seen so many things get better by eating this way,” she says.
Still, even the most dedicated clients can have a difficult time adjusting. Few habits are more ingrained into us, our relationships, and our culture than food. To combat this, a shift in thinking and messaging is a pivotal part of her coaching process.
“Food is love,” says Julieanna. “And culture and community and family! It is so deeply ingrained into our social lives. Our socialization is hugely important for health and wellness. With that said, I have a lifestyle transformation company.”
In addition to better eating habits, Julieanna gives her clients tips on living a full social life while maintaining a plant-based diet. This includes advice like suggesting restaurants with plant-based options or avoiding topics about your diet. “Everyone’s got an opinion,” she says, and continuously defending your choices gets exhausting.
Thankfully, the acceptance and popularity of plant-based diets have grown, which makes this an easier era than ever to start. “It’s kind of the perfect time to do this. It’s not weird,” she laughs.
“We used to be weird!”
Plant-Based Diet Myths (And Truths)
Julieanna—and anyone on a plant-based diet—is used to getting asked countless questions about their food choices. It’d be impossible to clear up everything in a single article, but she’d still like to tackle a few of the most common misconceptions.
Can I Get Enough Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet?
Yes! But that being said: “There is no such thing as a perfect diet,” says Julieanna.
This goes for everything from Paleo to plant-based to fast food—it’s always important to supplement your diet with any macro and micronutrients you might be lacking. Thankfully, it’s easier than you’d think to consume these essential nutrients, even without a daily vitamin regimen. You just need to know where to get them.
For example, Omega-3 fatty acids often come from animal-based sources like fish. However, you can also get an ample supply from hemp seeds, flax, chia, and walnuts. It’s merely about understanding the alternative ways to get the nutrition you need.
Is There a Difference Between Plant-Based vs. Vegan?
This is a fantastic and common question that anyone on plant-based or vegan diets regularly gets asked—and for a good reason. The difference between veganism and plant-based eating can be complicated.
In general, veganism is more about morals and ethics regarding animal welfare—though nutrition can certainly play a large role. However, you can also be a staunch vegan while living solely on Oreos and Red Bull. (Yes. Both are vegan.)
With a plant-based diet, however, it’s the nutrition itself that plays the most significant factor in the individual’s diet. This means saying goodbye to processed, oily, chemical-filled foods, and hello to the whole ones.
Are Plant-Based Diets Expensive?
Like any diet, you can make eating plant-based as pricey as you’d like. However, it’s not inherently more expensive than others.
Julieanna actually finds it easier to eat affordably on a plant-based diet than when she was eating meat. “If you’re going out all the time, you’ll spend a lot of money on food,” she says. “The healthiest foods are the simplest staples…and you could do that very affordably.”
She encourages practitioners to shop in bulk, especially for foods like beans, lentils, potatoes, rice, and greens. “I buy huge bags of already-chopped salad,” she says. “It’s $5 for a bag that lasts me like four or five days… it’s so easy to eat on a budget.”
Won’t My Plant-Based Meals Get Boring?
Think about what meals you’ve eaten over the last two weeks. I bet they were similar to the meals that you had in the two weeks before that.
What we eat likely isn’t as varied as we think, and most of us already eat a relatively consistent rotation of products. So, to make the transition to plant-based, Julieanna suggests finding delicious replacements for the foods that no longer fit into your diet.
“Most people are creatures of habit,” Julieanna says. “You only need to find eight to ten recipes that you love. I don’t want you to think, ‘Oh, I have to give up this and that.’ Just think about the new foods that you’ll get to try. Come at it from that angle.”
And, especially as you’re transitioning, it’s okay to “cheat” here and there. If you can’t stop dreaming about eating your favorite fried fish sandwich, “then go get the fried fish sandwich,” Julieanna says. “That’s a million times better than getting fast food three times a day!”
In the end, you’re making these decisions for your own personal health and wellness. Once equipped with the knowledge of a plant-based diet, the choice is ultimately yours. Or as Julieanna says—
“There is no ‘plant-based’ police.”
Listen to my entire conversation with Julieanna Hever on the donothing podcast. Learn more about the science of plant-based diets, what other health benefits you can expect, her tips on integrating a plant-based diet into your own life, and more.
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