Meet my vegetarian/vegan/plant-based friend!

Readers, tonight I want to introduce to Nicole and get a peak at her plant based (animal loving!) lifestyle. As you know I have been following a vegan diet and have been sharing my recipes and experience. Now here is someone who has fully embraced a plant based lifestyle. Nicole has been a loyal reader and one of the first to comment and like my posts! I really appreciate this from an old classmate and pal! I hope you everyone can learn from her lifestyle and find a new appreciation and understanding for those on this side of the fence.

Meet Nicole! Tonight's guest and animal lovin' friend!

Meet Nicole! Tonight’s guest and animal lovin’ friend!

1. How long have you followed a plant based diet diet?

I will have been vegetarian for 7 years on January 15th and have followed a vegan diet off and on for the past 3 years. I consider myself to be an ovo-lacto (eggs and milk) vegetarian (as opposed to a pescatarian, who would also eat fish). I try to eat vegan as much as possible but don’t follow the dairy guidelines as strictly as a vegan would.

2. What was your motivation for following this diet type?

So many reason!

  1. Ethics: This has to be at the top of my list. I have always been an animal lover, so I have never felt totally comfortable with an animal having to die so that I can eat.
  2. Health: As a very health conscience person, the health benefits were just too good to pass up! High cholesterol runs in my family, and since cholesterol is an animal by-product, a vegan diet eliminates the threat all together. A vegan/plant-based diet is also one of the best ways to decrease the risk of heart disease (as a woman, I am at a higher risk of), diabetes type II, high blood pressure, and a variety of cancers, just to name a few.
  3. Environmental: I won’t get into the statistics of it, but going vegan or vegetarian is one of the best methods of environmental preservation. It’s definitely worth looking into for those who are interested.
  4. Everything else: I FEEL better when I eat vegetarian/vegan. I feel better about what I’m eating, I have more energy, I’ve found I don’t get as sick as frequently, and I eat guilt free. When you pay attention as closely as you do when you eat vegan, you train your brain to eat consciously. You force yourself to look at the list of ingredients on everything you eat. I’m more aware of calorie, fat, sodium, and sugar content because I’m always looking at labels. It’s a great habit to get into regardless of your diet.

3. What are your daily struggles with this diet?

My biggest struggle is dealing with the criticism. I have always found it really difficult to deal with people who are critical of my dietary choices and I have a hard time arguing when put on the spot. To anyone else who is struggling with this, I recommend reading the book Vegan Freak by Bob Torres and Jenna Torres. It has helped me a lot!

I also struggle with restaurants, and I know I’m not the only one here! Although I don’t eat out very often, it can be a huge challenge when I do. The best advice on this is to do your research before you get to the restaurant: look up their menu, find out if they have made any statements regarding what foods are vegetarian or vegan friendly, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! It also helps to get creative, try a veggie pizza with no cheese, or a veggie sub at your favorite sandwich shop and load it with veggies instead of meat, a lot of places have veggie burgers you can use in place of a regular meat patty, you just have to think outside your comfort zone.

4. What is your go-to protein source?

Green veggies, beans, nuts, tempeh, soy milk, I love it all! I like to mix it up a lot it up a lot, but in the morning I usually stick with a handful of almonds or walnuts or soy milk with granola. For lunch I love lentil soup, it’s so cheap and easy to make, and it’s packed with protein and fiber. For dinner I am a sucker for kale. I am guilty at least once a week of eating an entire bundle of kale by myself. It’s great sautéed or baked kale chips in the oven as a side. Tempeh is definitely an acquired taste but it’s also a great go to source of protein as a replacement for meat. I personally like to slice it, cover it with barbeque sauce (mmm Montgomery Inn!) and bake it. It’s also great on sandwiches, with or without the barbeque sauce. On my last 4 blood tests I have been at the top of the normal range (7.2-7.7) for protein gm/dL, so a balanced diet is the way to go!

4. What is your favorite vegetable?

Kale, yellow squash, broccoli, and zucchini are all tied for the top. It’s totally worth it to invest in really good olive oil because a little goes a long way when you’re working with veggies packed with so much flavor a little goes a long way whether you’re sautéing them or roasting them, my two favorite ways to eat them; especially when you start getting creative with spices! Also try sprinkling a little bit of nutritional yeast on top for a cheesy flavor.

5. How important is your health to you and how has following a vegan diet influenced that?

There is a quote by Ann Wigmore that says “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison” and I can’t agree more! When you are forced to analyze your food every time you eat, it makes you so much more aware of what you are putting into your body. I feel that before I was vegetarian I took a backseat to my health and nutrition and let the food I ate dictate my health, and now I take a much more active hands on approach. As a vegetarian there are always new approaches to the diet, new substitutes to try, new research being done, etc.

6. You have shared that your expertise is in vegan baking, what are some of your favorite treats?

I love baking vegan! This is the one area that of my life that I have had very little trouble adjusting to a vegan diet. Everything from cookies to cupcakes to pies can very easily be made vegan. I love experimenting with recipes that aren’t vegan to make them vegan, sometimes you get flops (looking at you, Boston Cream Pie of 2012…), but that’s half the fun! My favorite vegan baking treat has to be pie though. Vegan pie crust is so cheap and easy to make and I love finding fresh picked fruit in the summer time and making fresh pies or freezing it and having a little taste of summer in the middle of winter.

Almost any recipe can be made vegan by using Earth Balance to replace butter, soy/almond milk for regular milk, flax seed and water to replace eggs (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/flaxseed-egg-substitute.html#13893693595791&action=collapse_widget&id=7313891), and soy creamer to replace heavy cream.

7. Care to share your favorite recipes?

Brownies: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/vegan-brownies/ – A coworker of mine once brought in “Slutties”, which is a brownie on top of Oreos (which are vegan!) on top of chocolate chip cookies…If you get vegan chocolate chips (I believe Ghirardelli might still be, but always double check) and follow the recipe on the bag using the flax seed replacement for the eggs, you can make the most amazing sinful dessert that is not healthy at all (sorry Carrie!) but totally vegan!

Buttercream Frosting: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10856-vegan-fluffy-buttercream-frosting

Whipped Cream: http://ohsheglows.com/2012/08/30/coconut-whipped-cream-a-step-by-step-photo-tutorial/

Pumpkin Poptarts!!!!: http://www.housevegan.com/2013/09/homemade-pumpkin-pie-pop-tarts.html

Chocolate Mousse with Avocado: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/chocolate-avocado-mousse-recipe/index.html

French Toast: http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=211186

Chocolate cake: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Vegan-Chocolate-Cake/Detail.aspx

Vegan mac&cheese (not really baking): http://vegweb.com/recipes/best-vegan-mac-and-cheese-entire-worldseriously

Raw Balls (not to be confused with schweddy balls hehe): http://putasporkinit.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/alicia-silverstones-raw-balls/

Vegan Skyline (yes!!! Also not really baking but I had to add it!): 1 package of Vegetarian soy crumbles (try Morning Star or Smart Ground), 1 packet of Cincinnati chili style seasoning (usually next to the other chili/taco/seasoning packets), 1 can tomato paste, 5 cups of water. Throw it in a crock pot or a large skillet and cook until it’s hot and good consistency!

Vegan pie crust: If my mother taught me anything in life, the 10 minutes it takes to make homemade pie crust is worth the $2.99 it cost premade, especially since premade pie crust commonly contains lard. For 2 crusts, top and bottom, it’s just a 1cup:3cup ratio of fat(either earth balance or shortening) to flour, a little bit of cold water as you mix it (I just add a few splashes as I go), and a pinch of salt. Most pie fillings are already vegan so this makes a great easy vegan dessert, or a great vegan pot pie with tofu instead of chicken!

8. Greatest successes?

I think my greatest successes have been leading by example and showing people that vegan food can be fun, fulfilling, and flavorful. When someone switches to a vegan or vegetarian substitute after something they’ve tried of mine or a recommendation and that’s very rewarding. Inspiring and helping other people to make cleaner eating choices encourages me that what I’m doing is beneficial not just to my own personal health, but to the health of those around me.

9. Anything else that you would like to share?

I think a lot of people look at vegetarian or veganism as a disadvantage, and I have never found that to be true. Being vegetarian has been such a fun adventure for me and I have really enjoyed my experience. It has really helped that the majority of my family are vegetarian or vegan; surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and helpful is key to making any diet work, and that is very true for veganism and vegetarianism. Have fun with it!

Thank you Nicole for this wonderful interview and sharing your experiences with us all! I hope all you readers enjoy this interview as much as I did! 

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