A Plant-Powered Interview with Registered Dietitian Sharon Palmer

February 29th, 2016


Recently Meatless Monday caught up with Sharon Palmer, the registered dietitian behind the Plant-Powered Blog and the books The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life. Through her writing and her public speaking, Palmer is helping turn the modern American/Western Diet on its head with one not-that-radical change: put vegetables, instead of meat, at the center of the plate!

Sharon Palmer

As editor of the award-winning Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, Palmer makes it easy to understand the benefits of eating fewer animal-based foods and getting more plant-based foods on your plate.

At Meatless Monday, we talk about making small changes one day a week. What kind of small changes would you recommend to folks looking to eat a little bit better?

Small changes include turning the table on how you plan your meals. There’s this old idea that when you come home at the end of the day and think “What’s for dinner”, you think of the options: chicken, beef, or fish. But what if your mind goes to plants instead of always thinking of animal foods first? You can change the way you think about meal planning in this way. The newer, more healthful idea of meal planning is to focus in what plant you might highlight on your plate, rather than a slab of meat.

Another tip for adding more vegetables to your day is to eat them all day long! A lot of people don’t even eat their first vegetable until dinnertime. How are you going to fit a day’s worth of vegetables into dinner alone? Working vegetables into your diet during the day has to be a goal. Look for creative ways to add vegetables to your routine. I love edamame or snow peas as a snack, and a lot of cultures even eat vegetables for breakfast!

 

You’ve been an advocate for Meatless Monday for years. How did that begin? Why do you like / what do you like about the program?

I’m a huge advocate of Meatless Monday! I don’t do a talk without including a push for Meatless Monday! My philosophy is that everyone can eat a more plant-based diet. Veganism may not appeal to everyone, but a plant-based diet, which focuses on eating more plants and less animal-based foods is something everyone can do.

Plant-based foods are good for the environment and good for human health. We have studies that show it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. I’d like to see the public choosing a path, their own unique path, to better health through eating more plants.

February is American Heart Month and March is National Nutrition Month. What first steps do you recommend to people looking to make changes relating to either month?

One of the main steps for heart health is healthier eating, and including more whole plant-based foods is the best dietary approach to help prevent heart disease. The healthiest foods to choose are rich in fiber, phytochemicals, and healthy fats, and those are all found in plant foods and seafoods. And the traditional American/Western Diet doesn’t provide you with a lot of those nutrients.

Choosing healthy fats is another great way to make a change – choose fats from nuts or avocados, or use olive or canola oils. Choosing lean protein and more plant-based protein is another way to make a positive change in your routine!

I’m glad you brought up protein – when we talk about cutting down on meat, the first question we get is about protein. How do you get your protein/respond to that question?

When you eat a healthy plant-based diet, you are actually getting protein from all kinds of food sources! It’s not just in those specific protein-rich foods, you get protein from lots of whole plant foods, such as vegetables and whole grains.

People tend to think they need more protein than they really do. The average American gets more protein than their body needs! We do need protein, but not in the proportions we typically get from the American/Western Diet. Legumes (really protein-rich beans, lentils, and soy foods), almonds, peanuts, and pistachios are some of the plants that provide the most protein.

If you include a protein source at each snack and meal, you’ll be fine. If you’re planning to go 100% vegan, you might have to plan your meals out a little bit more to ensure you get enough protein, but you can go meatless once a week and be perfectly fine from a nutritional standpoint.

Sharon Palmer's Quinoa Kale Risotto with Pistachios

Sharon Palmer’s Quinoa Kale Risotto with Pistachios

Your approach is very positive and inclusive. Instead of ‘don’t eat this’ you help people choose what to eat. Why that approach?

It’s much more effective to give out a positive message than a negative one, particularly when it comes to nutrition. Instead of saying ‘don’t eat cookies,’ a message like ‘eat a piece of fruit’ can be more helpful and encouraging to people trying to change what they eat. Sometimes a positive approach like this can have the healthy side effect of replacing a negative habit – you might not even want that cookie after eating a piece of fruit!

The health benefits of changing your diet don’t necessarily come from what you DON’T eat, but from what you DO eat. When people eat a plant-based diet, it’s not just that they aren’t eating meat, it’s that they ARE eating a lot of good things. Their meals are now packed with nutrition from whole plant foods. A healthy diet has to be something sustainable, something you can feel happy about and enjoy!

Any advice for picky eaters? Young or old, when you’ve only ever had a few vegetables, it’s sometimes tough to adjust to new habits.

I love the taste of Brussels sprouts! But not everyone does.

Picky eating is a real issue, and not just for children, for adults too. Scientists are researching whether people taste and experience food differently. All the really healthful qualities of foods affect the taste. Phytochemicals are a big part of that, they influence the color and flavor of foods, even the aroma!

The older idea of the bland, boring vegetable is gone – If you go to a fine dining restaurant now, they put the vegetables on a pedestal! Roasting is a great way to make anyone love vegetables, roasting them changes the texture and aroma, and allows them to caramelize a little too. Sautéing them Mediterranean style (with a little olive oil, water, and herbs till just tender) is a wonderful way to try greens, broccoli, or really anything. Sometimes people who “don’t like vegetables” will still eat salads, so making your salad interesting by adding nutrient rich greens or unusual vegetables is perfect for those wanting to try something new.

Where can our readers go for more information/to follow your work? Any projects we should be on the lookout for?

I post every day on the blog, where I write about recipes and making a healthier move to a plant-based lifestyle. My books are another way to read more about the power of plant-based eating. I love speaking about health and nutrition, and on my events calendar you can see if I’ll be in your area for a speaking engagement soon!

 

 

Check out Palmer’s recipe for Quinoa Kale Risotto with Pistachios this Meatless Monday, and enjoy her recipes for delicious meatless meals any day of the week!