Today on the blog we’re chatting about something that has been on a lot of people’s minds lately: plant based living! I know that in my own life, all the time spent alone at home over the past couple of months has given me a chance to slow down and question my habits, lifestyle and daily routines, and food is such an enormous part of this.
I’ve always been fascinated by nutrition, and over the years I’ve dabbled with several different styles of eating including keto, low carb and vegan/vegetarian. It’s especially interesting to learn about the best foods to eat for blood sugars and overall health from a type 1 diabetic perspective.
My good friend Ali recently sent me a podcast episode about plant-based diets for people living with T1D, and it really opened my mind to a different perspective after spending so many years trying to stick to a more low carb style of eating. I haven’t made the switch over to completely plant based yet – I still incorporate some chicken and eggs into my meals, but I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of a fully plant based lifestyle for so many different reasons (it’s ethical, cruelty free and environmentally friendly, to name a few!).
To learn more, I sat down with Ali to pick her brain about her journey with plant based living and how people can make the jump themselves. Ali is a plant based health coach certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Cornell University.
Check out our interview below to learn more about plant based nutrition, resources, tips and more.
Where did your journey with plant based living begin?
It all started way back in eighth grade when I had to do a class debate, and I happened to be assigned the vegetarian side of the debate on vegetarianism. I always say—long story short, I argued myself into going vegetarian. I grew up on a standard North American diet, eating a lot of animal products and processed foods, so I knew pretty much nothing about plant-based nutrition. After doing this project though, I wanted to learn more. I started reading plant-based books and blogs, and going to the annual Veg Food Fest in Toronto. The more I learned about plant-based living, and the more plant-based foods I tried, the more I naturally gravitated towards this lifestyle. And as I gradually shifted my lifestyle, I started feeling better and better—more healthy and energized! I transitioned from a vegetarian diet to a fully whole food, plant-based diet over a period of three years. And this year marks my tenth year being fully plant-based! I can’t believe it’s been an entire decade—it’s been an awesome journey.
What do you eat in a day?
Whenever I get asked this question, I’m usually a bit hesitant to answer at first because I’m such an advocate of bio-individuality. Bio-individuality means that we all have unique needs, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for everyone, and our needs can change over time. When I first went plant-based, I read so many “What I Eat in a Day” blogs, and I would always think: “should I be eating what they’re eating?” So before I share what I eat in a day, I want to emphasize how important it is to listen to your body. Experimenting with different foods, and getting inspired by blogs and videos is great! But remember that this is just what works for me, and someone else’s diet might look completely different.
When I wake up, I always have a big glass of water and some herbal tea. For breakfast, I eat a lot of fruit. I always have a honeycrisp apple—they’re my absolute favourite! I have tons of berries as well—usually blueberries and raspberries. Berries are so amazing because they’re very high in antioxidants. I also have a brazil nut every morning. Just one brazil nut contains enough selenium for an entire day! Selenium is great for thyroid and brain health, and the immune system.
For lunch, I usually have a giant kale salad. I love snacking too. I often graze all day on fresh fruits and veggies, and maybe a few seeds and nuts. I love drinking kombucha, almond milk, and herbal tea during the day as well.
For dinner, I’ll usually have a grain bowl. Quinoa is my favourite! I top it with whatever fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and legumes that I want. And always nutritional yeast! As you can tell, I like eating simple foods—basically throwing whatever fruits and veggies I want into a bowl. I do like making more creative recipes once or twice a week though. For example, a whole food, plant-based pizza or burger. And banana ice cream is my favourite dessert!
What do you love most about this lifestyle?
So many things! First of all, how good it makes me feel! Whole plant-based foods are so healthy! They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients; they’re alkaline-forming; they’re anti-inflammatory… I could go on and on! But basically, they just give us the nutrients we need to thrive. And health is number one! We need our health, energy, and vitality to go after any goal in life, to feel good, and to simply enjoy spending time with friends and family.
I also love that this lifestyle makes such a positive impact on the world—it’s the most compassionate and environmentally friendly way to live. Finally, the whole food, plant-based diet is so abundant and satisfying! Plant-based foods are rich in fibre, and high in nutrient density. This makes them so satisfying to our bodies. It’s also amazing how there are so many different kinds of fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts as well. There are so many…you could never get bored! When I go to the grocery store, I love looking for foods I’ve never tried before. It’s fun to challenge yourself to find something new each time you go.
Who can benefit most from living a plant based lifestyle?
I feel that everyone can benefit. Plant-based foods are so high in vitamins and minerals, they’re anti-inflammatory, and they’re alkalizing. There are countless studies that show that whole, plant-based foods can help prevent and reverse many different chronic diseases; and can help with digestion, energy levels, skin health, mood, and body weight as well. This lifestyle has so many great preventative health benefits. Also, you can get every single micro and macro nutrient you need from plant-based sources. This means that anyone can gain those preventative health benefits while still customizing the plant-based diet to their specific needs. The environmental piece is also huge—we can all benefit from plant-based living because we all need a healthy environment to thrive.
If you were on a desert island and could only have five food items with you what would they be?
Definitely blueberries! They’re my favourite. And kale for sure. I’d have to say quinoa, and of course nutritional yeast so I can put it on my quinoa. And honeycrisp apples—I love apples! That’s actually a pretty well-balanced five items.
What are some of your favourite plant based companies and brands?
Honestly, mother nature! I pretty much just shop the produce aisle or go to the farmers’ market. But also, Whole Earth & Sea makes great vegan supplements if you ever need them—a lot of supplements have animal products in them. Organika has really good superfoods if you ever want goji berries, maca powder, or chlorella, for example. Many people say they could never give up cheese! But there are so many great plant-based cheeses. Here in Toronto, we have Nuts for Cheese which makes amazing vegan cheeses. And of course GT’s Kombucha, and Alchemy Kombucha in Toronto are awesome.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the plant based space or just in general?
Definitely Brendan Brazier! He’s the founder of Vega, the plant based food and supplement company. His book, Thrive Diet, is what inspired me to go fully whole food, plant-based. I was vegetarian at the time, and I heard him give a talk at Toronto Veg Fest. I then read his book, and became completely obsessed with plant-based nutrition. Matthew Kenney is an inspiration to me as well. He’s a plant-based chef, and he has the best vegan restaurants! They’re more upscale—he does great fine dining. I love Double Zero in New York, and Plant Miami in Miami. His recipe book Raw Food Real World is the first recipe book I ever bought. And of course, Rich Roll is a huge inspiration to me. I love his podcast—he talks about different wellness and self development topics. This is so important because everything in health is so connected. I love that he talks a lot about mindful living.
That brings me to my next question. What are some of your mental health must haves?
I love this question because health is about so much more than just what we eat. If we’re stressed and in a fight-or-flight state for too long, our immune and digestive systems can be compromised. So even if we’re eating nutrient-dense foods, we might not be able to digest and assimilate them well. My mental health must-have are definitely restorative yoga and meditation. I absolutely love them both. I meditate every morning for 10 minutes before I start my day, and I practice restorative yoga every night before bed. Also, being part of a community and surrounding myself with supportive, fun, loving people is so important to me. That sense of connection can boost anyone’s sense of well being.
How can people get started with a plant based lifestyle?
I’d say focus on adding in more whole plant-based foods, rather than restricting anything. Easy ways to do this are by making a smoothie in the morning, or adding more greens to your dinner. I find shifting your diet gradually is often a more sustainable and enjoyable approach. And as you eat healthier, you feel better. And when you start feeling better, you naturally start gravitating towards healthier options. I know this from firsthand experience! I used to eat a lot of processed foods, but I now actually crave healthy foods.
Dr. Greger has great videos on his website, nutritionfacts.org. He made a video about a study that shows how your taste buds literally change when you eat healthier! So just focus on adding in healthy options. And trust the process, and know you don’t have to do it all at once. Also, focus on eating whole foods, because there are a lot of vegan foods that are actually very processed and quite unhealthy. It’s important to educate yourself as well—read books and blogs, and follow plant-based social media accounts. Finding support is an amazing idea too! There is such a great plant-based community on Instagram, and there are veg festivals and events all over the world.
Tell us about your upcoming online course!
I’m so excited to launch it! It’s called Fuel: The Plant Based Living Course. Whole, plant-based foods are amazing fuel for our bodies. They give us the energy we need to thrive. Through the course you’ll learn everything you need to know about going plant-based in a way that’s easy, and that works for your unique body. The course is 10 modules, and it’ll cover everything from plant-based nutrition science, to grocery shopping and pantry stocking, to meal planning and cooking. There’s even a module on travelling and eating out on a plant based-diet, and a module on holistic lifestyle practices that compliment the plant based diet as well. What’s really unique about the course is that it empowers you to eat based on your bio-individual needs. There’s a whole module on bio-individuality, and all of the recipes in the cooking module include templates that can help you customize the recipes to your own needs and preferences. The course will be out this summer, and I’ll be posting some sneak peek content on Instagram in the meantime!
Follow Ali @alessandra.cardin on Instagram (all the beautiful pictures in this post are credited to her so she’s worth the follow!) and be sure to keep an eye out for her upcoming course.