Traditionally, Americans have tended to lead toward the carnivorous side of the dietary spectrum.
And Mt. Lebanon resident Sandy Newman was no exception.
“I grew up loving steak,” the Mt. Lebanon resident recalled.
“I think my diet was steak and cheese. That was pretty much what I ate.”
She eventually took the opposite approach, choosing not to consume any food derived from animals, although at the time she wasn’t too familiar with the term that describes such folks.
“I always joke that when I started to eat this way, I did not know how to pronounce the word ‘vegan,’” she admitted. “I really wasn’t sure. I had to listen to it pronounced online.”
That was nearly 14 years ago, and having experienced some of the benefits of plant-based eating, she started Resolve Health and Fitness to promote the increasingly popular practice and support those who want to give it a try.
Around the same time as Newman’s switch, Sally Lipsky of Murrysville was in treatment for late-stage cancer and began to educate herself about the power of food to heal and protect from disease.
Lipsky eventually founded the nonprofit Plant-Based Pittsburgh as a network of likeminded people, and she serves on the American Vegan Society Speakers’ Bureau. As such, she often addresses misconceptions about what avoiding meat and dairy entails, including the notion that the sole alternative is the consumption of salads and other so-called “rabbit food.”
That tends not to work in the long run.
“You can’t sustain it. You’re going to get hungry,” Lipsky explained. “You’re going to grab for that leg of chicken or something.”
In actuality, plant-based eating entails a wide variety of culinary choices that contain an equally wide array of nutrients.
“The goal is to understand how to cook with these plants, and not just feel like you’re eating baby carrots and that’s it,” Peters Township resident Laura Cordero said. “Focusing on the simplicity of colors of the rainbow, especially with kids, is an easy way to not only add presentation to your plate.
“It also adds flavor and crunch,” the registered, licensed dietitian and nutritionist added. “A lot of it is not just thinking that you’re eating like a rabbit, but that you’re actually eating to chew your food and enjoy it.”
Cordero’s business, Nourish 2 Thrive LLC, is another that strives to provide education regarding the advantages of plant-based eating. She also acknowledges that for many people, going strictly in that direction represents a formidable challenge.
And so she often encourages what she calls a “flexitarian” approach.
“If you’re just trying to change up your eating habits, ‘flexitarian’ has that healthy connotation of, I’m going to incorporate more plants, but I’m not going to completely give up eggs or poultry or steak every once in a while,” she said. “One week you might do tofu in your stir fry, and another week you might do fish or something like that.”
Newman tends to agree.
“I always tell people, you don’t have to be plant-perfect. The more you incorporate plant-based foods into your diet and less meat-centered meals, you’re going to be better off. It’s a continuous effort. That’s the key,” she explained. “If you can do this five days a week or two meals out of three a day, you’re well on your way.”
Along those lines, Lipsky said that when it comes to plant-based eating, the concept for “falling off the wagon” doesn’t really exist.
“This is a journey. These are steps that you’re taking. You’ll just move on to the next day,” she said. “There are times I’m thinking, ‘Oh, this had dairy in it.’ I didn’t even know it. But it happens.”
The former Indiana University of Pennsylvania education professor has written a book, “Beyond Cancer: The Powerful Effect of Plant-Based Eating,” that serves both as an informational source and guide to finding success in changing dietary habits. One chapter is titled “Building a Community of Health,” and Lipsky referenced a survey of people who went off their vegan diets.
“The No. 1 reason was they felt isolated. They felt there wasn’t support within their friends and family. They were the outsiders,” she said. “And it’s true. You are. It’s an upstream journey. But as I tell folks, you want to own that identity and find your tribe. Find your support group. That’s why I started Plant-Based Pittsburgh.”
Newman, in fact, is among the coaches, educators and cooks listed on Plant-Based Pittsburgh’s local directory. Piquing her original interested was “The China Study,” a 2005 book by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, based on a 20-year project drawing the conclusion that people with a high consumption of animal-based foods are more likely to suffer from chronic disease.
For her part, Newman had been suffering from the autoimmune disease ulcerative colitis, and her family also had a history of cancer.
“I never thought this was going to have any impact on that. I was simply doing it to try to reduce my risk of cancer,” she said. “But within a month of eating this way – and I went cold turkey, so to speak – I stopped experiencing symptoms of the colitis. And it has not returned.”
Through Resolve Health and Fitness, she presents plenty of enticing plant-based recipes, and she offers pointers for folks who are looking to start steering clear of eating animals.
“Make a list of the foods that you already like: a spaghetti with a marinara sauce, a chili that you use lentils in instead of beef,” Newman advised, “and maybe some sort of big pasta salad. You don’t add cheese. You add tons of raw vegetables. Instead of a heavy dressing, you use balsamic vinegar.”
“Do some batch cooking, so that you have your basic ingredients ready for you in the refrigerator when you get home from work,” such as cooked rice and potatoes, washed lettuce and chopped vegetables. “And of course, have a well-stocked spice and herb shelf.”
Regarding the nutritional aspect of plant-based eating, a frequent question addresses whether the protein content is sufficient. As it turns out, the list of protein-rich options is lengthy and includes the likes of chickpeas, edamame beans, lentils, nuts, oats, quinoa, tofu and seitan, which is made from wheat gluten and can provide a meaty texture.
“There are different plant-based proteins that can easily add more fiber to your diet,” Cordero said, “and it’s bang for your buck.”
Plants also contain two types of fiber and no cholesterol.
“The soluble fiber found in plants can actually help with cholesterol. They bind with cholesterol naturally and can lower that. So they are heart-healthy,” Cordero explained. “The insoluble fiber is like a scrub brush, scouring the colon. It’s a natural colon cleanse. We don’t have to take additional detoxes or anything.
“It also helps with anyone who has digestive issues, because it keeps you full longer,” she continued. “When it’s paired with protein or fat, it keeps you full longer and then you allow your body to do its job to digest. And you’ll notice fewer cravings, better digestion and less bloated feeling, because you’re allowing those breaks.”
Of course, this time of year can be problematic for people who attempt not to overindulge. From the perspective of what’s offered at gatherings, the holiday season also can be tricky for plant-based eating.
“Make sure you have your food. If you’re going to somebody’s house, offer to bring a dish that works for you,” Lipsky said. “Side dishes are your friend when it comes to holidays. I don’t want that turkey, but the side dishes: the potatoes, the salad. Just load up.”
For those who want to change their dietary routine, there always are the resolutions of Jan. 2 and beyond.
“I feel if people would try it for even three weeks, just three weeks – give me 21 days – I think they will see results,” Newman asserted. “They will certainly see weight loss in most cases, and they should start to feel better. And sometimes that’s enough to get people to adopt this lifestyle.”
For more information, visit www.resolvehealthandfitness.com, www.plantbasedpittsburgh.com and nourish2thrive.net.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article. See official rules here.