Interview with Emily Webber: Vegan Nutritionist & Cooking Instructor

 Please take a peek at the Interview I conducted with Emily Webber, Food for Life Nutrition & Cooking Instructor for The Cancer Project, a Program of The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

See another post with Emily’s Lowfat Vegan Mac & Cheese HERE

Jill: What lead you to becoming Vegan?  Were you Vegetarian first?

Emily: I’ve been vegan for 9 years, but a few years prior, I had tried being vegetarian, then had followed the macrobiotic diet for a while.  I never liked the idea of eating meat, but didn’t really know anything about nutrition, animal issues or ethics.  Getting off of meat didn’t make any difference in the way I felt and didn’t help me lose weight because I was still eating dairy products.   At the time, I didn’t realize how harmful (and fattening) they are. 

A low-fat, whole foods vegan diet is right for me.  At that time, I still didn’t understand why dairy was unhealthy and hadn’t made all the connections between food, my weight, health, happiness, animal compassion and the environment – but the foundation had been laid.

When I got married in 2001, I went back to the Standard American Diet and within a year, I had reached my heaviest weight ever and was looking for a way to lose it. I initially went vegan to lose weight.  I was off dairy (and meat) and feeling and looking like a different person!  I lost 45 pounds in 1 year – going from busting out of a size 12 to a size 4.  Through John Robbins’ book, The Food Revolution, I learned about the cruelty of animal agriculture and its’ devastating effects on our environment and how animal products cause chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke and more.  It was then that I became an ethical vegan.  I became vegan for all the reasons – weight-loss, health, the animals, the environment and because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Jill: What are the main sources of inspiration to keep you on the Vegan path?   

Emily: Since I’ve been vegan for almost 10 years now, it’s definitely easier.  I have become much stronger in my resolve and in knowing who I am. I suggest we educate ourselves about our food system and then look inward and examine our values.  One of my heroes, who I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time with is Gene Baur, President of Farm Sanctuary.  He often talks of “Eating in line with our values”.  Most of us are kind, compassionate people.  We care about other people, animals and the earth, but our food choices simply don’t reflect our values.  We often prefer to live in avoidance or cognitive dissonance.  I love being vegan and knowing that I’m eating in line with my values.

Most people make their food choices based on three things – 1. Taste  2. Cost  3. Convenience.  When I look at food,  I see it as more than just taste, cost and convenience.  Those are important factors to be sure, but I also see food as nourishment and fuel for my body and I see what it was before it arrived on my plate.  I see what it took for that food to get there, how many resources were used – chemical fertilizers, delivery trucks, etc.  In the case of whole plant food, the choice is easy – it’s good for my body and makes a minimal impact on the earth, doesn’t hurt anyone and it tastes delicious!  In the case of meat, dairy and eggs, that’s a choice I can’t feel good about – it’s bad for my body – makes me fat, causes environmental devastation and the animal agriculture industry kills 10 billion land animals each year for food (that’s not even including the fish!).  Why would I want to be a part of that?   

Jill: Have there been times where your commitment (even if just in your mind, not necessarily in your actions) has wavered? And if so, how did you get back on track? 

Emily: In the year after having my son, I was exhausted and suffered with postpartum depression.  I didn’t feel like myself.  What really helped me was getting my job with The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)/The Cancer Project and then getting certified in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University.  Teaching others and helping them transform their lives gives my life so much meaning and purpose.  Learning more about the scientific reasons behind a plant-based diet from the world’s leading experts greatly deepened my convictions to appreciate and maintain a whole foods vegan diet and lifestyle.  

Jill: How much protein does the average person really need? 

Emily: Ideal body weight x .36 or about 10% of our diet from protein.  If we eat a variety of whole plant foods, we’ll get plenty of protein. Most people consume far too much protein.  Excess dietary protein, especially animal protein, is responsible for many of our chronic diseases today.  I highly recommend the book, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell for info on protein. 

Jill: What are the best sources of protein for a vegetarian?  And for a vegan?

Emily: Protein is present in all plant foods.  If you are consuming a variety of whole plant foods and you eat sufficient calories in a day, you will get plenty of protein.  For instance, broccoli is 50% protein and has more protein than beef.  Good sources of protein include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, traditional soy products like tofu and tempeh, seitan (wheat meat), but again, all plant foods contain protein.  There is no disease of too little protein here in the U.S.  Malnutrition generally only happens when we take in too few calories or if we are eating an extremely unbalanced diet such as if we were going all day only eating white bread and candy (not enough protein).  However, it is extremely common in the U.S.to be overfed, yet undernourished.  This happens when we take in more than sufficient calories to meet our daily needs, yet do not meet our requirements for nutrients.  Too much dietary protein, stresses the liver and kidneys and causes metabolic acidosis – a condition which leads to a wide range of health conditions including acid reflux, heartburn, osteoporosis and many more.  A vegan diet of Oatmeal or a green smoothie for breakfast, veggie Big Green Salad topped with Beans or Tofu and a Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burrito has plenty of protein and fiber as well as antioxidants and phytochemicals.  The Standard American Diet (non-vegetarian) has an overabundance of protein, yet is severely lacking in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber – these are the keys to health.    

Jill: There is some controversy about soy … estrogen issues and such.  What is your view on this?  And does the age or sex of a person matter when considering higher soy intake when transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle?

Emily:  The research on soy is clear.  Moderate consumption of traditional soy products like tofu, tempeh, miso and soy sauce is beneficial and protective, however, it is not necessary.  One may eat a healthy diet without soy if one prefers not to eat it.  Processed soy, however, raises levels of IGF-1 and promotes cancer growth.  Avoid anything that reads, soy protein isolate or isolated soy protein.  These are products like fake hot dogs and other fake meats, protein powders and other processed foods.  

Jill’s Note:  Try to get organic sources for your soy consumption. Organic soy milk, organic tofu, etc. And reducing your intake of “overly processed soy” is also a very good idea.

Jill: What are your thoughts on wild (non-farmed) fish consumption?  And for those not ingesting fish, what are the best ways to get enough Omega’s?

Emily: If I had to choose, I would only eat wild sustainably caught fish, though all fish is contaminated and still contains fat and cholesterol.  Some fish like salmon contains as much fat and cholesterol as beef!  Farmed fish is disgusting.  It’s raised in pens in the ocean that are filled with feces and it contaminates the ocean.  It’s often dyed with colorants, too.  Gross.  For omega-3s I eat ground flax seeds in my green smoothie and oatmeal every day.  Walnuts also have omega 3.  Our problem in our country is also our ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s.  We get far too many Omega 6’s from vegetable oils.  Eliminate vegetable oils (including olive oil) from your diet, add a small amount of ground flax seeds and walnuts to your diet and your ratio will balance out.

Jill: Do you recommend supplementation (nutrients, omegas, etc.) for Vegetarians?  And for Vegans?

Emily: A Vitamin B12 supplement is essential for vegans and it wouldn’t hurt for vegetarians and carnists to take it too.  Look for a vegan methyl B12 and take it a couple times a week (I take Jarrow Brand, available in a chewable tablet at Whole Foods).  Have B12 levels checked at your annual doctor’s exam.  Other than that, a tablespoon of ground flaxseed in a daily green smoothie or oatmeal is great for omega 3s.  Daily sunshine for Vitamin D.  No other supplements necessary.  In general, taking supplements to prevent disease is like taking Robitussin to prevent a cold.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, costs a lot of money and may actually be harmful.  Better to eat a rainbow of colorful plant foods every day.  If you must take a multi-vitamin, the only one I like is Dr. Fuhrman’s Gentle Care (he also makes a good kid’s vitamin called Pixie-Vites).  His supplements do not contain Vitamin A or other toxic vitamin supplements.  

Jill: There is a lot of mixed/opposing information out about a “healthy diet”.  Many nutritionists and some doctors believe we “need” meat (and dairy) for the nutrients.  What is your view on this?

Emily: The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are both heavily influenced by industry.  The meat and dairy industries as well as the junk food industries influence the recommendations of these two powerful national organizations.  These two organizations dictate what constitutes a “healthy diet” for most Americans.  Unfortunately, their recommendations are not based on scientific facts, rather they are based on how much candy, pop, cheese and meat these industries want to sell – which is of course as much as they possibly can to maximize profit.  The scientific evidence is irrefutable – a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet is optimal for human health.  The World Health Organization (WHO) advocates this approach and T. Colin Campbell in his book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted clearly states that a plant-based diet is the only diet that prevents and reverses chronic disease.  In fact, Dr. Campbell has stated that casein, the protein in cow’s milk is the “most significant chemical carcinogen ever discovered”.  He also clearly states that animal products and plant foods are very different from one another.  Animal products are devoid of fiber, contain cholesterol and saturated fat, are contaminated with environmental contaminants and pathogens, while whole plant foods contain a symphony of beneficial nutrients including fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals.  Most plant foods are naturally low in fat, contain no cholesterol and do not contain pathogens, unless they have been contaminated by animal or human waste.  In all ways, whole plant foods are superior.  There is simply no reason to eat animal products. 

Jill:  A lot of weight loss guru’s talk about how a diet higher in protein and lower in carbs (overall calories in moderation) creates a faster weight loss.  What is your view on this?

Emily: My first thought on this is that we are equating protein with meat.  In our society meat = protein.  That equation is false.  Protein is present in all whole plant foods.  Even fruit, which is the plant food lowest in protein is about 4% protein.  When we are infants, drinking our mother’s breast milk, this is the time of life that we require the most amount of protein in order to grow and develop.  Human breast milk is only 5% protein.  Many plant foods contain much more than 5% protein.  Why are we so obsessed with a lot of protein?  It is the last thing we need to worry about.  We need to worry about eating too much meat, dairy and processed foods – white flour, sugar and oil.

A high animal protein, low-carb diet is one of the most dangerous, unhealthy diets humans can eat.  We are, by nature, herbivores.  Our bodies thrive in the alkaline environment created by a plant-rich diet.  An animal-rich diet creates metabolic acidosis which leads to an array of health problems including osteoporosis, acid reflux and an array of digestive and other issues.  The high-animal protein diet also stresses and damages the liver and kidneys.  All the meat, dairy and eggs consumed on a high-protein diet also contributes to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.  Dairy is particularly linked to prostate and breast cancer, while meat is linked to colon and bowel cancer.  A high-animal protein diet may help people lose weight initially because they are simply cutting calories and may throw their bodies into ketosis, temporarily suppressing their appetites, but the weight will return and the health risks are simply not worth it.   A low-fat, whole foods plant based diet is delicious, health-supportive, extends both life and health span and is satisfying and filling.  Those of us who enjoy a whole foods vegan diet never have to count carbs or calories. We just eat large portions of nutrient-dense, calorie-light whole plant foods until we’re full.  The food is so good, I always go back for seconds and yet, I’m a size 4!   

Jill: Some people gain weight and/or overall fat percentage on a vegetarian diet.  What do you feel is the reason for this?  And what can one do to make sure this does not happen? 

Emily: There could be several reasons for this.  If people are switching from a Standard American Diet to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (vegetarian with eggs and dairy), they very well may gain weight and may not see any health benefits as dairy and eggs are rich sources of fat, calories and cholesterol.  I would suggest people give up dairy before giving up meat.  Some people gain weight going vegetarian or vegan because they are eating more processed foods like fake meat, fake cheese, white flour, sugar, pastries, cookies and other products with palm oil or they may be drinking their calories.  Many beverages that seem healthy are very calorie dense, yet contain few nutrients and do not promote satiety – meaning they do not make you feel full.  For any type of weight-loss, avoid fat in all forms – animal products as well as vegetable oils and don’t drink your calories.  Learn to sauté in water or broth instead of oil.  Substitute applesauce for oil in baking, eat fruit for dessert and eat vegetables first.  When going out, always ask for no oil and no butter.  Fat is 9 calories per gram and carbohydrates are only 4 calories per gram.  Do you really want butter or oil on that bread?  That oil or Earth Balance is 120 calories per tablespoon and goes right to your abs or hips or bum in three minutes.  Is it worth it?  I say no and leave it off.  Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  There is plenty of vegan junk food out there.  Be a healthy low-fat, whole foods vegan, not a junk food vegan.

Jill:  What should one consider/know prior to transitioning to vegetarian/vegan? 

Emily: Educate yourself.  Learn why and how to go vegan.  Please visit my website at www.emilywebber.com for a list of Experts to Trust, suggested books in my store and recipes to get you started.  Remember, becoming vegan, like all things in life,, is a process.  You don’t have to be perfect right away.  In fact, you’ll never be perfect.  Some people read one book and bang, they go vegan.  Others need to warm up to the idea, going vegetarian first and trying some new recipes.  I suggest reading a couple of books, trying a few recipes and then going 100% vegan for 3 weeks.  Anyone can be vegan for only 3 weeks.  It’s easy.  After 3 weeks, you can always go back to the Standard American Diet (SAD) diet, but I bet you won’t want to.  You’ll lose weight and feel better in every way.  Here are my top suggested reads (or audio on CD):

1. The Food Revolution by John Robbins

2. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD

3. Breaking the Food Seduction by Neal Barnard, MD

4. For athletes and bodybuilders: Thrive by Brendan Brazier and Vegan BodyBuilding by Robert Cheeke

I also highly suggest the book Excuses Begone! by Dr. Wayne Dyer for anyone who needs a little kick in the pants or inspiration to get going in area of life!

Additional question answered by Emily regarding ideal ratios for protein, carbohydrates, and fat intake: For most people, about 10% protein, 10% fat and 80% carbohydrates is fine.  If you’re quite active, you could bump up the protein to 15% and the carbohydrates down to 75% if you prefer.  Fat should stay below 20% (ideally 10%).  No one’s ratios are perfect every day.  If you eat a low-fat whole foods plant based diet, you don’t need to count calories, measure fat grams or portions, you just eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  The ratios take care of themselves because if you fill your plate with a variety of whole plant foods, you’ll naturally eat the right ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates.  Plants are mainly carbohydrates, part protein, with a little bit of fat – just what our bodies need.  The take home message is that carbohydrates are our primary fuel.  This is the opposite of the Atkins diet.  However I am not suggesting that we eat white bagels and sugar.  In fat, we must get our carbohydrates from vegetables and starches like whole grains, sweet potatoes and beans.  Protein sources should come from plant sources.  Animal protein is problematic for all the reasons I listed.

Find more about Emily and Vegan info, visit www.emilywebber.com  

 

 

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