Plant-based in 2020

I’ve been vegan since July 2017. Short story: A friend recommended this documentary. My husband, James and his mum and dad watched it. We all went vegan overnight. My main reason was health. One study found you can reduce your inflammation markers by 30%. It’s helped my main health issue (psoriasis) and I never feel like I’m missing out. So that’s us.

More recently, however, I’ve been wondering about the evidence for a whole foods plant-based diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. I’ve been vegan through one pregnancy (with River) and I’ve breastfeed two kids—Willow for 16 months (while vegan) and I’m currently still feeding River is (while vegan). Though I’ve come up against some resistance. Some people question if it’s okay or healthy to eat that way while growing a human.

Interestingly, the world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes” (Source).

So, I interviewed by friend and soon-to-be nutritionist Hayley Barkla (HB) about living plant-based.

Here’s the Q&A:

ME: You’re studying?
HB: I am studying nutrition (and hopefully continue on into dietetics) but I still feel like I have so much to learn, but more than happy to share what I do know and explore with you where I don’t.

ME: Are you fully vegan (I know you call yourself plant-based)? If so, how long for?
HB: We have been vegan for two years, and were vegetarians transitioning prior.

ME: Are you raising your baby girl plant-based?
HB: Sonnet will definitely be vegan, and I am so excited to raise her that way until she’s much older and can make her own decisions. We will definitely be a vegan. When Sonnet can make her own decisions she is free to make her own choices, however, our house will only be cooking and providing vegan food. I’ve looked into families that have raised their kids vegan and they seem to have followed that way through even after being independent so my secret hope is that she will thrive on a vegan diet and not want to eat any other way! A mum can dream. 😉

ME: Do you look to vegan bloggers for inspiration/advice?
HB: You are correct, there many vegan bloggers out there, and while it’s awesome for inspiration, recipe idea and anecdotal information, you definitely need a certain level of scepticism as not all are healthful tips.

ME: What plant-based resources do you trust?
HB: I have found a few good resources for being vegan! Mostly through my studies. I like the Plant Proof Podcast (there are episodes with mamas). I also used to like Plant Powered and Crunchy Mama podcast. I’ve also been looking into plant based dieticians in Australia. This lady I recently found has an awesome website with meal plans for different kid age groups and tips for being vegan.  Her name is Amanda Benham and her website is Human Herbivore. Tara Kemp is also a great resource. Her insta, or any podcast where she is interviewed.

ME: Do you do very precise planning for your meals to ensure you get the right levels of nutrients? Or do you just believe that everything will equal out and wing it a bit more?
HB: In regards to balance of nutrition, I do a bit of both (planning and believing it will balance out). I don’t believe in nutritionism (focusing too much on one nutrient), and I think most fad diets play in these and it never works because we need a bit of everything. I trying to eat a lot of each food group each day and change it up each day so that I get a wide variety and therefore being the most nourished. So I guess you can say I plan, in the sense that I plan general food groups (make sure I’m ticking boxes) over the day… but nothing specific. I don’t like rigid diets and I think that being plant based should be a life of abundance.

ME: What do you make sure you eat everyday?
HB: The food groups I make sure I eat every day are vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, grains, nuts, legumes and a let myself have a few alternatives (almond milk, sometimes plant-based ‘feta’) but it’s more rare. We try and keep it as natural as possible. I make our almond milk, bread, peanut butter, etc when I can. I buy in bulk as I feel it uses less plastic and saves us huge $$$.

ME: I’m a huge snacker. What do you like to snack on?
HB: My favourite snacks change all the time! I love making homemade dips and just eating vegetable cut up with it. I love roasting chickpeas and adding salt. Popcorn. Toast with peanut butter and hemp seeds. Avocado on toast with salt and turmeric. Frozen or fresh berries… and fruit really! Banana nice cream. Raw bake goods on exception. Almond butter is nice! And when we really want to treat ourselves we have corn chips and salsa, pistachios, chia lattes, things like that! I also can’t pass up a good date if it’s fresh! I’m a pretty simple gal, I think I have stripped my taste buds right back, but a few years ago we ate rubbish. Chocolate every night, lollies, ice cream, all sorts! We used to wake up feeling hung over. It was terrible! We were completely addicted but have done a 180. God has totally revolutionised our view of food, and we eat totally free and abundantly. I heard a quote once, “I love the food that loves me back”. I think that’s exactly right!

ME: What do you eat for dinners and lunches? Savoury vibes?
HB: For a savoury meal, it always changes but I am loving this edamame pesto on pasta or zoodles at the moment! I will send you the recipe, so easy! I also love roasting tomatoes with pine nuts, balsamic, salt, pepper, and herbs, adding fresh basil and olives and eating on whole-wheat pasta or zoodles. We love wraps (Mexican usually, or tempeh with avocado, grilled pineapple, cucumber, ‘mayonnaise’) and sweet potato chips. We also do an asian green stir-fry every week. We also recently did a ‘pulled pork’ aka—> a Mushroom burger which was amazing and totally indulgent! It’s hard to sum it up to just a few because it’s so varied! 🙂

ME: Why did you go plant-based?
HB: I went plant based due to my studies in nutrition. I started looking into different research around optimal health and realised how many lifestyle diseases could be prevented or reversed if we are predominately plants. From there I dived into that way of living and learned about the environment and ethical implications of a omnivorous diet and decided I would no longer eat animal products because I believe it to be the kindest, most compassionate, healthful way of living. Prior to my studies though, I had a severe eating disorder in which I was hospitalised for. There was very little I hadn’t tried in that area, but God radically healed me… which is why I study what I do. I believe it’s my Paul moment “to whom I am the worst”… I was the worst with food and now I want to help people find freedom through it. So many people I have learned are bound by what they eat even if they don’t have an eating disorder on paper.

ME: I’ve heard a lot about DHA and how we need it to function but can’t get it well from food sources. Have you looked into this? Do you supplement?
HB: In regards to DHA, I have struggled with that question myself. I almost got to the point where I thought maybe Christian and I would start eating fish once a month to get what we need. There are very few vegan supplements, however we have started to take NutriKynd which has vitamin B12, Vitamin D3 and Omega 3 (DHA/EPA). And it’s vegan! I’m happy with it, though it is a bit expensive (they had a huge Boxing Day sale and so I bought like ten, so keep for eyes of for discounts). I might look into this a bit more and touch base to see what other vegans do.

ME: How do you keep things in perspective?
HB: I think it’s important to remember that nutrition isn’t necessarily something that depletes overnight, most things take some time to become low (eg. Vitamin b12 takes about 3 years to start to run out) so you don?t necessarily need to panic about it, just be mindful long term.

Hope you found this chat super useful. 🙂

To follow Hayley’s food and lifestyle journey, follow her on Instagram here.