All things Plant Based, with Dietitian Desiree Nielsen 

Posted by Komo Komo on

Q&A WITH DESIREE NIELSEN

Here at Komo, we’re health nuts. We love eating food, cooking food, sharing food, and are almost always talking about food. Which is why we were ecstatic to get the opportunity to chat with a leader in plant based nutrition and food, registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen.

Desiree is a well-known plant based dietitian based in Vancouver, BC, with an impressive resume: host of The Allsorts podcast, number one bestselling cookbook author of the book, Eat More Plants and her latest, Good For Your Gut. She’s had appearances on Breakfast Television, the Social, CBC news - and the list goes on. Desiree believes that plant based eating should be delicious and inclusive, leaving you feeling joyful, not deprived. 

We sat down with Desiree to talk about all things plant based nutrition, easy swaps to live a more plant based lifestyle, and how slices of birthday cake on a Saturday night really do have a place at the table - which she emphasised with one of her favourite phrases, “Pattern over plate.”

What was the biggest challenge and obstacle you faced when you first went plant based?

Having been vegetarian for so long, the biggest challenge was not knowing what to eat as a vegan - but instead; it was asking folks to accommodate my new diet. That was the last dangling piece that I had to navigate, which felt a bit awkward at the start. For some reason, I felt a bit fearful of telling people who were already accommodating my vegetarianism to now accommodate my new dietary preference; I didn’t want to be a burden and didn’t want to complicate things. I realised later that this worry was on me - my family and friends were happy to support this choice. Once I recognized that, it became a lot easier. 

What are some key watch-outs, from a nutrition standpoint, when transitioning to a plant based lifestyle? (i.e. micro and macronutrients) 

One of the most important things to remember is the idea of swapping rather than removing.  For example, if you are going to make a plant based version of spaghetti bolognese - your instinct would be just to remove meat from the sauce. Simply removing the meat means less protein and fewer fats - so it’s important part is to replace that animal food with a plant based protein like lentils or ground tofu. I used to put cheese on sandwiches, and the plant-based swap is now hummus for me. It's always best to have a bit of protein with your meals because protein helps with satiety, keeps our blood sugar balanced, and keeps our energy levels high. Statistics show that vegans meet their basic protein needs - you can indeed get enough protein from plants. But it’s also important to remember that we will feel much better if we continuously put higher protein foods on our plates.

When we get into micronutrients, be sure to start taking vitamin B12 right away when you switch to a plant based diet. When we get B12 from animal products, it’s because the tissues of the animals store the B12, but it actually comes from bacterial fermentation. So, supplementing with vitamin B12 ensures that you keep your red blood cells happy. We can often find it in fortified plant-milks, but not in most plant based yogurts or cheeses. From food directly, you can also find it in nutritional yeast - one of my personal favourites. 

Another micronutrient watch out is sodium: we want less sodium. Living in North America, a lack of sodium is not an issue for us - but consuming it in excess is. Many of us rely on ultra-processed foods - which have a place in a balanced diet, but it’s still important to be mindful. The plant based diet can be really great if you’re focusing your meals around vegetables, whole grains, and good proteins - you will get potassium, magnesium, calcium, and so many others from whole plant foods, and through that, you leave room for salt in cooking. The vast majority of our dietary salt comes from prepackaged foods and take-out, or restaurant foods - so keep an eye on your sodium levels. 

Here at Komo, we’re all about sharing food. We create shareable, plant based comfort foods, because we believe that food is better around the dinner table. What are your thoughts on family meals, eating together, and sharing the joy of eating with others? 

As a dietitian, this concept of eating together comes up again and again, and so does the importance of family mealtimes. Eating together is not only important for modelling healthy eating patterns for kids, but also has been shown to help nurture success and good habits in children. Right now, this topic is especially interesting. We’ve been forced out of social settings for the last few years, and family mealtimes help teach good communication skills. Studies suggest that these interactions may even help children achieve better grades in school. Personally, I’m a big believer that life is better around the dinner table! I love sitting around the kitchen table and talking- but to be more research-focused, we have to acknowledge that the studies do support the theory that there are huge benefits to eating and sharing food for childhood development and social skills, regardless of age. 

You launched your cookbook, called “Eat More Plants,” in 2019, and it was super successful! You had plenty of huge plant based influencers and authors rave about it - and we at Komo are big fans of it, too. It’s a super comprehensive, easy-to-follow, visually stunning cookbook that walks you through the transition of going plant based using whole foods and healthy, fresh ingredients. 

What inspired you to create the cookbook?

I wanted to show people that food should still be joyful, even when you’re on a health journey. Nutrition and wellness are often associated with deprivation, but the food is an opportunity to feed the soul at the same time as your body. I wrote this book, keeping in mind the people in my practice that feel unwell and need deep healing: often, our relationship with food is fractured, and we forget to enjoy a good meal. I wanted to create a guide for people to cook food that’s nutrient-dense, but also delicious. You can eat a delicious meal, even when your body needs support. 

You mentioned once that “Wellness is not won or lost with a single meal,” which really stood out to us. Tell us a little more about that. 

That sentence became a well-worn phrase for me: pattern over plate. Conditioned to believe that everything is all or nothing - there are so many conversations that I enter into where people are terrified of canola oil in their food - but really, they’re missing the forest for the trees. We need to remind ourselves that our bodies truly are powerful, and that it’s what we do day in and day out over time that shapes our health. It’s OK to have a piece of full-sugar birthday cake on a Saturday night - knowing you are eating a well-balanced diet. Instead, we should focus on giving our bodies the nutrients they need while still enjoying our foods - what matters most is entering into a pattern that we love, that we can live with, and also delivers the nutrients that we need to thrive. 

So now tell us about your new cookbook! Where can we find it - when will it be available? We can’t wait to get cooking! 

It is already available for pre-order! It actually greatly helps to order a book before it comes out, and it’s part of the reason why “Eat More Plants” became a number 1 best seller! The new book comes out May 3rd, and if you loved my other book, this new cookbook builds on it. There are still a ton of plant based recipes that are whole food-focused and delicious - but the unique slant is the education piece where we discuss the gut. There are 100 pages upfront about digestive health material for anyone interested in learning about how the gut works, what the microbiome is, what happens to our insides on a daily basis and on and on. 

This cookbook’s recipes are divided into three streams: protect (high in fibre, high in fermentable carbohydrates recipes to feed the microbiome), heal (low FODMAP recipes for anyone who is plant based and needs to go on a low FODMAP diet), and soothe (for those with a compromised gut). The soothe and heal recipes are gluten-free, whole-foods focused, and there are a lot of juices, smoothies, and blended foods, that help improve tolerance. Though the book has a specific therapeutic focus, it is truly suitable for everyone - in the end, it’s really about good plant based recipes that taste delicious! 

Want to find out more about Desiree Nielsen?

Subscribe to her blog, get inspired by her plant based recipes, join a FREE Nutrition with Desiree group on Mighty Networks, and follow her on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Youtube to learn more about all things plant based eating! 

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