Two years into a global pandemic, personal health and well-being have never been more important. People are starting to focus on nutrition and its long-term impact on their health. One area of nutrition that's getting a lot of attention lately is plant-based diets. But what exactly constitutes plant-based, and what are its primary benefits?
We sat down with Nomad ambassador Ara Wiseman—expert nutritionist, aging specialist, author, and educator in health and nutrition for over 20 years—to learn more about all things plant-based.
HI ARA! THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY. IT'S A PLEASURE TO CONNECT WITH YOU.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR WORK?
Sure! So I've been practicing for over 20 years in health and nutrition, specializing in weight-related health issues, energy, performance, aging, skincare, and disease management. I work in two medical clinics and at Kinective Health, a boutique physical therapy clinic in Toronto.
I also have a private virtual practice, where I consult with clients all over the world. I work with interpreters, which allows me to offer my services worldwide in multiple languages.
I have been teaching nutrition courses at colleges for over 17 years. I am presently working on the 10th-anniversary edition of my book Feed Your Body, Feed Your Soul.
WHAT INSPIRED AND FUELLED YOUR PASSION FOR HEALTH AND NUTRITION?
When I was in grade four, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. "A nutritionist," I replied. Even when I was little, I inherently knew that eating fruits and vegetables as healthy and eating a lot of meat was not. I didn't feel good when I ate meat and dairy but growing up in Winnipeg back then there were no health food stores, and being a vegetarian was more on the fringe.
Because I ate differently and felt differently about food, my brother would often jokingly say I should go live on a commune. Nutrition and health just seemed to come naturally for me, and I soon realized it was my purpose and my gift.
Nowadays, being plant-based is much more commonplace, and so many options are available. We need to understand the impact our food choices have on our health and the health of our planet, which affects our society at large. Everything is connected. Food affects our attitudes and beliefs, our spirituality, our relationships, and of course the quality of our lives.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON CHALLENGES WHEN IT COMES TO HEALTH AND NUTRITION?
One of the biggest challenges is our mindset. People can be scared of big dietary changes in their life, but it's important to remember that switching to a more plant-based diet is not a "revolution" on your body but an "evolution." As we evolve in our food consciousness, bit by bit, we start to make healthier choices and cultivate better dietary habits.
We're not trying to change who we are overnight—we're trying to be healthier versions of ourselves. When I meet a client, I start by making small changes, and when they start to feel better, sleep better, and fit into their clothes again, it gives them the propensity to want to continue.
There is a huge misconception about protein, and people tend to focus on it overly. There's also the myth that protein must come from animals. I'm often asked, "Where do you get your protein if you're plant-based?"
Because the truth is, so many plant-based foods have adequate-protein, and they are nutritionally balanced with fiber, nutrients, and vitamins too, which are largely lacking in meat.
What a lot of people don't realize is that animal protein is also high in fat. So, a high-protein diet is in fact a high-fat diet if you are consuming lots of meat. If you took 100 calories of broccoli and 100 calories of chicken or fish, the broccoli has actually more protein per calorie and of course, way less fat.
The difference matters because a high-fat diet is hard on your body, specifically on your liver and kidneys. A lot of clients I see suffer from chronic illnesses and need to reduce the amount of fat they consume.
There is a common belief that meat makes you strong, but it's simply unfounded. Consider elephants, gorillas, rhinos, giraffes, hippos, and horses—all very physically strong, all herbivores.
So here are a few key tips:
1. Setting Yourself Up to Win
The first is to set yourself up to win. That means having healthier options in your food cupboard. These days, there are plenty of healthy crackers, cookie, and snack options on the market, and if you stock your cupboards with them, you are more likely to choose something more nutritious whenever you have a craving.
2. Reduce Daily Intake of Fat, Sodium, and Sugar
Specifically, it is important to try and cut back on three ingredients: fat, sodium, and sugar. These ingredients all serve their purpose, but most of us eat way too much of it, and restaurants are notorious for adding a lot of each to their dishes. When combined, these three ingredients are so powerful that they can override your body's ability to create satiety signals (the ones that say "Stop, I'm full!") which drive you to consume even more.
3. Knowledge is Power
A good practice is to start to read ingredient and nutrition labels. By comparing the different ingredients of the same type of product, you give yourself the option to choose the healthier alternative.
4. Daily Habit
Think of eating healthy as a practice and a way of cultivating life rather than something unpleasant that you can take "breaks" from. Your body will thank you. Many clients ask me about cheat days, but unfortunately, that is not a healthy habit to incorporate.
5. Meal Prep
Start food prep or do batch cooking on the weekend. When you come home and are ravenously hungry—too hungry to cook—you are more likely to make a healthy choice rather than reach for the junk food. The same goes for at work, while travelling, etc.; bringing healthy snacks with you wherever you go means you're less likely to get whatever fast food may be around. It could be as simple as fruit. I carry around a banana or cut-up apple, this seems to do the trick.
6. Eating a Little Before Heading Out
Before going to a party or out for dinner where there are likely to be few healthy options, I like to do what I call "defensive eating," having something healthy to eat before I leave so that I won't be so ravenous.
One of the most important things you can do for your body is hydrate! Most people are chronically dehydrated, and they are not drinking enough water to keep their bodies healthy. Look into drinking clean, filtered water whenever possible, as staying hydrated can help avoid the many risks of dehydration.
MANY OF OUR CUSTOMERS AND THE NOMAD COMMUNITY LOVE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST WAYS TO STAY HYDRATED OUTDOORS?
Make sure to hydrate the day before your hike and hydrate well before you leave. I find coconut water helpful because it is a great source of electrolytes. Celery or cucumber juice is also high in electrolytes and contains important mineral salts. Bring along some fruits; red apples specifically help to keep you hydrated. Making a smoothie in a takeaway cup to drink on the way to the hike can be helpful.
When you're in hot weather and sweating, you tend to lose electrolytes. There is a condition called hyponatremia, where your sodium and electrolyte levels go down, and it can become a very dangerous state from excess sweating.
I was hiking in Arizona recently, and I should have known better, but I didn't bring enough water, and I had a salty residue on my skin and started to feel dizzy. Thankfully, my daughter had a large bottle of smart water with her, and it helped so I could finish the hike.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PLANT-BASED DIETS?
Eating fruits and vegetables is the healthiest way to eat. Plants are full of nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, omega 3's and antioxidants needed for your body to thrive. They help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk of many diseases. Whereas, red meat produces inflammation and has been implicated in colon cancer.
There is a myth that you need to eat meat to get adequate iron. Meat contains "heme" iron, and plants have "non-heme" iron. The problem with heme iron from meat is that it gets absorbed, whether your body requires it or not, regardless of how much iron is already in your body (your iron status) and the other foods you are consuming. Alternatively, the non-heme iron from plant foods utilizes a more selective absorption. If your body needs more, it will absorb more. A high absorption rate is not good because the body has no mechanism to dispose of the excess iron. Heme iron is absorbed unregulated and accumulates over time in the body. This excess iron promotes free radicals and causes oxidative damage to the lining of the arteries, which may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Other concerns with animal products are that they are injected with oestrogen, antibiotics, growth hormone, etc., which accumulates in our body and is unhealthy.
I often have my clients reduce their meat consumption to once per day, preferably at dinner. I tell my nutrition students that from my experience, I have found that if you change too many things at once, it doesn't work for most people.
In their recent update, the Canada Food Guide increased its list of plant-based options and took milk off the guide. The food guide has become more plant-based in recent years, and practicing mindfulness was also added, which is fantastic!
That's such a cool fun fact, Ara! We find that it's essential to be mindful and conscious about our food choices, as we are what we eat.
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THE EXCITING PROJECTS YOU'RE WORKING ON WITH US?
I have sold several thousand copies of my first book, Feed Your Body Feed Your Soul, and I have had tremendous feedback over the years. I'm currently working on the 10th year anniversary edition of that book to incorporate what I have learned since its publication. I have formulated a greens powder, and I'm very excited about it. It will be launched in the next month or so.
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT NOMAD NUTRITION?
I found Nomad Nutrition while doing some research online, looking for healthy, convenient food for my clients. I work with athletes looking to enhance energy and performance, and Nomad meals are nutrient-dense and easy to prepare. Many of my clients benefit from having an easy to prepare a meal at the end of their workday. I was impressed with the clean and healthy ingredients in Nomad's products.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE NOMAD NUTRITION RECIPE?
The meals are delicious! So far, I have tried the Banana Bites, Kathmandu Curry and the Indian Red Lentil Stew, and I love them all. I am impressed that they have no preservatives in them and are made of healthy ingredients. I am preservative-phobic and don't like having preservatives in my food, so I always read the labels. I teach my students what to look for with ingredients and nutrition facts.
WHAT'S YOUR PASSION OUTSIDE OF HEALTH AND NUTRITION?
I enjoy doing yoga, travelling, and walking in nature, especially forests. I love to read and research. I have a passion for writing and enjoy developing nutritional products.
WITH EARTH DAY COMING UP, DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FROM A NUTRITION STANDPOINT?
Easy tips and tricks you can do to help the earth:
Learning to grow your food at home or in your local community garden.
Supporting your local farmers by buying their produce.
Focusing on eating more plant-based foods.
Choosing organic when you can.
Cutting down on food waste and waste.
Buying fair trade.
Reduce plastic consumption.
Avoiding pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.