I’m frequently asked about my diet and lifestyle as eleven years ago I made the decision to become a vegetarian and three years ago I began eating a fully plant-based diet for both health and ethical reasons. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I gave up red meat completely because my Granny bred sheep and cattle on her Wexford farm and every season I would have a group of motherless or sick lambs to care for. I couldn’t possibly have sat down to a Sunday roast having just fed a pet lamb with a bottle of milk! So eventually I was just eating the most pure, organic, white, skinless, boneless, free range chicken. And then at the age of 19 I went to China to participate in Miss World, and discovered that the Chinese style of cooking chicken included claws, beaks, feathery bits, etc….. and that combined with hearing more and more about battery hens and the cruelty of slaughterhouses, it’s suffice to say I arrived home never wanting to eat chicken again!
I have since graduated from The College of Naturopathic Medicine as a qualified and registered nutritional therapist, so I have also spent the past few years really researching what works best for my body in terms of protein sources, carbohydrates, good fats, meal frequency and size. What you eat affects every single cell in your body, so it’s essential to put the right things into it. My primary focus is on eating ‘clean’, whole, real foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. You will rarely find me indulging in any form of processed or junk food as it makes me feel lethargic and ill. I’m very lucky that my Mother grows all her own veggies so I have access to fresh, organic onions, broccoli, spinach, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot, beans and peas. These make up the basis of my everyday diet. I am often asked about protein in my diet. Proteins are vital to basic cellular and body functions, including cellular regeneration and repair, tissue maintenance and regulation, plus the production of enzymes. My favourite protein sources are seeds and nuts (great for essential healthy fats too), lentils and beans, quinoa and leafy green and cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach. I love that there is so much scope for creativity in plant-based eating. I love to make big salads with a great selection of raw veg, warm roasted veggies, quinoa, seeds and nuts sprinkled in… the list is endless. Just last night I had a delicious dish with lentils, mushrooms, raw broccoli and roasted aubergine. I also eat a couple of cloves of raw garlic each day – its antibacterial qualities really ward off germs and bacteria. As for quinoa, it is a fantastic South-American grain veritably loaded with protein: it contains 12%-18% of it, and is a great choice for plant-eaters. It’s a complete protein, which means it contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also loaded with fibre, iron, and magnesium. And it’s gluten-free, which makes it far easier to digest. Quinoa has a mild, slightly sweet, almost nutty texture when cooked, and has a slight crunch to it. It can be prepared like cous-cous, take the place of rice, or even eaten for breakfast with fruit and nuts like porridge. The choice is yours! I personally love to eat it with roasted peppers, garlic and aubergine. I tend to avoid rice, pasta, white potatoes and bread as they all leave me uncomfortably bloated. But quinoa doesn’t do this.
I’m a grazer and aim to eat 4 – 5 small meals a day, never leaving more than 3 and a half to 4 hours between meals as keeping the metabolism burning throughout the day is essential. Never starve your body, it will wreck your metabolism and ultimately you will gain back any weight lost and much more. That’s why all these faddy diets fail for most people and why the diet industry is so damn lucrative. Another misconception about plant-based diet advocates is that they all look shrivelled up and starving…. I certainly do not look starving at all. The strongest and most muscular animals on earth are all vegetarians! Looks at elephants, gorillas and even cattle. Some people are naturally very slim but I’m definitely not an advocate of the size zero look through self-starvation. My focus has always been on a healthy, athletic physique and one that is getting all the nutrients it needs for brain and body to function at their best. When I completely dropped animal foods and increased my fruit and veg intake, I quickly noticed improvements in my overall health and energy; I used to get colds and flus quite frequently. Now I might get a bit of a sniffle every couple of years at most.
I hope that the information above has inspired any of you thinking about trying out a whole-foods plant-based diet to give it a go for just a couple of weeks to see how you like it. The benefits to your health (not to mention the environment) will be absolutely worthwhile. Hey, It’s food for thought!