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  • Donna Saker Talks Veganism and the Benefits of Eating Plant-Based

Donna Saker Talks Veganism and the Benefits of Eating Plant-Based

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Donna Saker Talks Veganism and the Benefits of Eating Plant-BasedCopper Branch

Plant-based diets are on the rise in our society, and for good reasons! The health and environmental benefits of eating less meat, poultry and dairy are undeniable… But did you know eating plant-based food can also be good for your wallet, without sacrificing great taste?

Our very own Donna Saker turned plant-based three years ago and hasn’t looked back since! We decided to chat with her and get the TRUTH behind what it means to adopt a plant-based diet.

This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

The Beat: First off, what does it mean to be “vegan”?

Donna Saker: I like calling myself “plant-based” because the majority of my diet is plants: fruits, vegetables, etc. Vegetarians will still eat cheese and eggs. Vegans eat no animal products at all. That includes honey as well! Anything that is derived from animals or a by-product of animals is out.

I’m not pushing my lifestyle on anybody. Get educated on stuff, and then make your own decisions as grown-ups. If people are curious about veganism, plant-based diets, all that stuff, I’m happy to guide them, but I’m not one of these people who are going to push anything on anyone.

TB: When did you become a vegan?

DS: Three years ago.

TB: Why, what motivated your choice?

DS: It was someone in my life at the time that went through cancer. He decided after he had been sick to change his lifestyle. He gave up alcohol, he gave up meat, and he gave up dairy. After the change, he had never felt better in his life. Because he was in my life, I started getting educated. I watched some documentaries on Netflix, I started reading some websites, talked to my own physician…

So my first reason was for health. Then, of course, ethical: I don’t want to hurt animals. Then, when I saw how much it was helping the environment, it was like the “trifecta” for me. I feel really good, personally, about the choices I’ve made.

I didn’t think I could do it. The thought of giving up meat, dairy… I haven’t given up wine, let’s not go crazy! But when you get used to it, you get past the difficult phase, you stop craving it and wanting it.

TB: Is wine not vegan?

DS: Wine is vegan… But apparently, there are some barrels, I’ve heard, that are soaked in milk or dairy. I’m not sure what the reason is, and there could be eggs as well, so just be careful…

And yes, I know, people make fun of me and say that “grapes have feelings too”! But I can only give up so much! [laughs]

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

TB: What do you typically eat in a day?

DS: Coffee, always, first thing in the morning, and I do a soy-based creamer. I had to give up real cream and milk. Then, I’ll usually have oatmeal or a smoothie that I make with almond milk, which I throw a ton of fruit into, and maybe a plant-based protein.

If you do protein shakes and smoothies, make sure you look at the ingredients, and that it’s plant-based. A lot of them have whey or egg protein and things like that.

TB: Plant-based protein such as legumes, nuts, things like that?

DS: Pea protein is very common in a lot of powders. If you Google “plant-based protein powders” you’ll find many to order online. You’ll find them in health food stores as well. Look at reviews and ask your friends. Some of them taste really good, and some of them don’t taste so good…

TB: Do you eat vegan cheese or cheese substitutes?

DS: The Copper Branch cheeses are really good! In fact, I wish I knew their secrets because when I eat at Copper Branch, it tastes like the real deal. I always bring people there who are not plant-based eaters; I say “Let’s go to Copper Branch because you need to see how incredibly well they mimic other foods and make them vegan.”

Another big mimic for plant-based eaters is sprinkling nutritional yeast on your food because that has a very tart “cheese” flavour.

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

TB: Do you crave these “imitation” foods that mimic meat or dairy’s taste and texture?

DS: No. You will find that a lot of vegan or plant-based recipes are delicious and flavourful because it’s “real” food. When you’re cooking with fruits and vegetables, legumes, soy, tofu, it’s incredible how flavourful they are. If you’re used to just meat & potatoes, it’s “what you see is what you get.”

I have opened up a whole different range of taste buds since I’ve become a vegan, for sure.

TB: Isn’t eating vegan more expensive?

DS: That’s a misconception. As a plant-based eater, you will basically shop the perimeter of a grocery store: fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, etc. If you add it all up, meat’s not cheap! If you want to eat nice, quality pieces of meat, depending where you source it and get it from, it’s not cheap…

For me, there’s no price tag on my health, so I don’t really care if something costs a little bit more. But for me, it hasn’t cost more. If you’re curious about it, why don’t you do a couple of days a week? Try “Meatless Mondays,” eat something that is vegetarian or vegan, and see what happens to your grocery bill with just a couple of plant-based meals a week. If you don’t want to go full throttle, at least reduce the amount of fatty things in your life.

TB: Do you encounter a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about veganism? How do you handle people’s misconceptions?

DS: The number one question I get: “Where do you get your protein?” I get frustrated when I hear this question! I want you, right now, to Google “vegetables high in protein.” You are going to be shocked!

Let me give you an example: gorillas. The silverback gorilla, one of the biggest, strongest animals on the planet, is a plant-based eater, not a carnivore! Where do you think their muscles come from? Plants!

Again, it’s just about education; I was the same!

TB: Do you have any cheat meals? What are they?

DS: No, I haven’t touched meat in three years! I will say, full disclosure, I have had vegetarian pizza that had actual cheese on it, and I had quite a tummy ache afterwards, I learned my lesson! [laughs] I was like “ohhh yeah, that’s what mozzarella cheese tastes like,” but I will never, ever, cheat with an animal product.

TB: I know you were tempted, but DID you cheat the other day when we had delicious pies and cheese cake in the office?

DS: No, I did not! [laughs]

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

TB: How do you manage when you’re on vacation or out for dinner?

DS: Foreign countries are where it is wonderful to be a plant-based eater. Internationally, they are much more on the plant-based train than here. There are wonderful vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Montreal, but it is difficult when you go out to dinner with a bunch of friends and it’s not plant-based…

I will say this: a lot of chefs here, in my experience, are more than happy to make you something plant-based in the kitchen as a special thing. After a while, just eating the salads and the sides of vegetables is boring!

I would like to ask restaurants, because there are so many people moving in this direction, to offer at least one menu item that is vegetarian or vegan… Just as an option!

TB: How did your body first react after you stopped eating meat, dairy and eggs?

DS: I lost weight. I was less bloated… It does take time for your stomach to adjust to eating a high-fibre diet – because that’s what it is. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is my skin. I am reversing in age. I do not think I even look close to 53. I get told I look 10 years younger. People get shocked by my age, and ask “What’s your secret?” Food is medicine! What’s the thing that you put in your body most? Food! so why wouldn’t you eat the good stuff? My own parents try to eat mostly plant-based; they’re senior, and even they’ve noticed a difference in their aches and pains.

This is just science; I’m not making this stuff up. You have to be careful with the amount of dairy you consume, because it can cause inflammation in your body. When we have aches and pain, it’s caused by inflammation. You might have a particular disease, but at the core it is inflammation, so you want to eat foods that reduce, or at least don’t cause, inflammation.

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

TB: Has it been hard to stick to it? What social or logistical challenges do you face?

DS: Oh boy… Fewer invites to dinner parties, that’s for sure!

People panic. When I get invited to dinner at someone’s house, they panic if they’re meat eaters… I always say, “Don’t panic!” don’t do anything that would cause you any stress or duress. I will work around it. I’m not going to eat the meat, but I certainly can have the sides, the salad, I’m not that difficult. If there’s wine, I’m happy! [laughs]

I’ve had a few friends that have pushed against me, but then I showed them some Netflix shows, just to get educated on their own health… The big thing with veganism is that you’re not only helping your own health, you’re helping the planet.

TB: Anything else?

DS: Always talk to a physician before you change your diet in any way, shape or form. I’m not a doctor; all I know is what has worked for me. But I will say this: my doctor was ASTOUNDED at my bloodwork when we did it recently… It was off-the-charts good because of the choices I’ve made with my diet.

Copper Branch

Source: Copper Branch

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