I caught up with Heather Nicholds at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival and got a chance to ask her some questions. Why do you care? Because Heather is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and, frankly, because she’s got great advice for those of you struggling with finding the right balance in your diet.
If you haven’t checked out Heather’s YouTube channel or blog yet, get cracking. She’s a great source for whole foods vegan cooking videos and tips, especially for those of you transitioning.
Anywho, let’s get right into the interview so I can let Heather talk…
Adria: There are so many different vegan food modalities (macrobiotic, raw food, low fat like McDougall and Nutritarian, etc.). What do you think is the best or the healthiest, or is it a combination of them?
Heather: There are a lot of aspects of veganism, and I find that what works for most people in the long run is to keep things balanced, not getting too extreme in one direction. That can be good as a cleanse. Like raw food which is usually very helpful for people as a cleanse short term – like maybe some people a month, some people a year.
But then it usually works better for people to come back into a balanced diet, and that really works out better mentally as well if people don’t feel too estranged from normal eating. You know, veganism is already pretty extreme on its own (though I find it just natural), and a lot of people find it difficult to maintain with their social circle.
So when you start to get into more extreme diets, it is difficult to maintain, and I like balance and I find that it supports nutrition better as well.
People can get out of balance if they stay with raw food too long. You can get too cold, you can get too cleansed, actually. So maintaining balance is very important for me. I don’t think there is one type of diet, it is really a choice, a choice of what makes you feel good, of what works best for you, and just what you enjoy.
Adria: What do you mean by being too cleansed?
Heather: Your body can actually cleanse too much and then you can start to get cool, maybe cold all of the time, lose weight that people don’t want to lose. So people can get too skinny and just lose too much body fat.
Body fat is really important for your body to actually use nutrients. For the fat soluble vitamins and hormones and that kind of stuff, your body needs to have some fat, and a super low fat diet can sometimes be deficient in hormones, making it deficient in minerals, and reducing the fats that absorb. It can make you too cleansed.
Adria: That is a really good point, especially when so many of these diets are trying to minimize fats and keep them below a certain percentage (like 10%) of calories.
So what do you recommend is a good level of fat to have so that your hormones are balanced and you are not getting into that zone that you are talking about?
Heather: I usually maintain 25 to 35% fats, 60% carbs, and somewhere between 10 and 15% protein. I find that to be a good balance for most people.
Adria: What does that translate into on the fat side for how many nuts and seeds a day? What about oil?
Heather: I don’t use a lot of oil in my diet, but I don’t have anything against using oil a little bit here and there. I mostly use whole foods and whole foods fats like nuts, seeds and avocados.
I would probably use a handful of nuts and seeds in a meal or a snack, and half an avocado in a meal on average. And then I usually have some form of fat in every meal during my day because it does help the absorption of nutrients in that way.
Adria: That is a good point. So many nutrients are fat soluble.
Heather: Yes, absolutely, and the thing about it is that because so many people have too much fat in their diet, it is really helpful, these low fat cleansing diets, at the beginning. So people get so excited with them because they see such massive health benefits, and it really is amazing and it is good for these people to shift that direction.
But once you get there, you can be more moderate and be more balanced. Once you are eating whole foods and eating just plant foods, then you can get that balance that you want.
Adria: That is a great point that you can start with a more cinched-in version of a diet, maybe more raw foods to begin with, to try to get yourself on track.
And Heather is saying that you can then balance it out and elevate your fat so that your hormones stay in balance, everything else works smoothly, and you absorb vitamins correctly.
Heather: Sometimes people get stuck because they see such good results in raw foods and in super low fat and in not eating any oil whatsoever. They want to stay there. But you don’t have to because once you are healthy your body can handle these things and your body does need some fat in order to metabolize properly.
Adria: I guess the other side of that is the protein. These diets also keep the protein low. So do you find that, at 10 to 15% of calories, if you stay lower than that amount it impedes your function and starts to throw things off?
Heather: Yes, for sure. Your body needs some protein obviously to build and maintain its structure. And that’s another thing where standard diets are fairly high in protein right now. So it is good to reduce for a little while, but long term, your body needs those proteins to maintain itself.
Adria: So really with someone coming from a Standard American Diet, things are going to be really great [starting out stricter], but we can eventually start to moderate, and we don’t have to be so extreme.
And another thing is grounding. I have noticed with having a lot of raw food in my diet that maybe I am not as well grounded and that if I have some foods like beans or more of a protein or fat it grounds me a little bit more. Have you found that too?
Heather: Yes absolutely, especially in the winter and up here in Canada. I know in Vegas it will be very different, where raw food will be great, cool you off in the heat, but up here if I eat too many raw foods in the winter, I just need some sweet potato or something like that to just bring things centered and warm me up.
Adria: Heather do you have anything else to share in closing?
Heather: Just keep in mind that there is no such thing as perfection and that everyone is different. So work with what works for your body, specifically, and don’t feel like you have to attain this magical perfection. There is no such thing. It is about feeling good and having fun and being centered in your choices.
I hope what Heather had to say was valuable for you. A lot of times when we begin a new way of eating, we go full-force and adhere to “rules” word-for-word. I know that’s happened to me in the past.
But when you sit back, look at the bigger picture, and relax a little, that is when you find what will work for you in the long run, what is sustainable. This applies to you whether you are 80/10/10, a whole foods vegan, or a flexitarian who only eats meat occasionally.
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Now your turn. How do you find balance in your diet? How about between raw food and cooked? Leave it in the comments.
This was shared on Healthy Vegan Friday.