Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 119
Busting 3 vegan myths with RDN Nisha Melvani
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 119. Registered dietician nutritionist Nisha Melvani joins me to bust three myths about veganism and discuss her brand new cookbook, "Practically Vegan."
Hey, I'm Karina your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. I'd like to share a message from one of our amazing coaching clients who just finished working with us and is now venturing out into life after coaching, which is our goal for all of our clients. Her message really illustrates coach Zoe's and my weight-neutral approach to coaching. So in coach Zoe's words, weight-neutral coaching, in case you haven't heard that term before, is about a greater consideration of mental and body wellness over attaching success or progress to a particular number on the scale. And it's also an acknowledgment that progress can be measured with many different tools and approaches, and the scale and weight is not the only one.
So here's what our client Elizabeth had to say: “While I haven't noticed the scale go down significantly, I've definitely noticed some non-scale victories that I would like to highlight. How I feel about my body has changed significantly. I feel more confident, have more energy, and can feel myself getting stronger. While I do sometimes go to food for emotional comfort, the frequency in which I act on it is way less. I feel like I'm healthier overall. It's also been easier for me to get my workouts done first thing, rather than waiting until the last moment, sometimes missing days, or moving my workouts around to satisfy my immediate wish for one of my easier days. I'm proud of the progress I've made and I'm so to just feel happier in my own skin. I've grown into someone who embraces and embodies a healthy lifestyle and I know this is just the beginning. The other thing I've noticed is that it's easier for me to navigate stressful situations and to say no to negative influences. Boundary setting has always been a weak point for me. Overall, I'm very proud of the progress I've made and I can't wait to see what happens next.”
Well, we are super proud of Elizabeth and all of the accomplishments and progress that she's created for herself. And we absolutely loved working with her. If you're looking to level up your own fitness and plant-based nutrition, whether it involves weight loss or not, check out our coaching programs at karinainkster.com/coaching. We're taking on only a few new clients whom we're best suited to help. So go to karinainkster.com/coaching, check out our programs, and fill out an application ASAP if you're interested.
I'm excited to introduce today's guest, Nisha Melvani. She's a cookbook author with the release of her new book, coincidentally happening on the same day as the release of this podcast episode. Her book is called, "Practically Vegan: A Hundred Plus Easy, Delicious Vegan Dinners on a Budget." She's a registered dietician nutritionist and holds a master's degree from Columbia University in nutrition. Nisha attended culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, and she's a mom of three teenage girls. A few interesting tidbits here that we expand upon in our discussion, Nisha is of Indian descent and was born and raised in Jamaica. She went to boarding school in England, and college in Montreal, Canada. Her mom loves spam and her dad eats bananas with the peel, and we're gonna discuss how all of these varying experiences influence her palette, cooking techniques, and approach to food. Nisha's favourite vegan meal is tofu Bolognese. Enjoy our discussion.
Hi Nisha. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Nice to meet you.
Nisha Melvani: Hi Karina. I'm really excited to be here.
Karina Inkster: I'm excited to get to know your background and we're gonna talk about your exciting new book that's coming out. I think possibly on the exact day that this episode is coming out, which is the 29th of March. Is that right?
Nisha Melvani: Yes!
Karina Inkster: Ooh exciting!
Nisha Melvani: I didn't know that! That is the day.
Karina Inkster: That's so cool. Well, we'll talk about that as well, but just to start things off here, what is your background with veganism? How did you come to the plant-based lifestyle? When was it? Was there a catalyst? What’s the background story?
Nisha Melvani: So I grew up in Jamaica. That's where I was born, the island - of Indian descent. So my mom and dad are very different eaters. My mom loves spam, still does.
Karina Inkster: Wow.
Nisha Melvani: She's had, you know, a foot, well it's maybe not a foot, but she had a big part of her colon removed cuz she just refuses to eat fruits and vegetables.
Karina Inkster: Oh wow.
Nisha Melvani: And my dad on the other hand will eat a banana with the peel, like…
Karina Inkster: Okay that I have never heard of before. What? I didn't even know that was possible.
Nisha Melvani: I know! I didn't till I saw him do it.
Karina Inkster: Wow.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. He loves vegetables and fruit, but it's a good party trick for my kids. So anyway, growing up in Jamaica, I had, you know, I was raised with those two extremes. And you know, Rastafarianism is a big movement in Jamaica and I was exposed to that a lot and their food is mostly vegan and has no salt. I used to eat their food when I would come across the little shacks they would have on the beach or in festivals that they had. I would attend them and I was exposed to, it's called ital food. And I started to realize that that way of eating really made me feel much better. And so I started to gravitate to eating like that as I was exposed to it through them really.
Karina Inkster: Hmm, interesting. So this goes back to your formative years then. It's not something that's happened, you know, just in the last two to three years now.
Nisha Melvani: No, it’s been a while. I wasn't vegan living in Jamaica, but I definitely always loved that kind of food. It wasn't like I had to learn it. So I definitely had a leaning towards that. And you know, when I had kids was really when I started to think about what I was eating and how I felt when I ate. And also because I was thinking about what to feed them.
Karina Inkster: Of course.
Nisha Melvani: And you know, you always wanna feed them the healthiest you can. And I had actually just done a nutrition degree at Columbia. I did my masters in nutrition and like they never separated plant-based iron or protein from meat-based. It was sort of all macronutrients. You know, your body needs these macronutrients, but it wasn't like really talked about the difference between them in those forms. And I felt like it was an injustice to not like really you know, tear those two apart.
Karina Inkster: That's a good point. Yeah. So you went to boarding school starting pretty young, I think. Was it age seven in England? Which must have been, well, actually I was reading your book that your publisher was kind enough to send over - so thank you by the way - where, I mean, that's a complete 180 of the food that you were eating before. We're talking lots of meat and potatoes and shepherd's pie and whatnot. So was that a huge shock to your system?
Nisha Melvani: So the only tie-in between my culture and England was curry.
Karina Inkster: Ah, okay. That's it eh? It starts and ends with curry.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. So I was glad to just have curry. At least I knew what that was.
Karina Inkster: Uh-huh!
Nisha Melvani: But yes, I was introduced to some really exotic food, at least to me it was. Like steak and kidney pie. I didn't really know you ate kidneys or liver, and it didn't even taste good. So I couldn't really understand why we were eating the liver, but we didn't have a say in it. There wasn't really a way to say, well, I don't eat that so you can't give it to me. It was like you could be excused two foods, and your parents had to write a letter. And actually, mine were beets and Brussel sprouts.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. But that's probably because said beets and Brussel sprouts were just cooked for like three hours until they were mush. I'm going to stereotype here, but I'm guessing that was the case.
Nisha Melvani: Absolutely. Like every vegetable was cooked like that. It's like they forgot they were cooking it and then they came back. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Oh dear!
Nisha Melvani: It was pretty bad. And I think that is partly why I'm so motivated to cook vegetables perfectly. They should be pretty, and they should be cooked till just tender, you know?
Karina Inkster: Do you have an air fryer? Are you big on air fryer cooking?
Nisha Melvani: So I do have one. I have a Cuisinart one actually, cuz it's the steel I like, you know, and it's not a huge one because, in this apartment, you can't fit those big ones, but I use it. I don't use it a ton, but when I don't wanna use a lot of oil in something or if I wanna make it really quickly, then I use it. I think tofu works really well in the air fryer or if you were gonna -
Karina Inkster: It's a game-changer for tofu. Absolutely.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah, it really is. Like, it makes it so crispy, you know?
Karina Inkster: Yeah. I feel like I should have an affiliate deal with Cosori, which is my brand of choice, because seriously with all the clients we have, all the friends, all the vegans I know, my coach colleague Zoe and I are probably responsible for something like 25 air fryer sales this point.
Nisha Melvani: So what's that brand? I'm gonna check it out too.
Karina Inkster: Oh yeah. The brand is Cosori - C O S O R I. Yeah. They just make amazing machines. I bought one and very quickly realized it was too small based on the amount of food prep I was doing for only two people, but it's a lot of food prep. And you know, I don’t have a huge one, but it gets used pretty much every day in our house.
Nisha Melvani: Wow. And what’s your favourite vegetable - Brussel sprouts?
Karina Inkster: Brussel sprouts!
Nisha Melvani: I was gonna say Brussel sprouts!
Karina Inkster: Top of the list for sure. Yeah. And tofu and all the kinds of plant-based proteins.
Nisha Melvani: Tempeh.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, tempeh, the really good protein-dense options. Just amazing.
Nisha Melvani: Don't you love when the brussel sprout leaves get like a little burnt and crispy? I made them last night. Yeah. So yummy.
Karina Inkster: So good! Okay, now I'm getting hungry.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. It's like brussel sprout chips, right?
Karina Inkster: Exactly.
Nisha Melvani: We should start that.
Karina Inkster: But so well done so they're not burned. They're just crispy enough. They've got good flavour.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Yep. Amazing. Well, tell us about this new book you have coming out. So it's called, "Practically Vegan." I've checked out all the recipes. It looks amazing. What's your kind of background or motivation for putting this together?
Nisha Melvani: So I actually got the book deal in COVID, when COVID just started. So it was helpful to have a project when you're, you know, in that kind of at home all the time.
Karina Inkster: Good point.
Nisha Melvani: So the first thing that everyone always asks is why did you call it, "Practically Vegan" if it is vegan?
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: And so the reason I chose that name is because it's very practical. You know, all the herbs and spices get used over and over again in the recipes. So they're never just sitting on your shelf gathering dust, and the ingredients are easy to find, readily available, and they're also really budget-friendly. So I feel, you know, for anyone, they're approachable. A beginner cook or even someone who loves to cook will enjoy them. And I think once you make them enough times you become a skilled cook yourself because you sort of see a pattern of, you know, cooking the aromatics, adding the seasonings, adding your protein or getting the protein crispy in the oven first.
It sort of like it develops on itself. And I think you become very confident as a cook when you've made a lot of these recipes. And that's really my journey. I did go to culinary school for six months full time. It was a vegan/vegetarian school, and it did teach me things like making pasta from scratch, but I never used those things cuz they're not practical. I have three kids! I'm never gonna, like I would rather buy it, you know?
Karina Inkster: Right! Good point.
Nisha Melvani: And spend my time cooking the veggies and flavouring everything. I don’t cook with a lot of salt. So I'm very big on flavours and that's why you'll find a lot of herbs and spices. To me that’s the best way. And you could use either dried or fresh, so it's convenient.
Karina Inkster: Well, that makes total sense. So you have three teenage girls, right? Are they vegan as well? Is your whole family plant-based?
Nisha Melvani: So everyone eats what I make for breakfast and dinner. Lunch, they have out. And the only thing I'd say, my kids really like that's not vegan is cheese.
Karina Inkster: Ah, that's pretty common, I think.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. So they do eat cheese. I don't really have a lot, any, I don't think I have any cheese at home, but they will eat pizza, but they don't eat any meat or anything.
Karina Inkster: Got it. That makes sense.
Nisha Melvani: And my husband loves vegan food actually.
Karina Inkster: Well that's a bonus.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. When we met, we ate a lot of meat together. Like he was a big meat eater, so he actually hopes that I cook every night, which is so sweet.
Karina Inkster: That’s awesome!
Nisha Melvani: Yeah, it makes me feel good.
Karina Inkster: That's great. Especially if it's something that happened while you were together. Like I've been vegan forever. It's been 20 years almost. And so when I met my husband almost 16 years ago, he kind of knew what he was getting into. Oh well, you're vegan. Okay. But I think it's challenging sometimes when you either make the transition together or one person goes vegan and the other one isn't, you know? There’s kind of additional logistical challenges around like, okay, well who's gonna cook dinner and what if my husband wants meat and I don't wanna cook it and all this kind of like logistical, what I would call probably a nightmare, cuz I don't think I could deal with it, but that's awesome that it worked out. That's great.
Nisha Melvani: Well, you know, I have so much work in the house with three kids that I kind of never gave anyone a choice, I guess.
Karina Inkster: Well that's one way of doing it. Yeah.
Nisha Melvani: I'm like this is what's for dinner, eat it or don't eat it. But I found if you really take the time to make it taste good, you know, they will eat it.
Karina Inkster: Of course.
Nisha Melvani: And especially with tempeh. I have a whole process of cooking it because tempeh was probably the most challenging to get kids to like, cuz that has a very like strong flavour if you don't cook it well. And I think I've mastered it now.
Karina Inkster: Ooh! Is that in your book?
Nisha Melvani: It is. A lot of that method is in my book and I think it takes a little bit of extra time, maybe an additional 10 minutes or so, but it makes a huge difference. It really does.
Karina Inkster: I'm intrigued.
Nisha Melvani: I hope you try it.
Karina Inkster: I will. Well again, thank you to you and your publisher for sending over an advanced copy - much appreciated. And are some of these recipes influenced by your upbringing? So Jamaican influences? Indian influences?
Nisha Melvani: There's definitely a big chapter on Curry.
Karina Inkster: Well, there you go.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. And I don't get confined by which herbs and spices are typically used in different cultures because I think they work across the spectrum and I'd rather play and have fun and mix and match and just see. I don't think there's like these rules you need to follow. I think it's about having fun, trying out different things. And a lot of these spices, like cumin, and you know, chili powder, they work across a lot of cuisines, and work well, so I don't think like, oh, well this is Indian, so I can only use this. You can just experiment a lot. So I think the love of herbs and spices and even the condiments I use is growing up with food that is so flavourful - except England. England scarred me so much that I was determined to give good flavour.
Karina Inkster: Oh yes. Poor England. Which by the way is now, like the UK now, compared to even eight years ago I would say, is such a hub for vegan products and just amazing food coming out. But it still has this bad rap attached to it I think.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. I didn't know that actually. I have a lot of friends there, so maybe I'll go visit.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Whereabouts are you right now? I don't even know where are in the world you are now.
Nisha Melvani: New York City.
Karina Inkster: Oh, New York. Oh, okay, cool.
Nisha Melvani: Where are you?
Karina Inkster: I’m in BC in Canada on the west coast.
Nisha Melvani: Oh, I went to school in Montreal actually.
Karina Inkster: Oh cool. Yes.
Nisha Melvani: College.
Karina Inkster: So we're same country, opposite coast, pretty much.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. I've always wanted to visit where you are.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Well, Vancouver is where I grew up. So Vancouver is amazing when it comes to vegan options and just like insane vegan restaurants, lots of options. It's the closest big city to where I live now, which is a very small town. So we don't have enough people to sustain, you know, like a vegan restaurant. We do have a vegan grocery store run by a friend of mine, which is kind of cool.
Nisha Melvani: So I guess you just have to cook a lot then?
Karina Inkster: Yeah, pretty much. I do a lot of food prep. And then when I do go to Vancouver where I just was actually at the beginning of the week - there's a plane that you can take. It's 25 minutes from here to Vancouver or six or seven hours out of your day if you're gonna take two ferries. But basically, all I do when I go to Vancouver is stuff my face with vegan food. That's pretty much the goal when I go there.
Nisha Melvani: And take all the leftovers home I bet?
Karina Inkster: Correct! Yep. Exactly. So let's bust a couple of myths here. So we can touch on protein, which is everybody's favourite vegan topic, of course. We're gonna touch on iron, and if we have time, we can go over the myth that it's expensive to eat vegan, which we haven't really touched on on the podcast a ton. We have talked about protein in various forms on the show before. So you know, we don't need to spend a ton of time on it, but I do wanna get your perspective on the myth that's still out there that it's hard to get protein on a vegan diet.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. And I love the third one about the expensive - actually, that is a big one for me. Because my whole book is about that and my Instagram is all budget-friendly. So that resonates a lot with me.
Karina Inkster: Okay. Let's make sure we focus on that one then, but can we do the protein kind of on a very overview level?
Nisha Melvani: Absolutely. So firstly, most people in this country are definitely getting enough protein. I think we don't need as much as everyone thinks we do. And you know, it is a big focus, but it's unlikely you're actually deficient in protein. You may be a bit lower than what's recommended, but you're not gonna really be deficient in the US, you know?
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: Or in the developed world really. I feel like we're just overly focused on it and the body can't actually store protein. So when you just overdo it or just consume a ton of protein, cuz you think, oh I need this much, it can't store it, so it turns it into fat. So it's not like later in the day when you don't have a lot of protein and you need it, your body can't access that protein. So it's better not to just sort of excessively consume it like straight after exercising let's say. Obviously, you could increase it a little, but later in the day, your body can't use that excess that you put into it. Unless you're starving, it's not gonna use protein.
Karina Inkster: So maybe part of the issue is we actually need less than we think we do.
Nisha Melvani: I think so. And you need about, I think it's, you know, like .36 grams per pound or 0.8 per kilogram. And actually what this comes out to is about seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds. It's about that, of your body weight.
Karina Inkster: So, okay. This is the number that we've heard before. It's usually in kilo, so it's usually the 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. And you can convert that to point, what was it?
Nisha Melvani: 0.36 per pound. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Right. So is it true that this number, it's not like numbers we have for the RDA of iron or B12, you know, protein doesn't have an RDA? Is it true that this number is for folks who are sedentary?
Nisha Melvani: So the interesting thing is there's no really good studies on how much protein we need.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: It's sort of like a real estimate. They haven't really been able to narrow it down. And that was the minimum intake was what we had just discussed. But the acceptable intake is anywhere from 10% to 35% of calories. That's a broad range.
Karina Inkster: Very much so.
Nisha Melvani: And then it can vary, depending on age, are you breastfeeding? Are you pregnant? What's your activity level? Are you injured? Like, did you have a burn? So there's so many variables and they haven't really been able to pinpoint the amount, exactly as you said, like RDAs for other nutrients. So, you know, I think we are winging it a little.
Karina Inkster: Well, we're winging it until more peer-reviewed research happens, and especially long-term research. And I think it depends also on what our lifestyles are, right? If you're somebody who is an endurance athlete, you're gonna need a lot of carbs. Maybe not quite as much protein as someone who's a strength athlete.
Nisha Melvani: That's true.
Karina Inkster: And the profiles of those two folks are gonna be very different from someone who doesn't train at all. And the protein needs will be different, presumably.
Nisha Melvani: Yes, definitely. That's why having the set number is arbitrary really, cuz of all those variables, you know?
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: And also if you do overconsume protein, you can get kidney stones and that comes from meat-based protein really. They haven't really found it with plant-based protein and what I think a lot of people don't think about is the protein package. Like you're not just eating protein, you're eating a whole food. So what else is in that food that you're getting? And if it’s meat-based, you're gonna get saturated fat, probably some sodium. You're never gonna get fibre. So I think looking at the package is really important. if you eat unprocessed plant-based foods, you're gonna get iron, you're gonna get fibre and no salt. You know, it's totally different. You're gonna get heart-healthy fats. It's just a completely different ballgame.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. You know, that's a good point. It's going to this idea of thinking more on a broad scale about our diet, about things we do on a regular basis. Things we're doing every day even versus the one food or the one nutrient that we're gonna focus on, like just thinking about protein and nothing else.
Nisha Melvani: I totally agree. I think it's just having a healthy diet in general, you know, you're gonna get what you need, if you focus on the big picture.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: And each meal doesn't have to be perfect. It's over a length of time, you know?
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Well, let's move on to the topic of is it expensive to be vegan because I feel like some of this myth comes from nowadays, you know, even in the last five years, having access to your plant-based meats and your plant-based cheeses and some things that might be more expensive than the animal-based versions. Maybe that's where this myth comes from. I don't know. But what's your take on this idea that it's expensive to be plant-based?
Nisha Melvani: So I think you're right. Some of the myth is from that, but also when you think you have to eat everything organic.
Karina Inkster: Oh, okay. Good point.
Nisha Melvani: So while it's nice to be able to choose organic, it's so much healthier to just eat fruit and vegetable than to avoid it because it's not organic. And no real studies have shown it's gonna hurt you, you know? So yes, if you can afford it, choose organic. Support the farms that try and do that, you know, go that route, but don't feel, oh, it's not organic, I can't eat this. And then opt for something less healthy. You know, I don't always buy organic. I'll buy what's available to me and I know I’m gonna be fine. And so I think that's the first thing people sort of get hung up on.
Karina Inkster: That's a great point. I think vegan is such a loaded term that sometimes folks combine it with other things and organic is one of the things they combine it with just by default for whatever reason.
Nisha Melvani: Yes, exactly. And I think also one of my sort of messages, even through my book, why it's called, “Practically Vegan” is you don't need to be completely vegan to enjoy these recipes. They're actually all dinner recipes. So even if you start with dinner and you're not vegan, but you start like I'm gonna have a vegan dinner, that's a great place to start. And just incorporate the vegan dishes more and more into your life. Like you don't need to suddenly convert one day. And that's where I think veganism culture can make people feel nervous or put off. And I feel like it's just, well, you welcome anyone who's trying to just go more that route, you know?
Karina Inkster: Oh, absolutely. Any move in a more plant-based direction is gonna have a positive effect on not just individual health, but our environment and animals.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. And actually the forward of my book is written by Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote, “Eating Animals.” And then he recently wrote, “We Are The Weather,” and he writes about just starting with one meal and how he has failed so many times. And it's okay. Don't be hard on yourself, you know? So he actually inspired me to write the book because he said, if I wrote a book, he would do the forward cuz I know him actually personally.
Karina Inkster: Oh, amazing.
Nisha Melvani: That's how the whole thing came to be. I didn't actually wanna write a book cause it’s so much work.
Karina Inkster: Well, I'm glad you did. It's gonna be an amazing resource.
Nisha Melvani: Thank you.
Karina Inkster: So when you think about this being “Practically Vegan” and possibly using ingredients that are just easy to find, not expensive, what's the deal with like ingredient choices? Are there things that are really good to have in your pantry that are just cost-effective and things that are gonna be more expensive? Just on this kind of myth of, well, it's always gonna be expensive.
Nisha Melvani: Right. And that's where this idea of it being expensive is a myth because when I focus on, as I say, is to use the same condiments in most of your dishes, just in different ways. And I just have a basic set that I use all the time. I don't really buy a lot of new stuff. Like I don't go and look at a recipe and say, oh no, I need this item. And then I'll use it once in that recipe cuz then it's getting expensive.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Nisha Melvani: So instead I have like mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce. I never can say that word. You know, sriracha, and - all these bad pronunciations - you know, coconut aminos, tamari, soy sauce. Like they are standard items that I know will work in most recipes. And then, you know, the basic spices: paprika, chili powder, basil, thyme, turmeric, spices that I know are gonna work throughout, and I just recycle them in different ways every day.
And so I'm not going out and just buying new and specific things for a specific recipe. Instead, I'm winging it and just doing it by taste and just trying different condiments that I own already. And that's what I love, to be flexible. And that's really what my book is based on: just using the same things in different ways and that's budget-friendly because nothing's just sitting there. And none of those condiments, you know, mustard, isn't so expensive and you don't need to buy a certain brand; just buy what's affordable and works for you. And there’s also substitutes. If coconut aminos isn't available to you or it's expensive, use soy sauce. So I think just having those backups as opposed to having to go and knowing what the alternative is. Tahini. Tahini’s huge to me. I love tahini.
Karina Inkster: Oh, tahini is its own food group.
Nisha Melvani: It really is. And that goes in so many things. I even put it in chilies to make them a little creamy, you know?
Karina Inkster: Mmm Interesting.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. It's amazing in it, like a tempeh chili. I put it in and it adds the depth to it and creaminess. So it's just playing around with those ingredients.
Karina Inkster: That's a pretty good way of looking at it.
Nisha Melvani: Yeah. And what makes a huge difference is the sauce. I think like once you nail down a few good dressings or sauces, you can vary things up just by changing that sauce. And then you make the sauce by using those same condiments that you have, that you're putting in your chilies and curries and you just use them differently. Like tahini dressing is huge. It goes with so many things. Or like, you know, an Asian-inspired sauce. You just learn how to make a quick teriyaki kind of sauce, you know, just wing it, and you can use that with all your stirfrys. So once you have down a few sauces, you can really change things up very easily.
Karina Inkster: See this kind of larger-scale thinking about food prep I think is gonna be useful for a lot of listeners where it's not just about following a recipe or making a meal plan. It's really a whole approach to your food and to looking at how you're using your own ingredients in your kitchen, really.
Nisha Melvani: Definitely. I rarely plan dinner. I don't have a list. I look through my kitchen, what's missing, what's running out. And I just stock up on aromatics. So garlic, ginger, onion, I stock up on vegetables that are easy to roast. And then you need, you know, your green vegetables like kale or spinach. And then I buy some protein options and you know, some grains, like whether it be brown rice or farro or quinoa, you just have that available. And then every night you're kind of like, okay. Either you can plan it and write it all down if that's easier for you. But once you know your basics, then you kind of play with the herbs with it and the sauces. And once you do it enough, it's like second nature. You just have to be brave and go for it. And you'll pick it up really quickly, I think.
Karina Inkster: Oh, I love that. That's such a good approach. So one more quick myth I wanted to bust around vegan nutrition. As a dietician, I'm sure you get this all the time. The myth is that animal products and meat specifically are the best source of dietary iron. Why is that not true?
Nisha Melvani: You know, these little guys lentils, right? Everyone underestimates the power of lentils. Lentils to me are just, I always have them on hand because they cook super quickly. They are loaded with iron and protein and fibre. So, you know, what more could we ask? Like sure beans are great, but they take longer to cook, but red lentils, 10 minutes, and you're done. Throw in some onion, garlic, and coconut milk even or something. So, you know, I actually wrote a whole article on how to get iron on a vegan diet and a lot of people read it on my website. And iron is definitely very necessary. It's just a lot easier to get than you think. And the iron in meat is heme iron, you know, actually can have negative effects too, whereas plants it's non-heme iron.
Greens, leafy greens, have iron. You know, kale, all these greens. So it's easy. You just make yourself a good chili, throw in all these things, lentil chili and you have tons of iron there. So if you have a well-planned diet in the terms of thinking of food groups, as opposed to specific, you know, like I just think in terms of macronutrients, am I getting my protein? Am I getting my carbs? Am I getting my good fat? And I think if you think in those terms, you're going to be okay. And just eat a ton of legumes. They are key for iron. You do have to eat legumes and I know they can make you gassy, but also tofu has iron, and tempeh too. They all have iron because they're made from soybeans, which is a legume. I know they make you gassy, but you can incorporate beans slowly into your diet so you start getting used to them and then the gassiness decreases over time. Trust me, I live in an apartment with five of us in a New York City apartment. So we don't wanna be too gassy.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, you wanna be good roommates to each other, for sure.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. You know, legumes are an excellent source. So to introduce yourself to beans. You can definitely use canned beans. Never feel ashamed that you're not making everything from scratch. Just eating a good, healthy, plant-based diet is a great start. If you are able to make your beans and soak them overnight, it does decrease the amount of gassiness you'll get just soaking them and rinsing the water. And it does make them cook quicker, cuz they've been soaked.
So then there's also yes, tempeh, tofu, and then whole grains have iron. So if you're eating your brown rice or farro or whole wheat bread or whatever it is, you're going to get iron, even white pasta is fortified, you know? So there's a lot more iron - and breakfast cereals - more than you think. Dried fruit, you get a ton of iron in dried fruit: raisins, prunes, dates, and then vegetables have iron. Broccoli has iron, green beans have iron, potato has iron. So we just have grown up with this misconception, that meat is the best and only way to get it. It's just simply not true, you know?
Karina Inkster: I think we've grown up with that about a lot of things.
Nisha Melvani: Definitely Karina, for sure. That's why your podcast is amazing, cuz you're busting all those things.
Karina Inkster: Aw. You were just saying nuts and seeds. Is that another iron source?
Nisha Melvani: Yes. Great for iron. And also there are tips like when you eat a leafy green vegetable, that iron will have some vitamin C with it, cuz that helps your body to absorb it much better. So tomatoes are actually high in vitamin C. You don't need to have an orange - there's another myth, that you have to have an orange. And also by the way, another myth is that you need like, we can only absorb like 250 I think it is milligrams of vitamin C at a time. So when people are loading vitamin C and taking all these supplements, it’s literally just getting peed out. Like you're not absorbing that. So that’s another myth.
Karina Inkster: Well yeah! That’s another good point. A lot of supplements are basically just resulting in expensive pee. That's really all it is.
Nisha Melvani: Yes exactly.
Karina Inkster: It's basically what it is.
Nisha Melvani: That's also a good point. But yeah so pairing your iron with vitamin C is a great way to increase that absorption.
Karina Inkster: Well, I think what you're saying about, you know, if you're eating a diet that includes a lot of variety, if it's relatively well planned, it goes for pretty much any nutrient, whether it's iron or calcium or zinc, if you're eating a large variety of mostly whole plant-based foods, generally these things are gonna take care of themselves.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. The only one I would say to pay attention to is B12.
Karina Inkster: B12. Yep. We always say it's the only non-negotiable supplement for vegans.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly. It definitely is. You have to cuz that's irreversible damage there. That I would supplement or just drink a lot of soy milk. I don't know. That's fortified.
Karina Inkster: For sure.
Nisha Melvani: Or any plant milk that's fortified with it.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. There's a lot of options nowadays. There's also B12 in a lot of products like your plant-based meats and things like that. But even then I think we're on the same page. Just supplement anyways. It's cheap. Again, sure maybe all you're doing is having, it's not even that expensive, but maybe expensive pee, but worst-case scenario you're looking at severe neurological damage that's irreversible. So I feel like it's actually worth taking extra B12 cuz your body's just gonna get rid of what it doesn't need.
Nisha Melvani: Right. I think actually I did read, and I may be wrong, but I did read you can get too much, but that would mean taking a very high supplement, because most supplements when you really go and look, they're very high. And so what I end up doing, cuz actually my B12 levels were way too high at one stage, and so I ended up now taking - cause I couldn't find a lower amount - so I take it like every other day or you know, just so it's sort of more balanced. But yeah, I don't think you're gonna get hurt, but I think it's like a new thing where they said maybe you can get too much, but definitely, you should supplement it no matter what.
Karina Inkster: For sure.
Nisha Melvani: I believe so. Just play it safe, you know?
Karina Inkster: Agreed.
Nisha Melvani: So the other thing with iron is you don't wanna pair it with calcium actually because calcium decreases iron absorption.
Karina Inkster: Ah, interesting.
Nisha Melvani: So I think like, you know, there's like cheesy spinach, cheesy dips or like topping your food with vegan cheese or whatever, if it has calcium, you know, the processed ones, that's gonna decrease the iron absorption in the greens.
Karina Inkster: That's a good tip. So we wanna pair iron with vitamin C but not necessarily calcium-rich foods.
Nisha Melvani: Exactly.
Karina Inkster: That makes sense. Awesome. Well Nisha, you have your website, cookingforpeanuts.com, which is, by the way, the best name for a business ever - love it! And your new book coming out March 29th. Oh, there it is for folks looking at the video. It's amazing. Thank you again for sending over the book. Much Appreciated. Is there anywhere else you would like our listeners to find you?
Nisha Melvani: I have an Instagram: @cookingforpeanuts, where I have recipes that are not in the book that I've been running for five years. So you'll definitely find a lot of choices on there. Those are my main handles. I do have TikTok now, but I just started it. So Cooking For Peanuts on Instagram and cookingforpeanuts.com, which is my blog where you can print all my recipes. It's very user-friendly.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. We will also have show notes where all of these links will just be in one place, also a link to your new book, which is very exciting. So congrats on that coming out by the way. The COVID project that supposedly Jonathan was very into and I'm glad he was maybe one of the catalysts in the project.
Nisha Melvani: He was the catalyst.
Karina Inkster: The catalyst! Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. We'll give him credit then. So yeah. Congratulations. So great to speak with you, Nisha. Thanks for coming on the show and I look forward to trying out some of your recipes.
Nisha Melvani: Thanks for having me, Karina. It was really fun to be here.
Karina Inkster: Nisha, thank you again for joining me on the show. Check out our show notes @nobullshitvegan.com/119 to get your hands on Nisha's brand new book, connect with her, and find out about Coach Zoe's and my fitness and nutrition coaching programs. Thank you so much for tuning in.