Plant-Based Protein Powders and How to Choose One

Plant based protein powders IG post*Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am studying nutrition and on the path to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Please, contact a practing RDN or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns before adapting a new way of eating.

Good afternoon friends! ๐Ÿ™‚ Every week I receive multiple questions in my Instagram inbox about eating plant-based or being a plant-based athlete, so I figured it was time to start addressing those questions here on the good ‘ol blog!  As a future Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an aspiring sub-elite runner, I am drawing on both research AND my personal experiences to share this information with you, so as usual, contact a licensed healthcare professional with any questions or concerns! Once I am a licensed and practicing RDN I will be more than happy to help you, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

So without further ado, let’s get to it! Today’s topic is plant-based protein powders.๐ŸŒฑ I want to start off by saying a protein powder should never be a replacement for a food in your diet, rather it should be an ENHANCEMENT or a SUPPLEMENT to your current diet. It is always best to get most of your daily calories and protein from whole, real foods (1). A protein shake is not meant to replace dinner or breakfast. Although, no judgment if you’ve done that before, as we have all been there ๐Ÿ˜› But generally protein powder does not make a very complete or balanced meal unless it is added to a smoothie with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. Of course there are certain times when a protein powder may be appropriate: during a major illness where you need extra protein to help you heal, during a heavy training phase as an athlete, or when you are struggling to meet your daily calorie and protein needs with food alone (2). Always talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement, because yes, protein powder is considered a supplement!

 

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There are a variety of reasons why an athlete might chose a plant-based protein powder: dairy allergy, vegan diet, or taste preferences. I personally am vegan and whey never sat well with me even when I ate dairy, so that is why I chose to consume a plant-based protein powder. I did not start consuming protein powder until 2019 because I used to be against it to be honest. But after running my highest weekly volume ever this summer to train for my second ever marathon (the Chicago Marathon this October), I can attest to the recovery benefits of consuming a high-protein shake or smoothie after a long run or tough training session when my stomach is otherwise not ready to eat a full meal rich in carbohydrates and protein. All I have to do is dump some water or almond milk and protein powder into my Blender Bottle, shake well, and sip as I stretch and foam roll.

So what are some key differences between whey based and plant-based protein powders? Well for starters, whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it has all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on it’s own (3). All animal based proteins are complete, but only quinoa and soy products are complete plant-based proteins (3,4). So before you panic, remember that you do not need to eat complete proteins at every single meal and snack, but rather throughout the day. Or you could do some good ol’ fashioned food pairing, i.e. the classic combination of rice and beans together contain all 9 of the essential amino acids in the proper amounts! So how does this relate to plant-based protein powders? Well, unless you are consuming a soy protein powder, which is already complete,  most plant-based protein powders will achieve a complete amino acid profile through the pairing of multiple plant protein sources, i.e. pea protein, chia seeds, cranberry protein, pumpkin seeds (4). The use of multiple protein sources just adds to the nutritional benefits of the protein powder! Whey protein powder is relatively low in nutrients besides protein, but a plant-based protein powder will often have some iron and other minerals, such as phosphorous or zinc (4). Pea protein powder is among the most common plant-based protein powders, but I’ve seen many types over the years, from hemp seed to combination plant protein powders.

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As an athlete there are two additional considerations I use when choosing a protein powder. I check the ingredients to see if the plant-based protein powder contains sugar alcohols and if it is NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice (6,7). I check for sugar alcohols because for me and many others, they cause GI distress (5). I cannot even chew gum because of the sugar alcohols! I am fine with stevia though, but I honestly wish more protein powders just used a bit of regular sugar…but that’s a topic for another day ๐Ÿ˜›

I then check if the protein powder is NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so how do we know that our supplements actually contain what they say they contain (6,7)? The NSF Internationalโ€™s Certified for Sport program was created to test supplements and make sure they do not contain any banned or illegal substances, contaminants, and that they actually contain what they say they contain (6).  To receive the NSF mark the supplement has to be tested twice in a calendar year (6). I also love that NSF has an app with a barcode scanner, so I can check supplements easily when I am on the go or at a store.

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Informed Choice is similar in that third party tests supplements for banned substances, but it is not the gold standard or recognized by major athletics teams, such as the MLB, like NSF certified for Sport (7). NSF Certified for Sport is especially important for elite athletes who are subject to random testings before/during/after competitions, because how would it feel to get disqualified because of your protein powder? I may be exaggerating here, but it’s still good to know exactly what is in our supplements, so even as an aspiring sub-elite athlete, I will only consume supplements from brands I trust and ones that are preferably NSF Certified, but at least Informed Choice so I know that they have been tested by a third party.

All 3 of my recommended protein powders below are NSF Certified or Informed Choice!

My top 3 favorite protein powders (in order) are linked below with pros and cons. 

 

1. Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder: Chocolate or Vanilla

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  • Pros:NSF Certified for Sport
    • Informed Choice
    • The chocolate is tasty in milk or water
    • Contains all the essential amino acids (complete protein)
    • 30 g protein per serving

 

  • Cons:Expensive, but at least it lasts a while
    • Vanilla only tastes good in smoothies in my opinion
    • Contains stevia, which I am not sensitive to, but some of you might be or you may not like the taste of
    • Can be hard to mix unless you use a shaker bottle or a blender

2. Tailwind Rebuild Recovery Chocolate or Vanilla

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  • Pros:Informed Choice
    • Tastes good even in just water (I prefer chocolate over vanilla in plain water)
    • Easy to transport if you get the single serving packs
    • Mixes very easily just by shaking
    • Contains electrolytes in addition to carbohydrates and protein, perfect for immediately after a run or athletic event
    • No artificial sweeteners

 

  • Cons:Not NSF Certified
    • Most expensive option
    • Vanilla is not very tasty in my opinion but some may like it
    • Not as high in protein as other options (only 10 g)
    • High in sugar compared to other protein powders (39 g)

 

3. Vega Sport Premium Protein in Chocolate, Vanilla, Berry, or Mocha

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  • Pros:Informed Choice
    • Can buy as a tub or individual serving packets
    • Tastes decent even mixed with just water, but is best in smoothies
    • 30% DV of iron
    • 30 g of protein

 

  • Cons:Not NSF Certified
    • Vanilla only tastes good in smoothies in my opinion
    • Contains stevia, which I am not sensitive to, but some of you might be or you may not like the taste of
    • Can be hard to mix unless you use a shaker bottle or a blender.

 

Do you use plant-based protein powder? If so, which brand and why? Do you have a question you want to see on here next? Do next hesitate to comment below, contact me on Instagram, or e-mail me at blackbeanqueen@gmail.com ! ๐Ÿ™‚

 References

  1. Plant-Based Sports Nutrition by D.Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RDN & Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RDN
  2. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, MS, RD
  3. What is a complete amino acid profile? by Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD
  4. Whey Vs. Plant Protein by Abbey Howarth
  5. Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes by Mayo Clinic 
  6. NSF International Certified for Sport 
  7. Informed Choice

Strava: the social media for endurance athletes

Disclaimer: I will receive anย annual Strava Summit subscription andย Strava merchandise to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming aย BibRave Proย (ambassador), and check outย BibRave.comย to review find and write race reviews!

What is Strava?

Strava is a free platform where you can track or add your runs, bikes, and swims. In short is is a social media platform for endurance athletes. You can also join virtual clubs and challenges if you are the type of person that finds extra motivation that way- I know I do! You can like each other’s activities (it’s called giving kudos) and write comments on them, similar to Facebook and Instagram.

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You can also add photos of your runs (I’m known to shareย  photos of my beautiful Lake Michigan lakefront runs :P) You can also find new routes, which is especially useful when traveling/running in a new location.

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How Can I get Started on Strava?

All you need to do is create a free account with a valid e-mail address or your Facebook account-it’s that easy. You do not even need a smart watch to use Strava. Something I did not know until this summer. But a lot of people connect their activity trackers to Strava anyway, especially in the running community (So many of us are rarely seen without our Garmins, even on dates. haha). I’d also recommend downloading the free iPhone or Android Strava App, so you can upload or track activities, and give kudos on the go.

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Features of Using Strava

  • Ability to transfer activities from other devices onto Strava (i.e. run with a Garmin or Suunto watch andย  then upload your run to Strava)
  • Track your activity without a smart watch (I did not know Strava could do this until my Garmin died mid-run a month ago and I was able to track the reminder of my run on my smart phone via the Strava App. You can track your entire run (bike or swim) via Strava if that is your jam
  • Get awesome metrics from your workouts that you didn’t know you needed, but you’ll soon wonder what you did without them (and use them to inform training decisions):
    • Distance
    • Pace
    • Time
    • Elevation
    • Calories Burned
    • Heart Rate
    • Cadence

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  • Track your activities to see how many miles you are covering or minutes working out each day, each week, each month, and even each year. This can help you see how far you’ve come or how you’ve trained for previous races as compared to the current race you are training for
  • Track the mileage on your shoes, so you know when you need to retire your current pair and get a new one

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  • Add friends that you worked out with when they forget their watch or phone. This only works if the friend is a current Strava member. My husband did this on an easy run while ago when my Garmin watch refused to connect one run and it saved me because as many of you know, I have to keep track of my runningย  #typeA
  • Create groups based on running clubs, cycling clubs, swimming clubs, traithalon groups, or other common interests and run challenges within the group (i.e. highest weekly mileage or longest time spent working out). I created a group for people who have the goal of running 2019 kilometers in the year 2019 and it’s been a nice little group. Feel free to join if aren’t already in it. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Join challenges to keep you motivated. Each month I join the monthly 5k and 10k challenge at least, but then they have many other ones from climbing to cycling to virtual races. Earn trophies when you complete the challenges!

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  • No matter where you live, there are sections of road or trail where people run frequently and there is a leaderboard showing how fast people have run those segments. So if you are competitive (like meย ๐Ÿคฃ) you can try to be the leader of the segment! Strava will automatically rank you anytime you run a segment. Even if you are not the leader, it is interesting to compare what time you’ve run on that segment at different points of the year or during previous years. Segments are all in good fun!
  • Privacy filters, so people cannot see where you live if you frequently run from your home
  • Advanced Strava features for a good price through Strava Summit. Some of the features of Summit include: weekly goal setting, training plans, workout analysis, just to name a few.

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So what are you waiting for? Join Strava today! Or if you are currentlyย on Strava share your profile below if you want me to follow you!ย 

I Love the 90s 5k 2019 review

Disclaimer: Iโ€™m reviewing the I Love the 90s 5k as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming aย BibRave Proย (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

When BibRave gave me the opportunity to run a new-to-Chicago race called I Love the 90’s 5k, I knew I could not turn it down! As a 1992 baby, the 90s hold some special memories. And yes, I know I was 8 at the turn of the century, BUT I still have many memories of scrunchies, overalls, choker necklaces, crop tops, and, of course, Gameboy!

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Anyway, let’s discuss the 5k race! I was not sure what to expect going into this race. Since it was a new race, I thought I may have a shot at placing in my age group, but I also had not been doing 5k targeted speed work, so I did not put any pressure on myself. Furthermore, my true goal race is the Chicago Marathon and the Rock N Roll Chicago half is my “check-in” race, so I’ve been running some serious (for me) mileage. I had been in the 50 miles per week range going into this race and the legs were feeling tired, so I just told myself to give it the best effort I could.

I was lucky that my husband and sister-in-law were willing to spectate and warm-up with me since I did not know anyone going into the race. We ran around 1.10 milesย  for my warm up and then I made my wayย  to the start line. I put an extra scrunchie on my wrist, tightened my hat, chit chatted with people at the start line and then the racing gun went off…

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After the first 400 m it was clear I was going to be running a lot of the race solo. Two guys pushed ahead, then me, and then a sizeable gap before the next group of people. Had I known it was going to stay like this most of the race I would have pushed harder to be near the top two guys, which I think I could have done…but more on this later.

The first mile passed pretty unremarkably. I kept the two top guys and the lead biker in my view and ran a 6:09. I was going for a 6:10, so I was happy with it. I’m guessing the two leaders went out around 6 minute pace. I was feeling decent, despite my high mileage week. Soon after the first mile I saw my husband and sister-in-law. They cheered for me and snapped the photo below.

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Then, mile 2 was the most eventful mile by far. For those of you that know me in real life, the next set of events will come as no surprise. ๐Ÿ˜› I was in 3rd place overall in the race and the two lead guys had gained some ground on me, so I could no longer see them or the lead biker. I came to a cross roads just before mile 2 and the arrow on the ground was partially etched away, so it was not clear if it was indicatin to go straight or to turn right…I guessed and started going straight as I screamed out “which way do I go?”, but heard no response because no one was near me… I had a sinking feeling I was going the wrong way and about 15 seconds later I looked behind me and saw in the distance the 4th place person (a guy), go right by that arrow. I quickly sprinted back toward the crossroad and made a right to go back on the course successfully adding on approximately 25 seconds to the race official 2nd mile (my watch hit the 2nd mile in 6:23). I was feeling frustrated that it was not clear where I was supposed to go and now I was in 4th place… I later hit the 2nd mile on the race course around 6:45. I was also feeling frustrated because I think I could have stuck closer to the top two guys and then I wouldn’t haven’t gotten confused at the cross roads, but I (falsely) figured they were running around 17 minute 5k pace, which is not the shape I was currently in. The photo below details how I was feeling.

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I vowed to put my 2nd mile behind me and just focus on the final 1.1 miles I had left and give it my best effort. About 200 m into mile 3, I passed the 4th place guy and was once again in no-(wo)man’s land running all alone. Thankfully the rest of the arrows were clear and I even saw a race photographer on some sort of electric scooter, which made me smile. Around 300 meters to go I saw my husband and sister-in-law, and told myself I was going to have to really kick it in to still be under 20 minutes with my course mishap during mile 2. I knew my true time was in the low 19 minutes, but what could I do, except kick at this point? I was determined as you can see from the photo below.

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I hit mile 3 at 6:25 according to my watch… And then I saw finish line in the distance and felt confused when I saw an unbroken tape. I knew I was not going to be the winner, there were two guys for sure ahead of me. Then I realized it was for me, because I was the first place female! I tried to sprint it in even more as I approached the tape and put my hands up because I had never broken a tape before and that’s what I saw all the pros do when they won a race. ๐Ÿ˜› I ran 5:40 pace for the last 200 m, which is not really a sprint (for me), but I tried, okay?!

I crossed the finish line in an official time of 20:06, knowing very well that I had run an extra 200 meters with the mishap during mile 2. My Garmin showed that I ran 3.21 miles in 20:06, putting my actual 5k well under 20 minutes.

Regardless, I was 1st female and 3rd overall, which is pretty cool! And if anyone is interested, my 5k was actually around 19:28… ๐Ÿ˜› I calculated that by putting in my Garmin pace to a pace calculator as seen below.

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When I found out 2nd place was 19:04, I thought to myself that I could have run that time or pretty darn close. Usually I don’t go out with the very lead guys in a race because the lead guys are typically under 17 minutes and I am certainly not in that kind of shape right now. But, what I do know, is that it is harder to push yourself when running alone, which is what I did most of the race and you just have to do your best! I probably would have had a more successful race (and would not have gotten confused during mile 2) if I stuck with those 2 guys. But oh well, I still had a fun race! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Overall,ย  the race was awesome! The medals were cool, there was a costume contest for the best 90’s costume, and I won a free entry for next year, so I can try to defend my title. haha. Plus, the other top two females were super sweet and it was fun to meet them and take a photo with them at the awards ceremony. I also loved all the 90s music on the course and at the awards ceremony-I still have Barbie Girl in my head weeks laterย ๐Ÿคฃ I willย definitely be back next year, it’s free for me after all ๐Ÿ˜‰ And they will also be debuting their 10k race next year, if you are into 10ks more than 5ks! ๐Ÿ˜›

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Did you run the I love the 90’s Chicago 5k or do you plan to do one of their races in a different city!? If not, want to join me in Chicago next year?!

What is the difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based?!

*Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am studying nutrition and on the path to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Please, contact a healthcare professional with any questions or concerns before adapting a new way of eating.

It is 2019 and I would be shocked if you told me that you do not know at least one person in your life that is vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based. Same with gluten-free. Or soy-free. Or oil-free. But, I digress. The focus today will be on plant-based eating. You probably hear about this way of eating all the time or may even eat plant-based yourself on the daily or by participating in #meatlessmonday. But, do you truly know the difference?! It’s okay if you do not! I’m here to save the day ๐Ÿ˜‰

As a future Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), food is my favorite topic! I love researching about food, talking about food, cooking food, and obviously eating food ๐Ÿ˜› But as your favorite future RDN, runner, and black bean lover (I’m making a lot of assumptions here, okay? :P) I am here to set the record straight about the differences between the types of plant-based eating patterns, and to provide you a few resources along the way. So, let’s get to it! I promise it’s not that long, but full of helpful information and a link to some resources! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Me eating a vegan cookie dough bite and living my best life ๐Ÿ˜›

The key difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant based

First of all, let’s be clear. Vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based diets have a lot of similarities, but they are not the same. Two of them are diets and one of them is a lifestyle. More on this later.

According to the Harris Poll conducted by Vegetarian Nutrition resource group in 2016, 37% percent of the population always or sometimes eats vegetarian meals when eating out (1). Note that approximately 3% percent of the population is vegetarian (including vegans) all the time, regardless of whether they dine at home or out (1). A slightly higher proportion of people (5%) always eat vegetarian or vegan meals when eating out (1). Three years later, in 2019, I imagine the numbers of vegetarians are even higher, and we see this reflected in huge increased in plant-based options at restaurants. There has also been an increase in exclusively plant-based restaurants. This makes sense because nearly 25% of millennials (yes, I am one :P) consume a vegetarian or vegan diet (2). With the increasing popularity of plant-based, especially with my generation, you may find yourself wondering about the differences between the 3 eating patterns.

Whether it is something you are interested in yourself, you are about to host a dinner party with a vegan guest, or you are unsure how to explain yourself to your family, this is the post for you!

So, grab a bite to eat and let’s discuss the key differences! ๐Ÿ™‚

Vegetarian

A vegetarian diet refers to an eating pattern that forgoes all forms of flesh foods (3). This includes seafood, shellfish, poultry, beef, etc. A vegetarian consumes a diet containing fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products, but no flesh foods (3). Depending on the type of vegetarian, they may consume dairy or eggs, though (3). A vegetarian who still consumes honey, dairy products, and eggs, but no flesh foods is called a lacto-ovo vegetarian (3). A vegetarian that consumes dairy, but not eggs is referred to as a lacto-vegetarian and a vegetarian that consumes eggs, but not dairy is called an ovo-vegetarian (3). There are a multitude of reasons someone might adapt a vegetarian diet, but the most common reasons include: health, environmental concerns, ethical concerns, and enjoyment of vegetarian foods (3,4). Some other less common, but still fun reasons to go vegetarian: you’ll be more regular (runners love talking about poop ๐Ÿ’ฉ), your dinners will be pretty and colorful ๐ŸŒˆ (millennials love putting food pictures on Instagram :P), and you may live longer ๐Ÿ‘ต๐Ÿป (4).

Veganism

Veganism, is not a diet at all, but rather a lifestyle. What does this mean? Someone who practices veganism will not consume any flesh foods, honey, eggs, or dairy. Vegans have been dubbed “strict vegetarians” by some groups. Yet, veganism extends beyond diets. True veganism is an ethical practice that seeks to reduce harm and suffering of animals in the world. A vegan likely will not wear clothes with any animals products (i.e. wool or leather), will not go to zoos, use products tested on animals, and any other activities or practices that might bring harm or suffering to animals.

Please, respectfully discuss with me in the comments or via e-mail if you agree/disagree with the following… but some people may identify as vegan, but occasionally wear animal based products because they already owned them before going vegan (but then will not buy any more animal based products moving forward), use make-up that was tested on animals, or they might allow their child to go to a zoo for a school field trip. The end goal of the vegan lifestyle is to reduce animal harm and suffering, but to also make this lifestyle accessible to as many people as possible! A 95% vegan lifestyle is better than a 0% one! Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Taylor Wolfram of Whole Green Wellness describes this beautifully and in more detail in her post entitled: Veganism is not a diet. I highly recommend checking it out!

Plant-based

Finally, plant-based is a more general term that refers to a few different eating patterns. The most common type of person who calls themselves plant-based is someone who eats a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet, but occasionally has meat or dairy products. A pescatarian falls under this category because they consume a vegetarian diet, but they also eat fish, dairy, honey, and eggs, but no other flesh foods. A second category might be a person who is a true vegetarian or vegan, but they call themselves “plant-based” because it is a more general term and they like the flexibility of this classification.

As of today, I personally call myself plant-based, because I am 98% vegan, but I very occasionally consume food that contains honey (but otherwise no animal products) and some of my clothes and cosmetics are made from animal by-products or tested on animals. I am slowly working to live a more cruelty-free lifestyle, but with my current budget as a student, I’m not about to throw away clothes or shoes I already own, but I try to only buy vegan products when I’m on the search for something new. *If you have any thoughts about this please comment or e-mail me, but be respectful.

A third category of plant-based are people that eat a whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPB). This diet is technically a vegan diet in the sense that it avoids all flesh-foods and animal by-products, but they may not have the ethical ties that a true vegan has (5). Furthermore, a person adhering to a WFPB typically avoids processed foods and choses minimally prepared foods, as close to the Earth as possible, such as i.e. salads (5). This diet was made popular from the documentary Forks over Knives and the book The China Study.

Do you eat plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan? I’d love to know if you do and why you do! Drop me a comment below. Be on the lookout for more information about plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan resources for endurance athletes, specifically, later this summer!

Additionally, comment below or e-mail me if there’s a topic you’d love for me to cover here. My goal is to help and inspire all of you! ๐Ÿ™‚

BONUS! Check out the new blog tab, entitled RESOURCES for some of my favorite resources for plant-based recipes, books, cookbooks, and documentaries! ๐Ÿ™‚

References

  1. How Many Adults in the U.S. are Vegetarian and Vegan?
  2. Everything Is Ready To Make 2019 The “Year Of The Vegan”. Are You?
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.
  4. Why Go Veg?
  5. Plant-Based Primer: The Beginnerโ€™s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet