I’m chatting all about the latest trends in plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian eating among the Gen Z crowd, with plant-based nutrition student, Jasmine Westerdahl.
Research shows that plant-based eating is on the rise among young adults, especially those that are high school and college age—in other words, Gen Z. From making a difference on the planet to reducing the suffering of animals, young adults are passionate about how they can make a positive impact around them by the way they eat. That’s why I was so excited to sit down with Jasmine Westerdahl, dietetic student at my alma mater Loma Linda University, to talk all about plant-based eating trends in the Gen-Z set. Check out our Live Chat below, as well as some of the take-aways from our discussion. Plus, get some inspiration on how to go more plant-based, no matter your age demographic.
Plant-based eating, including vegan and vegetarian diets, is growing in popularity among high school and college students. Why is this diet style so hot? And what are the benefits? I’m chatting with college student and soon-to-be plant-based dietitian, Jasmine Westerdahl, about the trends surrounding this eating pattern during our live chat. Read all about it at The Plant-Powered Dietitian. https://sharonpalmer.com/plant-based-eating-trends-in-gen-z/
As a lifelong vegan, Jasmine is passionate about teaching others how to eat a healthful, plant-based diet. She is currently working as a Nutrition Educator at Loma Linda University’s Drayson Center while she attends school to prepare for becoming a dietitian.
Live Chat: Gen Z Plant-Based Eating Trends
Sharon: What is your own personal journey for your plant-based lifestyle? How long have you eaten this way, and why do you eat a diet based exclusively on plants?
Jasmine: So actually, I was raised my whole entire life as a vegan or 100% plant-based diet and my parents both actually became vegan before they were even married. It’s because my dad is a registered dietitian himself, and so he just saw the vegan or plant-based diet as the optimal diet for health and wellness. So, I really grew up on a 100% plant-based diet because of the health benefits that it has. My father has a health program called “Health and Longevity Radio” and it’s on the Lifetalk Radio Network. He talks about plant-based eating, he talks to leading professionals in the field, doctors, dietitians, and more. When I was younger, I was so adamant that I would not do what my dad does. That was the stubborn teenager in me, but it definitely changed and he’s very happy.
Sharon: You are also studying to become a dietitian, why did you choose this path? How do you feel dietetics is responding to plant-based eating trends? What’s so special about studying nutrition at Loma Linda University?
Jasmine: I’m really passionate about community nutrition education and going out into the community. I want to do a lot of community-based work, like lecturing and food demonstrations. I’m also really interested in communication and journalism, so writing articles and maybe having a blog. I know you mentioned the food insecurity issue that we have today and that’s actually something I’m really passionate about and I want to pursue when I get my RD. I want to work with people in the community here and people internationally who don’t have access to the nutritionally adequate and plant-based foods and teach them how they could get access and hopefully improve their health.
It’s so awesome being here in Loma Linda, because it’s a seventh day Adventist school so they promote a vegetarian diet so everything we learn revolves around plant-based eating. Obviously, we still have to learn, as a Dietetic student, we still have to learn about meat and dairy, but really we focus on that plant-based aspect and even the cafeteria here is 100% vegetarian, which is awesome! I love Loma Linda and it’s so nice being in a room with like-minded people. There are four out of seventeen people in my class that are vegan, which is awesome because that’s never happened to me before.
Sharon: Plant-based eating is really growing—particularly among young people and the Gen Z crowd. Why do you think this is a growing trend in your generation?
Jasmine: Yes, it’s definitely growing. Even among my personal friend group from high school and middle school, some of them are adopting a more plant-based diet. They may not go completely vegan, but they’re starting to cut out certain foods. And I think that’s attributed to not only the health, which is obviously everyone’s personal concern, but we’re learning so much about the implications on the environment that a diet high in meat and animal products has on the environment as well as the moral implications that it has. So, I think people are becoming more aware of those issues and really starting to be like “wow, I really need to address these things and I can address it by changing my diet.”
One of my friends in the program is vegan but her parents aren’t, but for her father’s birthday, he wanted to go to a vegan restaurant and he was so excited, he loved the food. So, it’s awesome to see people experience vegan food and realize, “wow it’s actually really good! And it’s not this flavorless thing that I thought it was.”
Sharon: What are some of the challenges that young people encounter when they decide to eat a plant-based diet?
Jasmine: I think one is are you getting all the nutrients and sufficient energy from being on a plant-based diet. I know protein is a big question; everyone seems to think that it’s really hard to get protein on a plant-based diet, but I don’t know if you’ve seen “Game Changers,” it was a great documentary focusing on completely on a plant-based diet, protein, and athletes. I think it’s such a good film for people to watch who really have that question.
There are so many different protein options, whether you want to opt for the meat alternatives or the textured-vegetable protein. But, also tofu, legumes, lentils, and beans are most of my staples for protein. And for athletes who take a protein powder, there’s obviously so many different options for plant-based proteins that way too. I think people are really concerned that you’re not getting enough protein and they think about the protein sources that have all the essential amino acids and those that don’t, so that’s another thing. But, our bodies have something called an amino acid pool and so your body breaks down your foods throughout the day and then the protein goes into that pool. And throughout the day, you’re just building up that protein again so your body is getting all the protein that it needs if you are eating a really varied, nutritionally adequate diet.
Other issues or challenges I think that people may find regarding plant-based, and I think that this is a problem that people experience when they are becoming more plant-based or they are wanting to transition for younger kids, is the school meals issue. I interned at a school district in the School Nutrition Services and I found that if you are on a plant-based diet, especially for people that are just trying to transition, it is extremely hard. It’s not really a very supportive environment for that age range. It’s so hard because the way that the government works since they regulate the school system and they’ll make accommodations if you have a doctor’s note. So, if you somehow get a doctor’s note saying that you cannot eat certain foods, then this is really the only way that the nutrition services are obligated to make those accommodations. But if not, then they cannot guarantee anything and it’s up to you to bring your own lunch, which could be difficult for some peoples’ family situations.
Sharon: Are there any nutritional concerns that you see among young people when it comes to how they are planning their plant-based diets?
Jasmine: First off, the adoption of a lot of processed food. I understand that the meat alternatives are a good stepping stone going into a plant-based diet, but I think we also need to be mindful of eating the whole foods, like 100% plant foods from the ground, and making sure that people are eating a diet that is so varied because the way you get your nutrients is by eating different fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. So, you can’t just eat one type of food, like rice and beans, everyday, you need to incorporate more foods and make sure that you are getting a variety of different things.
Sharon: What are some common misconceptions that the Gen Z crowd have about eating a plant-based diet?
Jasmine: I think there’s definitely a benefit for the new plant-based options that are coming out in regards to veggie burgers and things like that, and they’re definitely beneficial for the environment and for the animals, but they’re still high in saturated fat. I still eat my veggie burgers and things like that, but it’s not an everyday occurrence. And like I said before, there’s no such thing as perfection. Another misconception is the fact that vegan is expensive. It’s not always expensive. Vegan can be expensive like a steakhouse can be expensive. It’s your personal choice, you can opt to go out and eat at a nice vegan restaurant or you can also eat the food staples. Eating whole foods and plant-based foods are natural and so they’re going to be cheaper in the long run. Also, a lot of the bulk foods, like beans, legumes, and grains are generally cheaper per unit. So, I think the idea that vegan is expensive isn’t really true. Also, eating in season is beneficial for cost and for the environment because there is less travel going between the farm and the consumer. Also, some people are doing a cost per nutrient analysis where they’re finding that plant foods have a lower cost per nutrient than meat or dairy, and when we think about our health is our wealth, that’s also something to consider. And when people say “I can’t afford to be healthy,” well you can’t afford to not be healthy. You need to invest in yourself and your health. Also, another misconception is that a plant-based diet is restrictive and that you’re restricting yourself from foods, but in reality you’re restricting yourself from foods that are harmful to your health, so I think that’s also another misconception that can be debunked. There is so much more access to plant-based foods than there was when I was a little girl, it’s really great to see.
Sharon: As a young adult, how do you want to help make a positive change and spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based diet to the public?
Jasmine: Well, the first thing I say is “no one is perfect so don’t strive for perfect” because there is no such thing as perfect. Sometimes going all in works for people, but sometimes it doesn’t, so I would say really work with how you feel and maybe just start with one day a week. Like the Meatless Monday concept, there’s actually true benefits to that aspect of transitioning to a plant-based diet. Start with one day and then two days. And I think you should also embrace the creativity that’s required to be on a plant-based diet. You can’t eat your typical meals that you’ve been cooking for the past however many years, and that’s the beauty of going on a plant-based diet for one or two days, just trying something new. You really have to think outside the box, you can have fun in the kitchen, and it’s just a whole experience that would truly benefit yourself in any way. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is a professional organization of nutrition professionals, which has a practice group called The Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group and they have a great website where you can go and get recipes, read articles about how to transition, and about what a plant-based lifestyle and diet entail. So, I think they’re a great resource for anyone, whether it’s a dietitian or a consumer.
Here is one of Jasmine’s favorite plant-based recipes.
This recipe was originally developed by Dr. John Westerdahl, PhD, MPH, RDN, FAND and his Chef at Adventist Health Castle Medical Center in Kailua, Hawaii. The recipe was later shared Loma Linda University Food Service where they became popular. When Oprah Winfrey did her special television program on the Loma Linda Blue Zone, she included the original recipe on her website.
10 oz firm tofu, drained and mashed thoroughly
4 cups brown sugar or coconut sugar (For a less sugar and lower calorie option, use 2 cups brown/coconut sugar and 2 cups Stevia in the Raw® Baker’s Bag formula)
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 cups raw walnuts, chopped
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350oF (175oC).
Mix all ingredients in bowl thoroughly, adding walnuts last.
Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray or oil and flour the pan.
Pour mixture into prepared pan, smoothing the top out evenly.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until cooked throughout.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
About Jasmine Westerdahl
Jasmine Westerdahl, AS, is a Nutrition and Dietetics student at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions. She is currently working towards her B.S. and M.S. degrees. She will be receiving her B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics in June of 2020.
As a lifelong vegan, Jasmine is passionate about teaching others how to eat a healthful, plant-based diet. She is currently working as a Nutrition Educator at Loma Linda University’s Drayson Center while she attends school. Jasmine was recently featured on LifeTalk Radio Network discussing vegan diets for teenagers. You can listen to the podcast here.
Check out some of Sharon’s favorite interviews and live chats on how you can live a healthy, sustainable plant-based lifestyle: