I’m so glad to have Mary Purdy, RDN on my Plant Chat today. Mary is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters in Clinical Nutrition from Bastyr University. She has 10+ years of professional nutrition experience: counseling 1-on-1, presenting at conferences, speaking to groups, and training other professionals. She is also the author of Serving the Broccoli Gods: True Tales and Tops from a Nutritionist on a Quest and the host of her podcast, Mary’s Nutrition Show. Continue reading to learn more about Mary’s book, podcast, and love for plant-based foods!
Tell us about your journey in the food and nutrition world. How did you get started and what inspired you?
I have always been interested in food, health and nutrition since I was a little girl. I originally chose to become an actor but never lost my passion and zeal for broccoli and pomegranates. I started questioning this career choice in my early 30’s just as my dad was diagnosed with a very serious disease that wound him in a hospital where he received some very questionable advice from the dietitian there. When I began to realize that food had the power to help prevent and address disease I knew that I had to switch gears and do whatever I could to help people who may need nutritional guidance. I was determined to heal the world one meal at a time.
What is your personal nutrition and wellness philosophy?
Food is joy. Food is medicine. Food is community. Food is an empowering tool to effect positive change in the world, locally and globally. Can you tell I love food?! I abide by the idea that food is not just calories or a titillating sensory experience but that it plays a tremendous role in our health and in the health of the planet. It can act as information for our genes, support our bodies’ biochemical functions to prevent, treat and in some cases possibly even reverse chronic health issues. What we choose to eat can also be a way that we vote with our food dollars. When we buy local and organic, we support farmers who may use more earth friendly practices and reduce the need for food transport. When we eat with a focus on plant-based proteins, we support the environment, which in turn will be more likely to provide us with the food that we love so dearly. I also advocate for a whole person and integrative approach, so I’m never having a conversation with someone about their dietary patterns and not also addressing their sleep, their stress, their mental and emotional health, their GI function and their relationship to food. These are so intricately connected and I think we may miss a huge part of the picture if we don’t include them in the conversation.
What was the inspiration behind your book, Serving the Broccoli Gods: True Tales and Tips from a Nutritionist on a Quest?
As much as I adore being a dietitian, sometimes I find the field of nutrition a little bit…dry. I have a background in comedic performance and writing and felt like it might be useful to add a touch of lightness and levity to what can also feel like heavy information. Additionally, I have no shortage of stories about my flaws and foibles. I thought it might be fun to share my personal journey as a dietitian in a humorous manner that would hopefully make people laugh and have it sprinkled with nutritional tidbits along the way that would also be educational.
What are some of your best tips that you’d like to share with people who are trying to improve their health through diet?
#1. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to do a complete 180 when it comes to dietary changes. Baby steps are a fantastic way to start so you don’t feel overwhelmed with making huge changes that you aren’t ready for. No one wants to go vegan overnight (or perhaps at all. Nor must they to improve their health). But if they can start by adding in one bean or lentil dish, for instance, every week, that is a start. And speaking of adding #2. Start by adding in things instead of taking foods away. It is so much more fun to throw a new and exciting food in there instead of taking away the one thing that helps someone get out of bed every day. #3. Focus on the flavors and foods you love and are already making and add the healthier foods to that. If you love pizza, start by throwing a bunch of veggies on top. If you love sesame garlic chicken, keep the sesame and garlic and experiment with replacing the chicken with tofu (or go half and half!). You can this with brown and white rice too. Or improve the quality of the food itself. If you are tied to a frozen meal, get the healthier version of it so it still has a sense of familiarity and comfort to it. #4 Lastly, get out of that damn almond rut you are in. Try a hazelnut, for gosh sake! Or a pumpkin seed!
What topics do you tackle in your podcast, Mary’s Nutrition Show?
Sometimes we focus on the benefits of a specific food like avocado, cocoa, turmeric, nuts and seeds, providing the why and the how of getting them into your diet. Sometimes we focus on broader nutritional topics like Cold and Flu Remedies, The Pro’s and Cons of Intermittent Fasting, Guide to Gut Health and Eating for Sustainability. And we periodically cover non-food related topics like “Sleep Better” and “Supplements”. We aim to make it fun, funny, engaging, and most importantly applicable. (Or, wait, is funny most important?)
What are a few of your best tips to inspire people to eat more whole plant foods?
If they aren’t convinced by the “Studies show that people who consume a plant-based diet have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer” statement which usually causes people’s eyes to glaze over like donuts and then crave them, I try to convey my own passion about how delicious plant foods are. When they are outfitted with ideas and recipes and product recommendations, especially by a dietitian drooling as she talks about them, people are much more apt to adopt this way of eating. “This avocado chocolate mousse is incredible!” Additionally, when I can tie it to a bigger goal they have, that seems to be a lot more effective, whether that is more energy, weight loss, better skin, pain reduction, improved cholesterol or reduced bloating. And making it easy is key. When people realize that store bough hummus and carrots can be about the same amount of effort and price as buying a bag of chips, that’s going to enable them to make that shift more readily. When the healthy choice is the easy choice, that is the golden (beet) ticket.
What are five plant foods you can’t live without?
Do I have to pick only 5? Ok, without a doubt, avocado is one. I would shrivel and die if I couldn’t get my hands on one of these fatty gems at least once/week. Kale is another, simply because, I currently eat it at least 1-2 times/day and my body might go into shock if it suddenly disappeared from my life. (They don’t call me “Kale Queen” for no reason) Chickpeas need to be on the list for their versatility – hummus, chana masala, AND chickpea chocolate chip dough. Speaking of chocolate, I’m so glad it’s a plant! Cannot live without that. Dark chocolate makes the afternoon just a little bit better. And #5…. Does green tea count? Life would take on a dull shade of grey without my daily 4-6 cups of grassy goodness. (If I could pick 6, ginger would be it. But I was only given 5 choices, but I won’t tell if you don’t.)
This dish is an anti-inflammatory fiber festival! It is also a dish that many find comforting and familiar. It’s not particularly high in calories but it is high in flavor. Feel free to add your own flair, whether that be spice, more or less garlic/onion. The long cooking time helps to make the flavors pop.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ teaspoons chipotle powder
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1–2 teaspoons sea salt
2–3 carrots, diced small
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked kidney beans
1 cup cooked pinto beans
1–2 cups water
1/4 pound fresh or frozen corn
1/4 bunch curly green or lacinato kale, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Add oil to an 8-quart stockpot and place over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and salt; sauté a minute more.
Add carrots, tomatoes, beans, water, and corn. Cover and simmer for about 50-60 minutes. Add chopped kale and cilantro (or feel free to add cilantro a garnish). Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve hot!
Adapted by Mary Purdy from Nourishing Meals: Healthy Gluten-Free Recipes for the Whole Family by Alissa Segersten and Tom Maltere (Whole Life Press 2012)