Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Review and Author Interview: A Plant-Based Life by Micaela Cook Karlsen

I just finished reading A Plant-Based Life - Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body by Micaela Cook Karlsen. It was right up my vegan-y alley. It's broken down into topics and chapters that are packed with information, but easy to digest. (See what I did there?)

The book is everything you need for starting - or continuing - a plant-based lifestyle: strategies for changing up the way you eat, shopping and menu suggestions, recipes, and more. It's great one-stop shopping. I'm a fan.

I was fortunate to get to ask the author a few questions...

Micaela Cook Karlsen

Can you share about your journey to plant-based eating? What were your initial goals?

I’ve been eating some type of plant-based diet for almost 20 years now – initially starting with a vegetarian diet in high school, and that was largely because of peer influence. A couple of my friends were vegetarian, and I wanted to give it a try! It helped that I didn’t really like meat and didn’t miss it. At the same time, I felt an innate pull towards eating more healthfully, but since I had struggled with feeling overweight for some time, I think the goal more in the forefront of my mind was to lose a little weight and maintain what I felt was a comfortable body weight for me. The diet I was eating at the time wasn’t rich in fiber, and I was still eating plenty of processed food – so it did work, but I was hungry all the time and it felt pretty hard. Over the years, my goals have shifted to be more focused on health for me and for the planet at the same time, and it’s probably easier to emphasize those because I don’t have feelings of deprivation or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.

What have you found the most surprising about switching up your lifestyle?

I think the biggest surprise came when I realized Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and the other scientists and physicians I learned from, were actually suggesting eating a diet free of added oil. This was a shocking piece of information! I didn’t understand how this could be at first – could you really eat food with no oil in it? Not even olive oil? Now that I know more, it’s obvious how much of a problem oil can be for not only heart disease patients, but anyone struggling with their weight. It’s the most calorie dense food there is (filling a one-liter stomach with oil would be roughly 6700 kcal, compared to 500 kcal from a variety of whole plant foods). Yikes! So while I don’t sweat the details if I’m out (as long as it doesn’t happen too much), I don’t cook with oil at home. At the beginning of that transition, it was also surprising how delicious food can be without it!

What's your quick answer to the question all of us with plant-based diets hear the most - 'Where do you get your protein?'

It’s virtually impossible not to get enough protein eating a whole food, plant-based diet. There is protein in all food – just like there are also fat and carbohydrates. If you just eat whole plant foods and no animal foods at all, you’ll end up getting between 10-15% protein without even trying – slightly more than what we even need.

I've found it sometimes challenging to maintain a plant-based diet while traveling and/or eating in restaurants. How do you navigate those situations?

Me too definitely! This is one of the biggest challenges. With travel, I try my hardest to bring as much food with me as possible. I almost think of creating a bubble of a plant-based environment around myself, and then bringing that with me everywhere I go! So I’ll bring leftovers, fruit, granola bars, and anything else that will fit in my bags. I also definitely scout ahead and make a plan for what I’ll eat when I’m in certain situations. This is particularly true for restaurants. I’ve often called ahead and explained my preferences and then been really happy with the menu. When that’s not possible, looking at the side dishes and making a meal out of that seems to work well, or simply ordering and asking for the sauce on the side to keep your meal lighter is usually possible. There are more options than some people think – steakhouses for instance are pretty easy because you can order a couple of baked potatoes and base your meal around that plus some veggies.

What do you say to people that are worried that plant-based eating is expensive or time consuming?

Simple, whole, plant foods are pretty inexpensive – what does cost are a lot of fake meats and cheeses, and relying on a lot of prepared or processed foods. If you stick to basics and especially if you employ a few strategies to shop efficiently (buying in bulk, price comparing different stores, getting a farmshare and freezing food for winter), it’s not hard to actually save money. I think most people get into a habit with their cooking, so it’s not so much that plant- based eating is more time consuming, but learning any new type of cooking requires an upfront investment of time. Once you get into a rhythm with it though, it’s just as easy as any other cuisine. I’m a pretty busy person – I admire people who have the time to spend a couple hours on dinner each day, but if that were necessary I might not have been able to write this book about sticking with the diet!

The subject of food is so emotionally charged. When I made the move towards plant- based eating, it seemed that everyone had an opinion about it, and not always a positive one. What do you say to the people that challenge your choices?

I totally agree – the negative feedback can really derail people, and it can be challenging to know how to navigate those conversations. I try to start from the perspective that I don’t need to convince anyone of anything, but when people are interested I’m open to sharing my food and my thoughts. This does mean that there are quite a few people with whom I simply don’t discuss food! At the same time, there are so many, many people who are interested, excited, hungry, and it’s wonderful to connect with them – some family, friends, and the growing community of people via social media. I think the difficulty with previous friends and family having trouble with your new food choices underscores the importance of also cultivating some new friends who eat the same way – you’ve got to connect with people who share your diet! That also takes the pressure off of your previous relationships, and you can let those people be the way they are.

When it comes to purchasing kitchen equipment to support plant-based cooking, is there one appliance (high-speed blender, dehydrator, food processor, juicer, etc) that you've found to be the most useful?

Hmm, I actually do own the things you mention, and of those, I would say if you’re up for investing in one piece of nice equipment, the high-powered blender is the biggest bang for your buck. I have a Vita-Mix, and we use it every day. Often, for a green or fruit smoothie for breakfast, but also frequently to make different sauces. The ability to get a really creamy sauce or salad dressing makes life so nice! Taking it back to basics though, I think really the number one thing is a high-quality, sharp knife that you regularly get sharpened. Not only is it safer because you need less pressure to cut, a sharp knife makes it really easy and pleasant to cut vegetables... a staple of most plant-based meals!

I can't wait to try the recipes in your book. Is there one go-to recipe that you return to again and again?

Thank you! I think if you’re going for raw, I would say Apple-Lemon Breakfast. Make sure you get juicy lemons to get the full apple-lemon experience... I cannot get enough of this!! It’s so refreshing. If you’re going for cooked, definitely the Interstellar Lasagna. A lot of people have tried that one and raved about it. I make it regularly and it’s sooo satisfying. 


  1. I've been cooking peppers and onions in the skillet on the grill a lot lately. I'll have to add jalapenos next time. Yum. I like cooking bacon that way too, although hot fat + open flame adds a nice element of danger. I used to get flank steak, but my husband got me to try the carne asada cut from our local market, and I prefer it. Not sure if it's thin-cut flank or skirt (I'll have to ask), but it looks like this 

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