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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Updated on Nov 22nd, 2022
Fact checked by Emma Vince

The Plant-Powered Dietitian 2023 For a Healthy Body & Planet

Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and has recently completed her Master in Science in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS). 

Here, she guides us through her fascinating journey of transitioning to a plant-based diet and explains how you can promote a healthier lifestyle and significantly reduce your carbon footprint by doing the same.

What kind of foods were you brought up on and did this influence your current lifestyle and profession?

I was raised on a mostly vegetarian diet. My parents tried to stick to a vegetarian diet for moral and religious reasons, so we hardly ever had meat as children. We ate a lot of simple plant-based foods, like lentils, beans, vegetables, salads, fruits, bread, and granola. We also had some of the first plant-based meat alternatives that were available when I was growing up (i.e., TVP, Loma Linda Foods). 

Both of my parents were raised on farms, so we grew a lot of our own food, canned our produce, made jam, baked our own bread, and rarely ate out. My first visit to a restaurant was when I was 16. This had a huge impact on me, and I became fascinated with foods – how they are grown, how they impact health, as well as the sheer joy of honoring delicious, healthy food traditions. 

Food is so much more than nutrients – it’s a way to gather and celebrate each day. When my children were little, we always had a family dinner and looked forward to sitting down at the table and talking about our day while enjoying healthy food.

What inspired you to launch The Plant-Powered Dietitian as a business and when did you do so?

My books were about how to eat a plant-based diet, based on scientific evidence from a professional dietitian. That was a great way for people to understand what I was about and how I could help them live a healthier lifestyle that was also good for the planet. 

I started this in 2011, with my first book The Plant-Powered Diet, which was released in 2012. Since then, my audience has grown to a 400,000-strong community that follows my blog and social media. I provide a variety of resources for living a healthy lifestyle, including nutrition tips and articles, research reviews, interviews, recipes, cooking guides, toolkits, and more.

Who do you think plant-based meat alternatives most appeal to?

Today's super popular meat alternatives resonate with people who want to eat more plant-based foods but don’t want to go all the way or don’t want to sacrifice the taste of meat in their diets.

These products are very tasty and really do taste like meat. They are great for carnivores who want to reduce meat consumption or start the transition to a more plant-based diet. Many of these people choose to do so for environmental, animal, or health benefits.

In my experience, people who were already eating plant-based foods are not as drawn to meat alternatives, however, they are great because they make it possible to go almost everywhere and find plant-based options on menus.

How easy is it for someone who lives and works full-time in somewhere like central New York, to maintain an organic, plant-based lifestyle?

You can readily find seasonal, organic produce in many places across the country. I recommend that people try to follow the seasons, and avoid summer produce shipped in from abroad during the off-season. 

Instead, I would advise consuming more preserved produce and seasonal options during the cold months, such as root vegetables, deep green leafy vegetables, citrus, apples, and squash. In the spring, summer, and fall, many communities have access to farmers’ markets that produce organic, seasonal produce. 

I tell people that I can get a healthy plant-based dinner on the table in 30 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to order and collect a takeout. It’s not as complicated as people think it is. It can be very simple meals, such as a stew with whole-grain bread and a salad. Also, meal prepping over the weekend can make it really easy to enjoy healthy meals during the week.

However, it’s important to accept that a commitment to a healthy lifestyle does take a certain amount of investment. I hope people can find some time after work to sauté veggies, chop kale for a salad, and simmer lentils with spices. Cooking can be a relaxing activity to look forward to at the end of a day.

After they’ve embarked on this journey, do your clients stick to plant-based foods for good?

Yes, I find this is usually the case. Some people evolve and shift their eating patterns, and that’s ok too. I like to say that there is no “vegan police” looking over your shoulder telling you what you should or shouldn’t be eating. It’s a very personal choice when it comes to how you express your food choices in your diet. 

My main hope is that people start transitioning more and more towards plant-based eating. I believe that everyone can do that. Eat more meals during the week based on beans, include more simple whole plants in the diet, and consume fewer processed foods and animal foods. 

Do you promote a weight-loss regime or is your focus primarily on lifestyle?

I provide guidance for people who are interested in weight loss, but my philosophy is that if you eat a healthy plant-based diet combined with physical activity, a healthy weight usually comes along with it. 

Of course, there are some factors to keep in mind, such as individual energy needs, gender, body size, and genetics. But overall, sensible, plant-based eating is linked with lower weight – without counting calories or cutting back on portion size. 

Can you tell us a little about each of your books?

My book The Plant-Powered Diet is really the “bible” of plant-based eating. It tells you everything you need to know about moving to a plant-based diet, whether it’s vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or pescatarian.  Each chapter explains how you can eat a more plant-based diet, including the key food groups you should eat at each meal, meeting your nutrient needs, stocking your pantry, planning meals, and much more.  There are also 75 delicious recipes. 

Plant-Powered for Life provides you with 52 easy steps to go plant-based, along with 125 recipes, with photographs. The steps are very simple, and when you’re done, you’ll have gained all the knowledge needed to eat a healthy delicious plant-based diet to help reduce your risk of disease and your environmental footprint. 

California Vegan calls upon the heritage, innovation, and cuisine of my home state to inspire a new way of thinking and eating plant-based foods. In this book, I share stories from all over the state on movers and shakers in the plant-based movement, cultural food traditions based on plants, and the history of vegan eating in the state. The essence of California plant-based eating is an open-air, globally inspired, seasonal, delicious style of eating that can be reflected in your own cuisine, no matter where you live. 

Could you tell us about the role sustainability plays in your philosophy?

I recently finished my Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS), which has further amplified my passion for sustainable living. A plant-based diet has a lighter environmental footprint, and it is so important that we preserve our natural ecosystems to ensure healthy food for future generations. 

As individuals, our diets are the most impactful thing we can change over our lifetimes to reduce climate change and preserve our ecosystems. 

As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with more than 18 years of experience, what shifts in eating habits have you observed over the last couple of decades?

People have been interested in eating more sustainably and plant-based, which is a wonderful shift over the past few years. 

However, food insecurity and hunger have increased in recent years, which is very sad – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to address this in our food policy and communities. Another major negative shift over the past two decades is our reliance on highly processed foods, a disconnect with our food system and where food comes from, and an increase in chronic disease related to diet. 

In your opinion, has the global COVID-19 pandemic influenced people’s culinary lifestyles?

Yes, it’s certainly had an influence. People have returned to home cooking, which is positive. But they have also turned to comfort food, which can sometimes be unhealthy. You can find lots of recipes on my blog for comforting meals and snacks filled with whole plant foods

There has also been more food insecurity, as I mentioned earlier. It’s never been more important to support our communities and food banks to provide a just, equitable food system for all. 

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