Getting a Balanced Perspective on Vegan Diets with Ginny Messina (the Vegan RD)
“Whether it’s in whole food plant based or ethical veganism, ... there is a way for everybody to adopt this diet.” ~ Ginny Messina
As a registered dietician and a vegan of almost 30 years, Ginny Messina has a lot of experience in the plant-based space. She spends a lot of her time writing books, articles and tweets relating to vegan and plant-based nutrition.
Her goal with all this work? To “ensure that vegans have the best information that will allow them to stay vegan.”
Ginny brings a balanced and reasonable perspective to some of the most common questions and controversial issues within the plant-based community, including protein and fat, oil consumption and whether “ultra-processed” foods and sweet treats have a place in a healthy diet.
While she maintains that anybody can be vegan, she also acknowledges that doing it right requires some attention to nutrition. But she doesn’t see this as a shortcoming for plant-based eating. In fact, she believes taking the extra time to get educated and supplement properly is more than worth it for the health and environmental benefits the diet offers.
Ginny is troubled by narratives within the plant-based community that vilify specific plant foods like oil and nuts, insist that vegans who “do it right” never get sick or promise that plant-based eating is the magical key to weight loss. Rather than adhering to restrictive, dogmatic dietary rules, she thinks vegans should have the freedom to explore the spectrum of vegan foods from whole food plant based to alternative meats.
“Your diet does not have to be pristine perfection every minute of the day,” she says.
And, in the grand scheme of things, she’d rather see people eating vegan meat alternatives and sweet treats than going back to animal products. The reality is that there’s uncertainty in all areas of nutrition, including plant-based nutrition, and it’s not possible to make 100% hard and fast rules about how every vegan should eat.
As a dietician, Ginny would prefer that people choose whole plant foods over Beyond Burgers and vegan KFC. But in her view, it doesn’t matter how someone does plant-based eating as long as they’re promoting an overall healthier diet that makes a positive impact on people and planet.
🥗 Episode Highlights
- Giving vegans good, accurate nutrition and health formation to help them succeed on a plant-based diet
- Ginny’s balanced views on protein, fat and other hot-button vegan nutrition issues
- The changing nutritional requirements throughout life that vegans need to pay attention to
- Psychological benefits of eating higher protein for people who come from SAD/meat-centric diets (satisfying, helps them stay vegan)
- Why it’s okay (and even beneficial!) to add some oil to your plant-based diet
- Essential and important supplements for plant-based eaters
- Why Ginny thinks veganism is “the ideal way to eat in our world today”—and it’s not just due to the health benefits
- Why the fat shaming in the vegan space needs to stop
- Importance of balance and realism when talking health in the plant-based space
Takeaways for Plant-Based/Vegan Brands:
- It's important for plant-based brands to pay attention to the conversation around protein and fat. Both macronutrients increase satisfaction, so getting the right balance in your products can help people stick with plant-based diets, especially those transitioning from SAD or meat-heavy diets.
- Prevailing narratives about veganism, health, weight and “vegan junk food” can skew how consumers perceive of vegan products. Decide whether you want to promote better health or an enjoyable eating experience, and you’ll be better able to position your product within your customers’ lifestyles.
- Ginny’s three main reasons vegans fail all relate to perceived or actual restriction: finding plant-based eating too difficult, not meeting nutrient needs, or feeling like the outcomes fall short of expectations. Your brand can help with these areas by creating nutritious products and educating consumers on how to incorporate them to create satisfaction on a plant-based diet and achieve their desired results.
- In your branding and marketing, contribute to a balanced discussion. Avoid making radical claims you can’t back up or promising things you can’t realistically deliver. Instead, focus on sharing helpful information on topics and outcomes your customers care about.
Virginia (Ginny) Messina, MPH, RD is a dietitian and public health nutritionist specializing in vegan nutrition. She has a degree in nutrition from Douglass College of Rutgers University and a master's degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan.
She has worked as a dietitian for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), taught nutrition to dietetics students at the university level, and was the director of nutrition services for a group of medical clinics serving 50,000 patients in Washington, D.C.
As a long-time vegan, she seeks to share the best and most up-to-date information on vegan nutrition and to make ethical eating an easy and realistic option for everyone. She publishes widely on topics related to vegan diets for both health professionals and the public and is a regular contributor to Our Hen House and One Green Planet.
Connect with Ginny’s Work
- Twitter: @theveganrd
- Facebook: TheVeganRD
- Instagram: @GinnyMessina
- Buy Ginny's books on Amazon
For additional balanced views on veganism and plant-based health, check out Mark Rifkin in S1E5.