Mayim Bialik’s Controversial Case for Going Vegan

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By Lauren Le Vine, REDBOOK.

Mayim Bialik's new cookbook, Mayim's Vegan Table: More Than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes from My Family to Yours, which the actress and neuroscientist wrote with pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon, isn't your run-of-the-mill book of recipes. It's also a perspective-shifting manual for people looking to eat a more plant-based diet in the interest of health and eco-friendliness. We asked Bialik about her own road to veganism, the common misconceptions people have about what they "need" to eat, and the main takeaway she hopes readers get from Mayim's Vegan Table.

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Why vegan over vegetarian?
I was a vegetarian from the time I was 19, and I cut out most dairy in college at the recommendation of a doctor. I haven't had a sinus infection since. I was still eating some dairy that was less allergenic when my first son was born, but he was allergic to any dairy in my breast milk. I eliminated all dairy from my diet so I could breastfeed."

But doctors say children need milk…
"Milk is not the only way to grow healthy bones or get calcium. There's calcium in greens, tofu, beans, and other foods. Broccoli contains about the same amount of calcium as milk, ounce for ounce. When a child is old enough to eat unprocessed soy, 1.5 ounces of tofu will provide the same amount of calcium as a glass of skim milk. You can find a great breakdown of high-calcium vegan foods here."

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What about protein?
"The Western obsession with protein is honestly unnecessary. The average American male consumes about 100 grams of protein per day, and the average female consumes about 70 grams. Both of these figures are almost twice what the Food and Nutrition Board recommends. If you like statistics and charts, you can check out the CDC's recommendations, but it works out to about 56 grams for men and 46 for women. Veggies and fruits contain protein. Plant sources of protein include legumes and grains. You can feed your children and yourself with so many other healthy proteins than animal-based ones. Beans and nuts are just two sources of proteins that are versatile, easy to use, and delicious."

Isn't it going to cost a lot?
"I think in general people assume vegans are eating lots of expensive processed substitutes, but the trick is eating simply and learning to appreciate foods the way they naturally taste. The general goals of a vegan kitchen and pantry are to use organic when possible, avoid products with ingredients you can't pronounce, and use the 'rule of thumb:' if the ingredients list is longer than your thumb, don't buy it."

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Watch out for surprisingly non-vegan dishes.
"A lot of restaurants use meat in their sauces and bases. Frozen foods often throw in the milk product caseinate."

What if you "slip up?"
"The book does not advocate for be-all, end-all eating at all. The point is not to make people vegan; it's to provide resources, recipes, and ideas to encourage more plant-based eating."

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