Meet Debra! Mayo Clinic Dietitian/Nutritionist/Vegan


Meet Debra! Our newest guest blogger. Debra is a Clinical Registered Licensed Dietitian/ Nutritionist at the Mayo clinic in Jacksonville Fl. She is also a vegan. Debi and I struck a friendship at our local Pure Barre studio about a year ago. I love chatting with her about food and diet, and thought her expertise would be a valuable addition to the site. As I have stated before, I am not an expert in this field, I’m simply just passionate about a vegan diet and cooking. So, I thought it was important, and probably helpful, to have some real professional input regarding diet and nutrition available on the site. Thanks again Debra for sharing you knowledge with 86 Eats!!!


I am so excited that my good friend Kat invited me to be a guest blogger!  I hope to become a regular at 86eats. Just like Kat, I have warmly embraced the vegan lifestyle both personally and professionally.  By day, I practice as a Clinical Registered Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida.  My areas of focus are solid organ transplantation and integrative and functional medicine.  Nights and weekends, I am studying for my Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition and sometimes seeing private clients.

Over the past few years, my patients have become very interested in the power of anti-inflammatory plant-based nutrition.  This makes me very happy because I can really help these folks improve both their physical and mental health.  Anyone with a chronic illness or auto-immune disease should be eating whole-plant foods.   Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Kim Williams Sr.  He is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and served as its president from 2015 to 2016.  Dr. Williams has been a vegan since 2003.  He has written widely on the cardiovascular benefits of veganism.  His lecture focused on evidence-based practice for veganism.  Registered Dietitians/Nutritionists practice evidence-based medical nutrition therapy.  Evidence-based means there is valid research for prescribing vegetarian/vegan diets.  Shocker alert!  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a vegetarian/vegan diet along with the DASH and Mediterranean Diets.  Interestingly, the committee members that draft these guidelines tend to be very conservative as well and have been accused of bowing to the influence of the food industry in the past.

The #1 question my patients ask is how to transition from animal-based to plant-powered.  Since I can’t be with be with you all when you are doing your meal planning and shopping in the supermarket, I recommend the best book out there, “The Plant-Powered Diet” by Sharon Palmer RDN.  Sharon Palmer shares her passion for whole-plant foods and provides compelling evidence for eating in a more health-promoting way.  She makes the transition to a plant-powered lifestyle simple.  Her book provides you with support tools such as pantry lists, tips for dining out, and great recipes (I’ve tried many!). This book educates and motivates.  It’s the best $9.98 investment ( you will ever make!

Next time I’m going to address the f(ph)ony fish oil scam.

Give a DOG a (Plant Based) Bone


    I have mentioned our small zoo of animal before. It’s utter chaos and I adore it. My husband tolerates it, I ADORE it.  Well, maybe I don’t adore cats peeing in places they shouldn’t, dogs barking at NOTHING, chickens and ducks waking me up at the crack of dawn, the endless vacuuming of pet hair, but other than that, I adore them all.

    Pets are family. They love you unconditionally, and are ever loyal even when you are not. Our two dogs, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline, are seriously a hot flaming mess. Medical issues, endless farts, barking and wrestling, fighting over toys like toddlers, pooping in my dining room when they are mad at me, yet I could not imagine a world without them. They are my 5th and 6th children. Actually our children are far better behaved but yeah...

   So I decided for everyone else out there that loves their fur babies too, that I would post the easiest little dog treats! Your pups will thank you. They may go poop on a rug later, but that does not mean they are not thankful. It just means they are being a temporary jerk, but I'm sure you had it coming (ok I'm totally kidding, unless you did have it coming).

Easy little (plant based) dog biscuits

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup nut butter 
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 flax or chia seed eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt


  1. Mix the softened oil, pumpkin, and flax or chia eggs in bowl.
  2. Add the flour and baking soda and mix well. (I use my hands, you can use whatever you want)
  3. Once a dough has formed, roll it out  1/4 to 1/2 inch.
  4. Cut biscuits with a dog bone (or whatever shape you like) cutter.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20 - 30 minutes depending on size of biscuits. You want them to get hard but not burnt.
  6. Let cool (obviously) before serving them to you sweet pup!

Plant Based Preparation



    A lot of times, when I cook for family or friends, they will go on and on about how good the food is. Please understand this is not me bragging about my cooking prowess. They normally just have some idea in their heads about what this “vegan” food is going to taste like, and are genuinely surprised when it just tastes like good food. Then they will say things like “if I were a better cook then I could eat like this no problem” or “if I had more time, or someone to cook for me, then I could go plant based” or “If I had time to find all those weird ingredients you use, my store doesn’t even sell that stuff.”  They truly don’t know how far the plant based food industry has come with meat and dairy substitutes, and how easily they can find these things at their local grocery store, or online.

    When we first went plant based we ate salad and rice bowls. I had no idea how to cook vegan food. If I couldn’t cover it in cheese then I was at a loss. I was raised by southerners and we fried all the meats, ate all the butter, and drank all the sweet tea. I had no idea what vital wheat gluten was, had no clue what I was looking for when I finally went searching for nutritional yeast, miso paste, or agar powder. I was LOST. We did not have any vegan friends at the time to consult. I googled. I googled the origin, I googled the health benefits, I googled pictures, I googled where to buy this stuff. And y’all, I am the worst, THE WORST, at computing. Ask my husband or kids.  But I have amazon prime and amazon prime has almost anything you want, if your local grocery store does not!  

    I did not have a ton of free time during the week to experiment so I would try new recipes on the weekends. Gradually over time, I learned a lot. It was exciting to not eat so many salads and rice bowls (but seriously, I still love a solid salad). Once you start trying this stuff and realize it is not actually hard to cook, you get excited. Once you succeed at a recipe or two the confidence soars! You start thinking about all the foods you miss from your meaty/cheesy days and you want to try and make them plant based! We eat a TON of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They are the foundation of a healthy plant based diet. But we still miss those foods we used to love, and you can still make them, AND you can make them far healthier than before! You don’t have to sacrifice  taste and the foods you always loved when you go plant based! I Promise!

     We still eat pretty simply during the week. Things that are quick like tacos, pasta, salads, stir fry, veggie burgers, and left overs. I write my grocery list with a pile of cookbooks in front of me and my favorite food blogs opened on my computer. I spend an hour every two weeks planning what I want to cook and write my list accordingly. This way I am not standing at a loss with the fridge or pantry door wide open with no idea what to make. I have a menu written out and just choose something from that. Simple and  quick things during the week, and the more exciting stuff on the weekends. This also helps with waste. I was terrible at shopping when we first changed diets, and threw out so much produce that had gone bad because I did not have a plan. Consider fruits and veggies that are in season and not likely to spoil quickly. Make sure you cook the ones first that may not last until your next shopping trip!

    So my advice is this. You can cook for a plant based diet. Even if you don’t currently cook, if you can read instructions, you can learn cook! Eventually it will become old hat, and instinctive, hopefully . In the mean time, using a cookbook or recipe is a great start. But don’t get discouraged  if a recipe didn’t work. It could be something you did, BUT it could have just been a bad recipe. I have had my share of new recipe failures! Just keep at it. I have a few great cookbooks listed on my pantry staples page you may want to check out! They are a great starting point! I am also giving you a list of some quick weekday lunch and dinner ideas! And if you can’t find the ingredients you need at your local grocery store, again check my staples section for links where can order online! Just remember you can't throw in the towel before you even dip a toe in.

Easy Plant Based Lunches

  • Salad: with marinated tempeh or tofu if you want protein. You can also add nuts or rinsed canned beans, or vegan cheese.

  • Sandwiches or wraps: Tofurkey, you can find it in your grocery store in the produce section normally. Where they keep the tofu and vegan cheeses. My kids love it! PB&J, Hummus and veggies, Avocado and veggies, Tofu egg salad, Jackfruit “chicken” salad, Vegan grilled cheese (Follow Your Heat brand american is super good!), vegan cream cheese and jelly (my kids favorite)

  • Plant Based Soups (homemade or from a can)

  • Hummus and veggies

  • Leftover tofu quiche (its good cold too)

  • Quick oatmeal

  • Chia seed pudding with fruit and nuts

  • A protein bar and some fruit

  • Easy Tofu Egg Salad

  • Spicy buffalo chickpea salad

  • Tarragon and Almond “chicken” Salad

Quick Weeknight Dinners

  • Tofu quiche

  • Pasta with marinara and meatless crumbles (we like Beyond Meat brand)

  • Easy enchiladas

  • Tacos with meatless crumbles and vegan shredded cheese ( we like Beyond meat brand crumbles and Follow Your Heart cheddar shredsI

  • Quick veggie/tofu stir fry

  • Frozen veggie burgers (make homemade on the weekend and freeze or store bought)

  • Pizza. Most grocery stores have dough ready made to take home and bake. Add marinara, vegan cheese shreds, and whatever veggies you like.

  • Quick soup or chili (great to start in your slow cooker in the morning and its ready at dinner)

  • Carrot dogs (make a batch on Sunday and grill them Monday or Tuesday night)

  • A big salad with tempeh or tofu.

  • Jackfruit bbq (start in slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready by dinner)

  • An easy veggie slow cooker curry recipe

  • Tofu Scramble loaded with veggies (we love breakfast for dinner!)

  • Waffles or pancakes with fruit

  • Vegan breakfast burrito (breakfast for dinner!)

    These are just a few ideas to get you started. Become familiar with a few meat and cheese substitutes if that will make your transition easier. Do a little reading about things like jackfruit, seitan, tempeh, or tofu if these are foods you have never tired. It’s truly not too hard for anyone who really wants to try. And trust me, if you have kids, they might really love the new diet! Mine surprised me big time. Four kids who are happily plant based and love the foods they eat! Kids that used to love chicken fingers and Doritos! 

In summary:

Find the recipes that work for you and the websites, blogs, cookbooks, online support groups for plant based eating.

Do the pre-planning before you shop. Have a menu planned out to cut back on food waste, and to make your week night meals quick and easy.

Do the research on new pantry items you may need. Use the internet or even call your local stores and ask if they carry certain items if you are unsure. Remember you can order a lot of it online. Check my pantry staples list!

Use the weekends to try new and exciting recipes or to do some meal prep for the week!

Plant Based Inconvenience


    Opinions, everyone has one. Everyone has one, and theirs is right, am I right!? But when it comes to diets and food preferences, those opinions seem really, `extra`. Extra strong, extra expert, extra judgy, extra annoying, hold the bacon, add extra organic lettuce, GMO free pickles, with some sass on the side, kind of EXTRA. Honestly, I am right there shouting from the rooftops about my opinions on the benefits of a whole, clean, plant based diet. But there are a lot of people who have tried it, and make claims about why it didn’t stick. Why it didn’t work. Why in their opinion, it's seemingly impossible to maintain. Why it became extra hard, and going back to eating animal products, just seemed extra easy. 

    Let me start by saying I do understand that for some it may be a diet and life style they truly cannot maintain. They may have disorders or situations that prevent them from staying healthy on a plant based diet. I don’t know everyone’s situation, and I will not pass judgement on those that simply, for personal health reasons, can not thrive on a plant based diet.

    That being said, this blog post is for the rest of the population, in an effort to offer some insight, and encouragement if you are choosing this path, or have tried and for whatever reason, deviated, or if you have formed opinions about plant based eating that may not actually be true. I will take some of the comments and opinions I have heard and try to shed a more positive, and alternative light on them. But at the end of the day, we fiercely guard our opinions and maybe we can’t always be swayed. But y’all, I gotta at least try!


    It is inconvenient, well, as much so as you make it. Fast, “convenient" food is rarely the most healthy choice, no matter your diet. Packing a lunch is normally more healthy and economically responsible, even if you are not plant based. There are a ton of plant based sandwich meats and cheese substitutes available at the grocery store now. I know if you are in a hurry and forget to pack a lunch you may argue that it is too hard to find a plant based lunch or snack on the go. I know it's easier to hand your kids lunch money than it is to shop for, and make their lunches everyday. But if you are concerned for your families health, the environment, and the fair treatment of animals, then isn’t that little bit of effort worth it? If you forget to pack your lunch, there are options. Fast food salads minus the meat and diary. A banana, apple, or bar from a gas station. I’m just saying, I live it, and I haven’t starved to death on any occasion when forgetting to bring some food with me. I have learned to keep snacks in my car, or in my bag like a box of protein bars, some crackers, or fruit. I have ran into a grocery store while out and grabbed an inexpensive pre-made salad and juice from the produce section, in a pinch. Just because the world doesn’t seem to cater to your dietary needs, doesn’t mean there is not a quick, inexpensvie, plant based solution solution, in most situations. 

    I also often hear people complain that it became too hard to maintain their social life. Like I have said before, food is cultural glue, so naturally it will be frustrating at first when you go out and realize you can’t seem to find anything to eat at the restaurant your friends or family choose. But it’s not that hard to google the menu and see what options you may have before hand. I will simply eat something before I go out, and order a salad or a veggie side if that is all that is available for me. Because here is the thing, at the end of the day I am going out to meet my friends or family, and to enjoy their company, and to be social. I want those experiences far more than I want a restaurant catering to my chosen dietary restrictions. You can always throw out some suggestions that might have more options for you, as well. Like pizza for example. Just get the pizza minus cheese. A lot of pizza places even offer a dairy free option now. Mexican, because rice, beans, gauc, and veggie fajitas. Indian, Thai, and Korean have a lot of plant based options. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions and if your suggestion is shot down, eat a peanut butter and jelly on your way out the door and enjoy just being with your people. You can always suggest just meeting for coffee or drinks.

    Here's the thing, y'all. You decide in your life what you want to dwell on, complain about, get up in arms over. No matter the diet you choose, you are going to find limitations here and there. Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, atkins, keto, breatharian (yeah, that's really a thing,) whatever. You decide how, when, and what you eat. Life isn’t always convenient. So you make the decision to plan a little more, but to also become a little more flexible. If you choose to change your diet because you don’t like it anymore, because you miss meat, dairy, and eggs, then that’s your choice, plain and simple. Only you can do the research and decide for yourself what is important regarding your health, the impact you make on the planet, and the animals that share it with you. But know this, in 2018, there are more convenient options than there ever have been for a plant based diet. So if you choose to jump off the wagon, just remember it was full to the brim with options, but there is always another wagon for you to hop on around the corner, going a different direction. 


The Look I Give People When They Ask "Where do you get your protein?"


    If you follow a plant based diet, I’m sure you have gotten the same question more times than you can count. Well meaning family, friends, and strangers LOVE to question how you could possibly be getting enough protein in your diet. They will claim you need 9 billion grams of protein a day and negative 9 billion carbs. Ok, I exaggerate, but you know what I am talking about. They will tell you how unhealthy it is for your children to not get enough protein and how they really, really need to drink whole milk for at least 2 years, and then 2% for life. I could go on and get pretty sassy about this topic, but I think I will just get to the point.

    As stated before, I’m not an expert, and I hold no degree in this particular area. Don’t worry, I have a friend who has the degrees, and I am working on getting some guest blog posts from her. That being said, I won’t go into my opinions, based on research I have done, about how much protein we actually need versus what we have been told. I will, however, take the official recommended amount and show you how easy it is to get that number from plants. I mean seriously, some of the largest, strongest land mammals around are herbivores. How does one propose that an elephant is getting its protein. And might I again stress the point that humans are the only mammals that keep drinking milk after infancy!

    Most official nutritional organizations say you need around 0.3 to 0.4 grams of protein a day per pound of body weight. That mean an average adult needs 40 - 60 grams a day. 

    So here is a break down of how much protein is in a few things you probably already eat.


  • Tofu - 10 grams 1/2 cup
  • Seitan - 4 oz 30 grams (same as chicken or lean beef)
  • Soy yogurt - 10 grams 
  • Nutritional Yeast - 8 grams in 2 tablespoons
  • Cashew cheese slice  - 4 grams
  • Serving of mixed nuts - 7 grams
  • Lentils - 9 grams per 1/2 cup
  • Black beans - almost 8 grams 1/2 cup
  • Peanut Butter - 7 grams in 1/4 cup
  • Wild Rice - 6.5 grams 1 cup
  • Steel Cut Oatmeal - 5 grams 1/4 cup (dry)
  • Medium Potato - 4 grams
  • Spinach - 3 grams 1/2 cup (cooked)
  • Broccoli - 2 grams 1/2 cup (cooked)
  • Brussels Sprouts - 2 grams 1/2 cup (cooked)
  • Asparagus - 3 grams 1 cup
  • Wheat - 6 grams per serving
  • Quinoa - 6.5 grams per serving

    The list could go on. You can google any plant food you eat for its protein content. Clearly it is not hard to reach the recommended daily amount just by eating whole plant foods, and as a bonus, you are getting tons of vitamins and nutrients you need, from eating a rainbow of foods! 

    So the next time someone comes at you with these questions, just remind them that  elephants, rhinos, bison, and hippos seems to being doing just fine eating plants, so more than likely you will be ok too.  I mean, I am raising 4 plant based kids that are right where they need to be in their growth charts. Their health has been great and their regular ol, non-holisitc, non-vegan pediatrician seems pretty pleased with their overall health. So we are doing something right ;)

Easy Vegan Egg Substitutes

    A few simple egg substitutes that do not require a chicken. Unless you just want a chicken as a pet, in which case I won’t judge. We have three!


    So if you need to bake, bind, thicken, or just scramble, give these a try. It couldn’t be less complicated, more inexpensive, or easy to find the ingredients these days. Most grocery stores will carry these items. Costco and amazon carry flax and chia at a great price, and tofu can be found at just about any grocery store in the produce section! 

    GROUND FLAX SEED MEAL: Just mix 1 tablespoon flax with 3 tablespoons of water (per egg needed) and let it sit a few minutes. We have noticed this gives baked goods a nice rise. Don’t use it in lightly colored baked goods like a vanilla cake or breads, because you will see flecks of flax in your finished product. 

    CHIA SEED: Again it's a 1 to 3 ratio just like a flax egg. It will also leave dark colored flecks in your baked goods, so consider that when baking. We like to use flax and chia eggs in things like chocolate cake, brownies, muffins, and certain cookies. 

    EGG REPLACER: Egg replacer can be found in most grocery stores. Its advantage is it’s light color so it works well in breads, light cakes, cookies, and so forth. We normally keep some on hand for these types of baked goods.  

    Organic Tofu: Tofu works great to mimic a scrambled egg or egg salad. The texture is very similar once you crumble it up. With the help of some turmeric for coloring, along with a few other  ingredients, you will end up with a super tasty replacement for eggs!

** Tofu is made from soy beans. Non-organic soybeans are often genetically modified to become pesticide resistant. This means they are covered in chemicals that kill pests, but do not kill the plant. Our family tries to avoid as many GMO ingredients as we can. Therefore when buying tofu, or produce, I buy organic when available.  

How to Renovate Your House and Diet at the Same Time, While Only Partially Going Crazy

    Here is a story for you about a family of six deciding to go plant based. A family of six that, at the time, were living in a 105 year old house that was undergoing a year long renovation. A family of 6 that work from home and homeschool. A family of six and their eleven pets (it was twelve but the sheet rock dust did not bode well for the beta fish. may he rest in peace) making a change that only one of the six really wanted to make.


    Dave is my husband. He’s a software developer, woodworker, wife website builder, photographer, musician, he’s super handsome, and that’s just a drop in the bucket. We have been together for over twenty years and have four kids. Our kids range from a year and half to fifteen years old. That’s a big range. We were vegetarians for years, but we allowed our kids to eat meat on occasion. Dave eventually wanted to go vegan and I fought it. I liked dairy, and the kids were always begging for chicken fingers when we ate out. I was tired from raising all these kids, and wrangling all these pets, and didn’t want to fight them on what they ate anymore. I did not want to cook three different dinners every night. 

    Fast forward to our last daughter being born. She was not like the others, and had some pretty serious food intolerances and allergies. And this is where our family finally gave up dairy and eggs. As I mentioned before, we were renovating a giant old, broken house, and actually didn’t even have a kitchen for close to four months. We had to jump right into this new diet with nothing but a crock pot, hot plate, mini fridge, and a microwave. This is proof that you don’t need a fancy kitchen, a ton of kitchen gadgets, or even a full size fridge to pull it off. If a family of six, living in a construction zone, with the equivalent of a dorm kitchen, can manage a plant based diet, anyone can.


    You might not know how bad you feel until you finally feel good. This is what I always tell people. It's not more expensive than eating meat, eggs, and dairy. Those things are not cheap at all. Packing a PB&J is no more time consuming than sitting in a fast food drive thru for lunch. There are plenty of foods that are easy and plant based. It just takes a little time, some new pantry staples, and the willingness to learn something new. Educate yourself. There is so much proven research on the benefits of a plant based diet out there. Its not propaganda, it’s research, and data that can't be disputed. We truly are what we eat, and what we eat has the power to positively or negatively affect our health. I hope I can help you and everyone else that might be questioning making the switch, to see how easy and beneficial it can be. If this hot mess of a family can pull it off, I’m pretty certain anyone can. 

    My last piece of advice in this ramble is to remove all fish from a home that is getting new sheet rock. Also make sure all cats are accounted for before the contractor closes up holes in your floors. But that is a story for another time. Don’t worry, the cat was rescued and terrorizes our house to this day, and we have accepted we are maybe not the best with fish. Also, after a year we finally got the kitchen all done, along with the rest of the house. I mean, it's a never ending process when you own a house this old. Not one room is actually all done. I think we may be working on this until the end of time.


Don't Fear the Food


    One of the things that caused me hesitation, and maybe a little panic in switching from vegetarianism to a plant based diet, was the fear of  rejection. I know, I know, it sounds stupid when I say it out loud, but hear me out. I love eating. I LOVE IT. I wake up in the morning thinking about what I want to make for dinner. I also love people. I LOVE LOVE LOVE people. I love to be surrounded by people I love, while eating food that I love. There is nothing better, unless you ask my husband who might argue just about anything is better, but that's another conversation all together.

    So when you take away the foods that the masses love, you start to think “how will I connect with these people now”? Thanksgiving with the family just got weird and I’m gonna starve. Girls night just got tricky, birthday parties, dinner parties, dates, etc. Now you feel weird hosting a dinner or party and only offering plant foods to the meat eating masses. You don’t want to be “that” person. The hippie, tree hugging, granola head friend that asks what is in every food item on the menu, and believe you me, I found my self in each and every one of these situations, and I lived to tell about it.

    I still have friends. Now, do my non plant based friends invite us to dinner? Its rare! But that probably has more to do with our 4 kids than our food preferences. We are also super lucky and made a great group of friends right in our neighborhood that we hang with all the time. We eat ALL OF THE TIME. Some are vegan, some vegetarians, others are just happy to eat anything! We even have a monthly vegan dinner night in our neighborhood that I initiated. We rotate houses and dinner themes and its super fun. 

    So here's my point. GO GET EM, so to speak. Host a dinner party. Host Thanksgiving. Host ladies night or your kids play date. Initiate a plant based dinner party night in your own neighborhood.  I hosted my first plant based thanksgiving this past year and even my meat eater, southern dad  attended and LOVED IT.  You will be surprised by the positive reaction and how many people will start asking for recipes. Food is a funny thing, it's cultural glue, it gathers people together and can also divide them, but you can use food’s mysterious powers for good! Show your friends and loved ones you don’t eat twigs and berries all day, and that there will be no mung beans at ladies night (unless you have actually eaten them and like them). Just don’t be afraid to be the host and show everyone how delicious plant based can be!