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WNY dietitian says transition to plant-based eating has been healthy, delicious

Emily Wood knows all about the benefits of plant-based eating. Done right, it provides vitamins and nutrients that can lower blood sugar, blood pressure and weight. It can help prevent some kinds of cancer, reduce or eliminate the need for some medications, and ease or prevent gastrointestinal distress.

The Town of Tonawanda registered dietitian has helped clients see these kinds of benefits by tailoring nutrition plans rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes. She's also experienced them more dramatically since she became vegan six months ago.

"I feel better than I ever have," Wood said.

She will share what she's learned at 6 p.m. Dec. 19, when she and Betty's Restaurant chef Jonathan Hakes present a plant-based dinner at the Allentown establishment. The cost is $45 for an appetizer, entree, dessert - and plenty of tips to help those thinking about making the leap to veganism and vegetarianism. Register by phone at 240-9034 or email

Wood, 32, is an avid runner and soccer enthusiast. She and her husband  Mike, a welder, have two sons, Gavin, and Adam, and two dogs, a boxer named Luna, and a Rottweiler, Bandit.

Q. Why do a vegan dinner?

I want to increase awareness that plant-based eating isn't bland and boring and rabbit food. I want people to know it tastes good and is super healthy, and there's an alternative to always slapping chicken and beef on your plate. I think a lot of people don't consider going vegan or vegetarian because they don't really know about it, and think it's unrealistic. It's a process but it's definitely achievable.

Q. Can you talk about the dishes?

The appetizer will be an all-vegan stuffed pepper soup. Then we'll have a series of three entrees, all healthy, homemade foods by Betty's. Nothing is going to be processed. It's going to be whole food made by Jonathan and his kitchen staff. We're going to have a pasta made with vegan Alfredo sauce. We're also going to do one of their housemade black bean burgers and we're going to do a meatless meatloaf. He's going to do a vegan gravy with that. Dessert, we're still going back and forth. They're thinking some kind of apple spice cake. I'm thinking maybe a black bean brownie

Q. For someone looking to improve their diet as a way to improve their health and weight next year, what are the two or three most important steps you recommend they take?

The very first one is to plan and prepare meals at home. Limit eating out as much as humanly possible. Number two is avoid sweetened beverages; drink water. Number three, I would just say eat more vegetables. Include them with at least two meals a day. We don't eat enough of those at all.

Q. What works best in your private practice (see when it comes to improving the health and wellness of your clients?

I tend to really individualize the care. It's about listening to where people are in their family or work life, what are their greatest barriers. I focus on what's best for this person at this time, not just a blanket diet. People appreciate that I take into account their current situation. I work with it and make realistic goals for them.

Q. Are you husband and two sons also vegan? Healthy eaters at least?

Emily Wood and her family, from left, sons, Adam and Gavin, and husband, Mike, enjoy activities that help underline a healthy nutrition lifestyle. The family largely follows the path Wood established six months ago when she transitioned completely to a plant-based diet.

Not 100 percent. They do eat extremely healthy. My husband has been very supportive and eats about 95 percent of the vegan dinners that are full of vegetables and lentils and beans – and things he's never even put in his mouth before, so there's always hope. When he's home, he eats plant-based. When he's at work, he still eats some meat. I make breakfast from scratch on the weekend, vegan waffles, vegan pancakes, that kind of stuff.

I do not provide meat items in the lunches my oldest son takes to school. That's 100 percent plant-based. I want him to be healthy. The reason my kids aren't solely vegan is they're 2 and 4. They're super picky. To me, giving them whole, healthy foods is super important and if that means they have to have a yogurt every once in a while instead of a lentil casserole, that's OK with me. They're still getting something healthy.

Q. Why did you decide to go vegan?

For my practice. When you go into an area like nutrition, there's so much out there. I help people with various conditions. You can't be really good at everything but you can be really good at one thing. I wanted to form a specialty niche for myself and came across a very well-respected plant-based dietitian named Brenda Davis. It's not something you learn completely in college. It really intrigued me.

I thought it was fine before and then after I transitioned, I was like, 'Holy crap. My energy, my endurance, everything, I just feel amazing."

Q. What are the staples of your diet?

I eat of a lot of lentils and I eat a lot of greens. I put a lot of kale and spinach in my meals. I like to make smoothies with them. I throw vegetables in anything that's humanly possible. Red peppers are probably the big one. I love garlic. It adds flavor to everything.

Q. You're a volunteer for the Vegetarian Resource Group. What's that?

A nonprofit organization that focuses on providing mostly online resources and education for those interested in becoming, or who already are, vegan or vegetarian. If you're traveling, they also provide resources in terms of restaurants. They do related blog posts, too.

[RELATED BLOG: Remaining vegan during your hospital stay]

Q. What is the hardest part about being vegan?

When you're at an event or restaurant and your plant-based choices are limited, which happens frequently. When you're hungry, it can be easy to stray from your eating patterns.

Q. The most rewarding part?

The way you feel. I've noticed a huge difference in terms of my energy level, my endurance on my runs. I've always had problems with my skin and have noticed a huge difference in the way my skin looks.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon


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