Anatomy of a Twitter Chat: 3 Experts Answer 15 Questions on Healthy Vegan Nutrition
February 7, 2012

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Last Tuesday, I participated in a Twitter Chat with two other vegan health/nutrition writers: Michael Greger, M.D., who runs the fantastic (and useful) Nutrition Facts website, in addition to being the director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society, and Julieanna Hever, R.D., who is the author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. We were to take 15 questions, all relayed via Twitter, and respond with short, to-the-point, tweets. Along the way, we took questions from Twitter followers who had tuned into the chat.

I had no idea that Twitter chats could be so fun! Not only was it great to address some of the major vegan health questions in one sitting, but it was also fun to connect with a new group of readers. I had a great time, and I hope this will be the first of many. For those of you who couldn’t tune in, I wanted to relay some of the highlights of the convo, which are also available in this transcript.

As you’ll see, everything came in the form of 15 short answer questions from VegNews. And each of us—Michael, Juileanna, and I—offered our best response:

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@VegNews: Everyone talks about a whole-foods, plant-based diet. What does that mean to you?

Julieanna: To me, a whole food, plant-based diet = eating as close to nature as possible, relying on food as thy medicine.

Gena: To me, it means grains, legumes, and veggies w/ as little processing as you can manage.

Michael: Whole foods? Food as grown!

@VegNews: Q2: It’s so easy to be a “junk food” vegan, where do you draw the line with processed food?

Julieanna: If you’re healthy there’s nothing wrong w/ having treats once in a while as long as your diet is primarily whole foods

Gena: “Junk food” vegan? Some faux meats or cheeses or treats are fine on occasion, just not as the norm. That’s my line.

Michael: Junk foods: it’s the day to day stuff that matters.

@VegNews Q3: What are your 5 must-eat foods for optimal health?

Julieanna: I always say, “Let thy greens be thy medicine and thy medicine by thy greens”

Gena: Top 5 healthy foods? all greens, hemp seeds, legumes, berries, avocados

@VegNews: Q4: When working with clients, do you usually say “vegan” or “plant-based”?

Gena: I say “vegan,” personally. The word implies more than diet/health alone.

@VegNews: Q5 What vitamins and supplements do you recommend that vegans take daily?

Michael: B-12 is the biggie.

Gena: I say a multi w/ B-12, and cal + Vit D supplement for most women. EFA can be useful for some.

Julieanna: Definitely take vit B12! Test for vit D levels, ensure adequate Omega-3, iodine, and Vit C from food if possible.

@VegNews: Q6: OK experts, give us the inside scoop. What are the go-to, easy, cheap weeknight meals that you actually make and eat?

Michael: Green burrito: canned refried beans wrapped in steamed collard green with jarred salsa.

Julieanna: go-to dinners are: chili, stew, soup, lasagna, hummus, burritos, and always include salad w/ a good, oil-free dressing

@VegNews Q7: How about the most important meal of the day? What do you have for breakfast to get started right?

Gena: I usually do chia seed pudding w fruit, oats w berries + flax, or nutritious smoothie w vegan protein.

Julieanna: I love fresh fruit OR a green smoothie OR a green juice OR oatmeal and always tea

Michael: Best breakfast? Green smoothie!

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@VegNews: Q8: for those of us who are new to eating veg, we must ask: What are the best sources of protein?

Gena: Hemp, legumes, grains, vegetables, tempeh

@VegNews Q9: What are some of the most common misconceptions about eating healthfully as a vegan, and what can we do to refute them?

Gena: That vegan diet is lacking in anything we can’t substitute! But on the flip side, idea that anything vegan is also healthy

Julieanna: Biggest healthy vegan myth = lack of delicious food and variety! Experiment and share awesome recipes!!

Michael: recipes like those in Julieanna’s books! Misconception? How about beans and gas?

@VegNews Q10: What’s the most inspirational story you know of someone turning their health around on a vegan diet?

Julieanna: I daily c ppl reversing heart disease, diabetes, obesity. Just met a young man who gout out of wheelchair and off MS meds

Gena: So many, but I just remember my own: healing from digestive problems and eating disorder history

@VegNews Q11: How about healthy recipes that you love? Are there cookbooks you go to again and again?

Julieanna: Love cookbooks by @dreenaburton @veganchefbev @globalvegan

@VegNews Q12: How much soy is too much?

Gena: Soy? I think moderate weekly amounts of non-GMO and organic soy is perfectly healthy and good. Constant processed = bad.

Julieanna: Seems that 3 servings is a good max for soy per day. Make sure it is from whole soy products too!

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@VegNews Q13: For our experts, what are the questions that people should be asking their doctors? Essential tests to be taken?

Julieanna: Definitely as your Doc to test for Vit D deficiency & regular lipid panel (for cholesterol), Hgb/Hct (for iron)

@VegNews Q14: What are your favorite resources for planning balanced meals?

Julieanna: To plan meals, I listen to my body 1st and experiment with recipes that sound yummy. always include lots of veggies!

Gena (didn’t catch this question, but would have answered…): try to include a source of protein, healthy fat, and complex carb!

@VegNews Q15: What’s the single best piece of nutrition advice you can give?

Julieanna: My best advice: experiment w/ recipes/ingredients, maintain a variety of plants, show the world how awesome #vegan is!!!

Gena: What Julieanna said, and eat enough. Do not crash diet for pseudoscience or attaining a foolish ideal.

Other questions that came up:

What about a strictly raw diet?

Julieanna: Eat a diet that is high in raw foods. 100% is not necessary and can even backfire!

Gena: I think 100% raw is not optimal for most people, but high raw works beautifully for many people (incl me!)

Michael: Some veggies are actually healthier cooked (nutrient availability).

What about oils?

Gena: I’m def in favor of high quality flax, hemp, avocado oils in wise moderation.

Julieanna: As we started out chat: whole foods always preferable, nuts and seeds healthiest sources of fat.

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80/10/10?

Gena: The low fat, high fruit thing is too restrictive IMHO.

Is fruit bad for you?

Julieanna: Fruit is fabulous! Fiber slows absorption of sugar and is chock full of nutrition! Don’t be afraid of fruit!

For more, check out the transcript.

Where do you guys stand on these issues? What do you think of our answers? Our subtle differences  as professionals? What questions would you have asked if you had been on the chat? Hit me!

xo

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    57 Comments
  1. I appreciate the discussion about soy. We are raising our baby vegan and a lot of parents (and grandparents) have expressed concern about her intake of some soy products. One question in my relatively new veganism is about products like Earth Balance. Is this considered “highly processed” or junk food? How bad is it if used in moderation? I understand some FOK types advocate no added oil, but I know that is not realistic for me. So how does a butter substitute compare to a “high quality oil”?

    • Amy,

      I use EB discretionarily, which means it’s not my first choice for adding fat to a dish (that would be coconut oil or avocado oil), but I will absolutely use it in certain special dishes, like vegan mashed potatoes. It’s not a health food, but if you don’t rely on it every day, you can definitely reserve it for special occasions.

      G

  2. Hi Gena,

    I tried to email you under the “contact” tab and your address “http://www.thefullhelping.com/contact” was routinely rejected. Can you please help me? I am looking for a counselor.

    Regards,

    jan

  3. Hi Gena,

    I tried to email you today under the “contact” tab and the “thefullhelping.com/contact” address was routinely rejected. Can you help me with this. I’m looking for a counselor.

    jan

  4. Gena, I just got Forks over Knives and have been reading it.I’m confused about the nuts,olive oil,and avacado thing. It says to use sparingly,i eat those almost every day.same with sugar is over 5g perserving too much?

  5. Junk food vegan = if it has a label and is served as a primary component of a meal, chances are it’s junk (this rules out condiments such as good quality oils, quality soy milk, soy sauce, spices and so on).

  6. I’m really confused by this whole soy thing too. Soy seems to be a wonderful food cos it’s a complete protein, contains omega 6 and makes the best and most accessible non dairy alternatives (I’m thinking yoghurt here but milk and custard too). If you look at cultures where they traditionally eat a lit of soy (ie Japan) they actually have a really low rate of breast cancer, although the women do seem to have a slightly more “boyish” figure. Anyway 3 portions seems fine to me – soy milk oatmeal at breakfast, a yoghurt with lunch and some tofu or edamame at dinner doesn’t seem excessive! Am I missing something key?

  7. Loving this! Great answers too.

    I’m not sure what else I would ask… Although, I’m confused by the whole soy thing. I eat soy yogurts or tempeh most days (both non-GMO) but my hunch is that I rely on them too much and would like to eat them occasionally rather than frequently. I guess my question would be, what’s wrong with non-GMO soy? And why do so many people believe it’s consumption is linked to hormonal cancers, particularly breast cancer? When people ask me this all I can reply is that more recently dairy products, in fact, have a greater role to play in hormonal cancers than soy. Sorry if you’ve tackled this on a previous post. It’s just something that’s been bugging me for a while.

    xoxox

    • Sarah,

      I think the issue with non-GMO stems from a larger bias–political/social as well as nutritional–against genetically modified food. I don’t really have any studies in front of me to prove that GMO soy is terrible for you, though I do suspect that non-GMO and organic is far preferable.

      Don’t worry too much about soy. I was once very biased against it, but then I did more and more research and had my mind put to ease; there are conflicting studies for sure, but it looks as though high quality soy that doesn’t come from overly processed junk foods is really OK, possibly even beneficial. And I’m the child of a breast cancer survivor. Do, though, try to vary your protein sources!

      G

  8. I really need to get a B12 vitamin but I never know which one to pick! Is there a certain brand or percentage that one should look for?

    Looks like you guys had an awesome twitter chat! 🙂

  9. I haven’t read the whole transcript, so I apologize if you addressed this more thoroughly. You said that you feel 80/10/10 is too restrictive for most. Do you feel there are health implications for those eating primarily or only fruits? I function best with tons of greens and a considerable amount of protein. I’ve perused some forums where users eat 20+ dates or bananas at a time and I can’t help but shudder. It seems unhealthy to me and I know my body would hate it, but do you feel that these people are putting their health at risk eating like this?
    Thanks,
    Nicki

    • I personally do agree with you that the primarily fruit diet is too low in protein and too high in sugar. But Ali, who commented here, thrives on it. To each their own, I think!

  10. Love this recap, Gena! I’d be wondering for a while about which (if any) vitamins or supplements I should be taking – so that was very helpful for me. It’s also nice to see which tests I should ask my doctor to run next time I’m there! Thanks for all of the great info!

  11. My main squeeze (latest omni flavor?) wants to cook me his first entirely vegan dinner for Valentines Day. I asked him what he’s cooking and he asked, “you like eggplant, right?” — I do (when it’s done right!), but eggplant can go terribly wrong and is quite work-intensive to use when not throwing on heaps of spices. And can get oily and salty (and still be vegan- bah!). I asked him if I could help (ha!) but his response was- just bring your appetite and you can have a glass of wine and let me do everything. We’re obviously not at the stage where he realizes what a control freak I am! I guess I’ll just have to go with the flow on this one?

    • Ha, if he’s cooking you a sweet meal, I’d go with the proverbial flow. It might turn out great, and if it doesn’t, a meal is just a meal 🙂

  12. What a terrific, lively discussion! I thought all three of you offered excellent answers that were both practical and sound. The only answer that I found a bit off/excessive was the soy recommendation by Julieanna – perhaps she meant to suggest 3 servings per week? Or, 1 per day? (And btw I favor tempeh as my soy product of choice too.)

    In any event, great job, Gena and thanks for introducing us to your co-panelists.

    • I was a little surprised too, though I suspect it wasn’t a typo or error on her part. I would suggest something closer to 1x daily or 3x weekly (maybe something in between). I’ve really warmed up to soy through extensive examination of the literature on it, but 3x daily, to me, seems overly reliant, especially given the wide range of vegan protein choices we have.

        • Thanks for the link to the soy research and the clarification on sodium intake, Carrie. I read Dr. Furhman’s book a few years ago and watched his PBS special series more recently – his program struck me as very similar to Dr. Dean Ornish’s diet for reversing heart disease. In any event, your comments in this thread were enlightening and are piquing my interest enough to revisit his work (and your blog!)

  13. I’m so glad you posted this! The Twitter Chat was way too late for me 😉

    I loved the tone of this chat. I’m getting a bit sick of some of the restrictive all or nothing rhetoric going on here on the Interwebs when it comes to the a “good” vegan diet (no oil, no salt, no sugar, EVER). Nice to see some of my favorite thinkers are far more balanced!

    • Yeah, I think it’s an odd moment in the vegan world, because “vegan junk food” has become a dirty phrase all of a sudden (or rather, it has become a phrase at all), and suddenly veganism is synonymous with the “reverse and prevent” diet of abstemiousness. I have such a mixed bag of feelings; on the one hand, I love that this essentially very healthy diet is being associated with its own real benefits; but I also feel uncomfortable with our selling veganism as a “healthy diet,” per se, because I think it ignores much of what we’re *really* selling veganism for, and also, because I think it’s a turnoff to the many people who would prefer to eat a normal, not hypervigiliant diet!

      • I agree with you guys. I’m getting a bit frustrated with the emphasis on the “perfect, no junk etc” vegan diet. I think it can defo put people off. In my mind, in those difficult moments when I have to choose between food that is healthy or food that is ethical I’ll go with ethical every time. Does that make sense? Plus, this approach helps me to keep my intentions and some leftover ED habits in check 🙂

        • yes!

          i very much disagreed with julieanna on the oil free dressing thing. i brought up the role of quality fats having a role in a healthy diet and i know gena backed me up in the chat too. there were a few points in the hour when i felt skeptical about the medical professionals’ knowledge. or maybe not their knowledge, per-se, but how they were giving advice. some seemed to be there just to promote their own sites, not really to give actual professional opinions. since im in the medical field, i understand there are many obese people in need of dietary advice that falls into the harsh truth category, but i dont think that was the audience in the twitter chat so i found it bizarre. im so glad gena was there to offer her opinion because it was open minded and inclusive. this is just another example of why people like gena are so successful in showing raw vegan food in a positive light. its also one of the reasons i fell in love with choosingraw from the first post. always reminding people to add first, subtract later. and like colleen patrick-goudreau says, just because you cant do everything, doesnt mean you cant do something (anything).

          • I’m really enjoying discussion of this theme on the moderation vs. hard core camps and whether adopting the latter is necessary for those who come to veganism for relief from known health problems. For obvious reasons, those of us with ED tendencies in our background (and who have undergone professional treatment) reflexively balk at a rules-laden program. I doubt such large numbers of us within this community would have experienced the sort of ‘green recovery’ relief and would be thriving long-term if we were not permitted the freedom to honor our intutive hungers.

          • I was really grateful to have you on the chat, Elise, as I thought you brought quite a bit of sanity and smarts. I agree about the oil thing completely. I think people are conflating two different points: yes, avocados, nuts, and seeds should be our first, most favored source of dietary fat. But that does not mean that oils are all therefore terrible for you, especially not if you seek out high quality sources. It aggravates me when people aren’t capable of thinking with nuance in that way.

            And I agree about the self promotion 😉 It didn’t even occur to me to tweet links!

        • I’m one of the annoying whole-food vegans who promotes a no ADDED oil/sugar/salt diet (note I said added fat, not low-fat). My philosophy is born out of the desire to treat and prevent serious health disorders like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, depressions, etc. I try not to be judgmental of other people’s viewpoints, I simply want to make it known that there is hope for those people truly suffering from diseases that can benefit from a whole-foods approach. If you are blessed with good health that allows you to carry extra weight or eat less healthfully, then consider yourself lucky. Before I adopted this way of eating, I was experiencing daily migraines and anxiety that was affecting my ability to be a normal, productive human being. I’ve reversed the majority of my health conditions and am a transformed person and it is 100% attributed to my diet. Obviously, this approach is not appropriate for everyone and may be counter-productive for those recovering from eating disorders, but maybe my comment gives a different perspective to the “debate”?

          • Re: salt intake. I think there is some confusion here. I do not add salt to my foods but that doesn’t mean I only consume 200-300 mg per day. The minimum sodium requirement for U.S. adults is set at 500 mg; for Canadian adults, 115 mg (Sizer, et al., Nutrition, Concept & Controversies, 2003, p.280). Americans on average consume 3,300 mg per day. Plant foods contain on average 50 mg of naturally-occurring sodium per 100 kcal which means that an average person consuming 2,000 kcal per day would intake 1,000 mg of sodium not counting any extra sodium added. Therefore, when you hear that recommendation to keep added sodium between 200-300 mg per day, that is assuming approximately 1,000 mg from natural foods which bring the total to around 1,200-1,300 mg per day.

            Re: added oils to the diet. For someone at a healthy weight, I do not see the problem with adding a teaspoon here and there. The problem lies in the association between increased consumption of added fats and increased overweight and obesity trends (USDA Fact Book, p. 17, http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf). With the majority of Americans carrying around excess weight, there are fewer and fewer people who have the luxury of consuming extra fat from oils. Processed oils should be considered a processed food and used sparingly. The point is not that Americans need a super low-fat diet, but one that incorporates unprocessed fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, in moderation. Too much fat on the body leads to obesity. Obesity leads to increased risk of disease.

            • Thanks for the clarification! I actually still think 200-300 added is still a little low from a taste/cooking perspective, but it’s certainly safe if added to 1000 mg of natural sodium.

              I don’t disagree with a single thing you’ve said about obesity. And I don’t doubt that eliminating all oil is a good way of guaranteeing results–of course people who eliminate all oil from their diets will lose weight! The question is whether the correlations between fats, obesity, and disease are all proof that oils are harmful. Should they be used moderately? Sure–as calorie and fat dense foods that do not confer many macro or micronutriends, we should use them in moderation. But I find that many of the “no oil” dialogs (not yours, Carrie, but some) basically reduce this question to “oils are absolutely harmful. Avoid them at all costs.” This, to me, lacks nuance, because in spite of how nutrient poor they are, some of them do have heart healthy EFAs. And beyond that, they are undeniably important in adding to the taste and texture of certain foods. And none of the studies on obesity and disease have studied the role of moderate oil use in an otherwise incredibly healthy diet — they all compare no-oil diets to standard diets.

              Anyway, the point is, I don’t at all deny the importance of lowering the amount of fat/oil we consume, especially cheap and processed oils. And I myself do try to be mindful of oil usage. I just don’t think that’s quite the same thing as vilifying all oils in all applications. And since I do believe that moderate amounts of oil can vastly improve the taste and appeal of many healthy foods, I try to share a cautious, but tolerant perspective. I hope this makes sense — I do love hearing about, and admire, your own approach, especially since I understand your background and where you’re coming from in terms of your health journey.

            • Hi Gena! Love having this discussion with you. I still put myself in the “no oil” camp because my approach (primarily influenced by Dr. Fuhrman) is so focused on getting optimal nutrition from whole foods. I think we can agree to disagree on this point, although it’s certainly not a black and white issue, more like shades of gray. In other words, we both realize the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle but we come at it from different points of view and are helping people who have different needs. Keep up the good work! 🙂

          • By the way, I love the way you phrased this comment, contrasting what is suitable for the former ED folks versus those who come from a history of serious illness. I think that embodies the diverse needs of our community 🙂

          • I think we all appreciate your approach, Carrie! I don’t doubt the power of any whole foods, plant-based diet that is low in processed food to yield the kind of results you had. I think I wonder how necessary it is to not only eat that way, but also avoid all added sugar, oil, and salt. It seems to me that the research we have supports the whole foods, plant based, not too processed part, but the jury is still out on whether it’s also necessary, for instance, to limit added salt to 200-300 mg per day (I actually think that number is too low for most people), or to never put a teaspoon of hemp oil onto a nutrient dense salad. And since small amounts of oil and salt can really make food “leap” in terms of appeal and satisfaction, not to mention confer their own benefits (EFAs in hemp oil, for example), I favor them as a discretionary and very moderate part of a healthy diet. If I had robust, sustained evidence from a number of sources that the no added oil/salt/sugar approach were necessary–that is, if there were robust numbers of studies comparing that approach to a whole foods, low processed, plant-based diet that is slightly more inclusive–I’d of course be curious to see it!

  14. So neat! love it. I have to say though, I am 80/10/10 and it has healed my of my digestive and E.D history, just as it has done you! Different strokes for different folks, right?

    • Ali,

      I hope you didn’t take offense (especially given how I admire you!). Technically speaking, the diet isn’t as well rounded as the one I would personally recommend, but I’m well aware that there’s a way of eating for everyone, and that one person’s personal recommendations are not gospel (it’s like 100% raw foodism: I never say “it’s bad,” I just say “I suspect it’s not ideal for the majority”). Anyway, thrilled to hear that it has helped you to find good health!

      G

  15. Awesome–I’m a little clueless about twitter yet, and I feel like you’ve coached me along in many ways already. This is a great primer, and sounds like some deeper-than-superficial connections being made.

    I love the generally positive and _abundant_ vibe given off in what you shared here.

    My only quibble would be that I’m more cautious on soy than it seems like any of you were. But I have thyroid problems and celiac, and those are two good reasons to avoid unfermented soy (besides the fact it doubles me over), so my quibble would be more of a caveat for readers in my kind of position than necessarily a general recommendation.

    Initially I was surprised you didn’t include “fruit” in your list of healthiest foods, but then I remembered you’re not a huge fruit fan–and you did mention berries in another top pick.

    I feel honored to “know” you.

    • Yeah, when they said foods, I assumed they meant specifics, not food groups, so I said “berries” rather than fruit, and “greens” rather than vegetables, etc. But it was a fun question either way!

  16. That was a really great chat! I love the balanced viewpoints.

    Gena, I found this quote on Dr. Esselstyn’s FAQ being heavily debated on other blog I read. I drink green smoothies everyday, because chewing salads makes my stomach queasy. (I’m working on my digestion).

    What are your thoughts?

    “Avoid smoothies. The fiber is so finely pureed that its helpful properties are destroyed. The sugar is stripped from the fruit, bypasses salivary digestion and results in a surge of glucose and the accompanying fructose contributes to inflammation and hypertension.”
    http://www.heartattackproof.com/qanda.htm

  17. I love that this showed the variation among experts in the field. I truly believe there is no ONE way that works for everyone and I think that was reflected so well in this chat. Thanks. 🙂

  18. Can you recommend a good multi vitamin? I used to take one with B12 but it wasn’t vegan.

  19. I read through the vegnews transcript earlier this week but would have saved my eyeballs the ache if I knew you were going to post this! Anyways, loved it. Great questions and equally insightful responses.

  20. it’s so easy to be a junk foodie no matter what dietary preference! we just have way too much processed food available in this country! i actually eat 4 out of the 5 foods you mentioned nearly every day of the week except legumes. this was an interesting chat and very reasonable solutions/answers!

  21. I literally just posted about my own Recovery Veganism and came back to Choosing Raw so I could link your blog to my own so my readers could get your perspective. I’m so glad that I can add this post to the links. Thank you so much for being such a great advocate for healthy veganism and eating disorder recovery.

  22. Thanks for the transcript..I laughed at Junk Food Vegan. There’s that list of foods called Accidentally Vegan and there are things on it I’d have never guessed…like Cracker Jacks and Ritz Crackers and Duncan Hines Chocolate Frosting. Not what I think of when I think of “vegan food”. And in college, I knew plenty of vegetarians and vegans who pretty much ate things ONLY on that type of list…a kale salad with fresh and seasonal veggies was a foreign concept but Teddy Grahams are vegan 🙂

  23. Thanks for transcribing this. I followed part of the chat but it was cluttered with other responses. And Dr. Gregor is probably my favorite vegan doctor. If you’ve ever heard him speak, he’s so compelling and funny. I don’t get that elitist feeling from him ever like I sometimes do with other vegan doctors. He’s a gem. He had a great video the other day about B-12 and how you’d have to eat 100s of eggs a day to get enough B-12 from them. I didn’t know the other nutritionist on the panel, but I was glad to know her as a resource.

  24. Very insightful comments. I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years and a few years ago, I found out I was low on vitamin D and had high cholesterol. It’s definitely possible to not eat meat and still have health issues. Since then, I’ve started eating better and taking a vitamin D supplement (I take them everyday – I get almost no sun and don’t like to drink milk).

    I also believe it’s far from the truth that fruit is bad for you. It’s a whole food in itself, even if it does contain sugars. I love to start off my days with a fruit protein smoothie.

    ~Lisa