Imagine kids that never got sick… had never had tonsillitis or an ear infection, were fit, healthy, loved their sport and family pets. No need to imagine… Meet the Dawes-Chuter family.
This weekend I soaked up the sun with this energetic family in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to lean about what it means to be a Vegan family. Mum, Robyn, is a Naturopath and EFT Therapist and took the time to answer my questions on life as a Vegan.
Tell me a little about yourself, your practice and your family? 
I have been vegetarian since I was 16, and vegan for the last 7 years. I’m 40 now, and enjoy better health than I did in my teens (when I ate way too much dairy – my parents thought I needed it compensate for the lack of meat; I had chronic headaches, recurrent sore throats and terrible fatigue until I gave it up). As a naturopath, I specialise in helping people with medically incurable conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, migraine and high blood pressure, to recover their health through adopting a high nutrient, whole-food, plant-based diet. As you can imagine, it is amazingly satisfying to me when I see people who’ve suffered for many years, and were told they just had to learn to live with their illness, to come off most or all of their medications and attain a state of health they haven’t enjoyed since childhood!

My husband John went vegetarian when he met me, at age 42, and is now vegan. All the ‘middle-age conditions’ he had started to experience in the couple of years before we met, such as weight gain, high blood pressure and gut problems, just melted away once he changed his diet. Now, at 58, he is frequently taken by others to be in his 40s. While his age peers are complaining of feeling old, he feels strong, fit and vibrant.
Our son Mitchell is 11. Raised as a vegetarian, it was his prompting, when he was not quite 4, that galvanised our decision to go vegan. He was a very early reader, and when he read stories of cruelty to dairy cows and laying hens in my PETA magazines, he swore off dairy and eggs. We all followed his lead, and have never looked back.

Our daughter Imogen is 7. She was not quite 1 when we went vegan. She and Mitch both love animals – all kinds! – and can’t imagine ever eating them.
What does it mean to eat a plant based diet? 
It means that most or all of what you put on your plate, started its life hanging off a tree or vine, or sprouting out of or under the ground. Or to frame it from the opposite direction, avoiding eating anything that had a face or a mother, or that came from anything that had a face or a mother! I would go further and refine it to a ‘whole food plant based diet’ since refined sugar and oils are derived from plants, but have been stripped of the symphony of synergistic nutrients that whole plant foods contain. You can be a vegan and live on potato chips and vegan cream cheese, but you won’t get the health benefits that eating a whole foods plant based diet bestows on you.
What are the health benefits? 
The evidence is rock solid that as a group, vegans are slimmer than either lacto-ovo-vegetarians or omnivores, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and a lower risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. I have had astonishing results with reversing autoimmune diseases, migraines and chronic headaches, high blood pressure and women’s menstrual and hormonal problems in my clients.
What are your top ten tips?

    1. Centre every single meal you eat on fresh fruit and/or vegetables. Make them the main dish – not the garnish!
    2. Choose whole and minimally processed foods over refined, fractionated foods. Whole brown rice is nutritionally superior to pasta or crackers made from brown rice flour. Whole carrots and apples are more nourishing than their juice. Traditional soy foods such as tofu and tempeh are far more health-promoting than soy cheese or fake meat made from isolated soy protein.
    3. Eat as many green, leafy vegetables as you can possible fit in! They are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Blending them into a green smoothie with banana, berries and pomegranate juice is a great way of boosting your intake.
    4. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Challenge yourself to try a new food every week. Eating a limited diet isn’t just boring, it reduces your chances of meeting your nutrient needs. There are over 10 000 phytochemicals that fight disease and boost our health and well-being; eating a limited range of food deprives you of this symphony of nutrients.
    5. Favour legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans etc) over grains, as the energy-dense portion of your meal. Legumes are much more nutrient-dense than grains, higher in resistant starch which helps you feel fuller for longer and improves your bowel health, and have a much lower glycaemic index (GI) than grains.
    6. Eat nuts and seeds, not oil, to get your essential fats. Oils (and vegan margarine) are just empty calories. Nuts and seeds are power packages of anti-cancer, diabetes- and heart disease-preventing nutrients.
    7. Only eat when you’re actually hungry! Even nutritious food undermines health when you eat to excess. Most people don’t know what true hunger is; they mistake the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal from unhealthful foods, as hunger. True hunger is felt in the mouth and throat, and is really quite a pleasurable sensation. Get to know and love it – food tastes better when you’re really hungry!
    8. Plan your meals in advance. I give my clients a meal planner template, so they can map out they’re going to prepare and eat, a week in advance. Eating decisions made on the run are far less likely to be health-promoting than decisions made in advance.
    9. Prepare meals with love, and share them with people you love – or if you eat alone, lavish yourself with love by setting the table beautifully. If you find yourself sinking into the feeling that food preparation is a chore, remind yourself why you’re doing it. I look at preparing delicious, nutritious meals for my family as a powerful demonstration of my love for them. And choosing healthy foods for myself is an expression of self-love, out of which love for others flows.
    10. Don’t forget the other elements of good health: regular enjoyable exercise, sensible exposure to sunlight, ensuring you’re getting enough good-quality sleep, and loving connections with others.

What are your supplement recomendations and things to watch out for? 
I recommend an oral vitamin B12 spray, and vegan vitamin D3, to just about everyone on a plant-based diet. Actually just about everyone needs vitamin D supplements unless they work outdoors. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, I think it’s wise to use an algal-derived EPA and DHA supplement. I strongly recommend against the use of multivitamins and B complexes that contain folic acid, as folic acid may increase the risk of cancer. Beta carotene supplements may also raise cancer risk. Pre-formed vitamin A increases the risk of osteoporotic bone fractures. My tip is, don’t take a supplement unless there’s a measurable need for it.

Do you have any favourite places for eating out at?
To be honest, I find most restaurant food too oily and salty, so I don’t eat out often. When I do, I love Lebanese and Thai food – there are always lots of vegan options! We have a great vegan café nearby (in Cronulla), called Heart and Soul, and Nourishing Quarter in Redfern is also a favourite.

Robyn, John, Mitchell and Imogen have shared their favouite recipes with you too:

John – Tunisian Sweet Potato & Chick Pea Stew
Ingredients:
1/3 cup water
1 onion, chopped
1-2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 clove minced fresh garlic
1½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
2 large or 3 small orange sweet potatoes (kumera), peeled and cut into 3 cm cubes
2 x 400 g cans diced tomatoes (no added salt)
3½ cups cooked chick peas, or 2 x 400g cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 cup green beans, cut in 3 cm pieces
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
1½ cups water, chick pea cooking liquid or vegetable cooking water
¼ cup natural peanut butter (no added salt, sugar or vegetable oil)
150 g baby spinach
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Method:
Place the water, onion, chillies, ginger and garlic in a large pot. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. (If using slow cooker, cook these ingredients on High for 1 hour.) Add cumin, cinnamon, paprika and coriander. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chick peas, green beans, cabbage, vegetable broth (use only 1 cup if cooking in slow cooker) and peanut butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes. (Or slow cooker on Low for 6 hours.) Add spinach and fresh coriander and let rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Imogen – Greens Plus Stir-Fry
Ingredients:
Sauce:
1/4 cup unsulfured dried apricots
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup unsalted natural peanut butter
2 cm piece peeled fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp Dr. Fuhrman’s VegiZest or other no-salt seasoning
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Stir-fry:
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, cut into thin strips
1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
200 g mushrooms, sliced
1 red capsicum, thinly sliced
1 punnet baby corn, halved
100 g snow peas, stringed and cut diagonally into 1.5 cm pieces
1 bag bean shoots
1 pack Soyco Malaysian-style marinated tofu, thinly sliced
1 bunch bok choy, shredded
1 bunch choy sum, shredded

Method:
Sauce: Soak dried apricots in boiling water while preparing vegetables. Place apricots (including soaking water) and all other ingredients in blender and blend at high speed until smooth.
Stir-fry: Heat a few tablespoons of water in wok to a rolling boil. Add onion, carrot and broccoli and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until onion has softened. Add mushrooms, capsicum, corn and snow peas and stir-fry for another minute. Add remaining ingredients, stir-fry for 1 minute then pour on sauce. Stir-fry until sauce is bubbly. Serve immediately.

Mitchell – Berrylicious Tart
Ingredients:
Filling
1½ cups water
1 cup dried apricots (unsulphured)
½ cup goji berries
¾ cup blueberries
4 tbsp pomegranate juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
Tart shell
½ cup walnuts
½ cup cashews
½ cup hazelnuts
½ cup rolled oats
4 date and coconut rolls or 8 pitted dates + 3 tbsp desiccated coconut
Berry & coconut topping
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
2 cups sliced kiwi fruit
2 tbsp desiccated coconut

Method:
Filling:Simmer apricots and goji berries in the water, on low heat, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the apricots are plump and tender, stirring regularly to keep from sticking.
Place stewed fruit mixture, blueberries and juice in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth and pudding-like.
Tart shell: Grind nuts and rolled oats with the date and coconut rolls or dates and coconut. Press into the bottom of a pie or tart pan.
Spread filling evenly over crust and chill.
Arrange sliced fruit on top of chilled filling and sprinkle with coconut.

Robyn – Kale and Cashew ‘Cheeze’ Sauce
Ingredients:
1 bunch kale, leaves stripped from stems and finely chopped
½ cup raw cashews
½ cup plant milk (oat, hemp, soy, or almond milk)
2 tbsp onion flakes
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp nutritional yeast/savoury yeast flakes

Method:
Steam kale for 10 minutes or until soft.
Meanwhile, place remaining ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth.
Squeeze excess water out of cooked kale, transfer to saucepan and add prepared sauce. Stir until sauce thickens.

Yummy… looking forward to trying these recipes out. Thank you Robyn, John, Mitchell and Imogen for welcoming me and letting me get to know you.

Photo copyright Megan Young. For usage contact megan@veggiesandme.com