Health & plant based eating
1st Sep, 2022


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Wendy McLean (00:06): Welcome to Common Ground, a podcast series discussing new research and interesting projects in the field of complementary medicine. Hello, my name is Wendy McLean, Senior Writer & Presenter at is a digital platform, a health professional resource, and a distribution service all in one.

Firstly, I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather here. I would also like to pay my respect to their elders, past, present, and emerging.

Today on Common Ground, I will discuss the benefits of plant-based diets with newly published author and clinical nutritionist Tanya Kwiez, and find out how Tanya came to write and publish her first book.

Tanya Kwiez is a Nutritionist (Master of Human Nutrition) specialising in plant-based nutrition and is a health writer. She is the author of the book Plant Based Planet- A Nutritionists Guide to Enhancing Health. She has practiced in the UK, Italy and Australia and worked in London in nutraceutical advisement. She also has a master’s degree in international development and has run nutrition outreach programs in children's homes in Tanzania and South Africa (something she feels she was actually born to do). 

Welcome to Common Ground Tanya.

Tanya Kwiez (01:19): Ah, thank you so much. Lovely to be here.

Wendy McLean (01:22): Tanya, you are a clinical nutritionist, a writer, a plant-based foodie, very talented. What led you down this path and how did you come to specialise in plant-based nutrition?

Tanya Kwiez (01:35): Okay. So I became a vegetarian myself when I was about 11 years old. My mother had always been a vegetarian. So essentially, I suppose she planted the seed about dietary choices; that there was a choice of what you ate and also about plant-based foods, of course. So I was always looking at food labels. I remember always looking at menus when I was out, like, what is there, you know, I was trying to always find what is there to eat that's not animal based at restaurants or at cafes, et cetera, because it was actually really exciting to find anything that wasn't, you know, was not meat most of the time, you know, back then. So you fast forward to now of course, and that the plant-based way eating has just exploded in popularity throughout the globe. So now there's loads of plant-based healthy, delicious options, which is great.

Wendy McLean (02:19):  Absolutely.

Tanya Kwiez (02:20): I think what led me down the nutrition path as a profession, I would have to say is initially just being naturally drawn to organic chemistry and anatomy and physiology studies. I really loved studying those subjects at uni and then that foundational learning of course leads into phytonutrients with other courses. So all those compounds in certain foods that have evidence based benefits to human health. So the terpenes, the carotenoids, the resveratrol, the flavonoids, the ellagic acid in our berries. And I also love the brain and I love immune system research as well. So I'd say they're my two favorite body systems in terms of wanting to learn more on, continuously learning about, and then all the evidence based immune modulating abilities of so many plants and herbs that we've studied. So it's just fascinating. So for me, I was just hooked.

Wendy McLean (03:11): Ah, that's really wonderful and exciting and definitely we're seeing particularly today in the current environment with the pandemic and trying to support immune health, the importance of food and these particular compounds within our food.

Tanya Kwiez (03:26): Yeah. Food is medicine and post virally.

Wendy McLean (03:29): Absolutely.

Tanya Kwiez (03:31): Definitely a big emphasis now.

Wendy McLean (03:32): You also have a Master's degree in Human Nutrition, and also in International and Community Development and you've run outreach programs in African orphanages. Can you share with us a bit about your studies and these programs you've been involved in?

Tanya Kwiez (03:49): Yep. So I did the Masters in Human Nutrition program at Deakin University in Melbourne. It's still running now. So I did that after I did a Bachelor of Health Science because I just felt like I needed to know more about nutrition as a foundation and also just after visiting Africa for the first time I came back and that's when I actually started studying the Masters of Human Nutrition. And I then did, after I did it, back to back, actually I did the Master of International Community Development program, primarily because the lecturers at the time at Deakin, were just some of the best lecturers in the world in terms of development. So I loved it. I learned a great deal from that whole experience. And it was really enriching. Obviously it's a very human focused degree. It was very challenging, very moving sometimes too. And just trying to understand how we all fit into the world, you know, it's something I felt was really important to sort of reflect on. So I felt like I needed to learn more on how the world works, you know, the rules, the law, the state, microfinance, nutrition, feeding programs, and how it all sort of fits into the development context.

Tanya Kwiez (05:01): And then with international development, you study such a broad range of course material and you can choose electives or not. So a lot of it is refugee studies, people's own experiences, case studies of displaced people, economics, microfinance, and poverty. So if you're interested in economics, there's also that aspect to it. And then for me, you know, the NGOs, how they ran the international nutrition program. So the World Food Program - they’re heavily focused on hygiene, public health. They were really important subjects to me, culture, gender-based inequality. So it's a super broad program. Like I feel anybody could probably study it and find something that they really loved about it. So I did also some extra courses in London. I did Red R. I signed up with them and that's where you learn all about the Sphere Handbook, which is the major go to resource publication the NGOs and government agencies rely on in a conflict or disaster situation. So yeah, there's lots of different courses you can do online that are free with UNICEF as well. I've done a few of those online. So that's the courses that I've done and what they were about.

With Africa, when I first visited Africa, I fell in love with east Africa and in particular Tanzania, I just loved it. So I went there for three months initially with IVHQ, which was a volunteer development type company that was out of New Zealand at the time.

And it was just visiting and assisting the orphanage carers, just doing, you know, what they may need from you. Cleaners, cooks, you could help them if they had any cooks or cleaners, because a lot of the time you did find one or two very young women and they did everything, which is insane, you know, looking after 15 young children. Walking the kids to school, developing the shopping list, going to the market to stock their food staples, their rice, their beans, trying to enroll some of them in school that weren't already in school, finding them sponsors or teaching them just about whatever us volunteers knew. So some of us were teachers, some were nurses, me, obviously nutrition. So after we were comfortable and we made sure we didn't step on anyone's toes, we would teach them English. I would do lessons on nutrition, the vitamins in certain vegetables, like vitamin A is so deficient there. So orange vegetables, for example, why they should try and grow more sweet potatoes, et cetera. So I went back there every year for four years?

Wendy McLean (07:35): Oh, wow. Fantastic.

Tanya Kwiez (07:37): I took some supplements that nutraceutical company generally donated at the time which was great. And then since then I've had my own babies, so I've got my own kids, so I'm just waiting until they get a little bit bigger and then I can hopefully continue on with some of that. And I hope with my kids, you know, with me in tow.

Wendy McLean (07:55): Oh, that'll be a fantastic and enriching experience for them as well.

Tanya Kwiez (08:00): Yeah.

Wendy McLean (08:01): And so you've done so many things, you've worked in Europe, the UK, and you run an international practice, the NutriClinic. Can you share your experience working globally particularly during the pandemic. And do you have any pearls of wisdom for practitioners for working internationally?

Tanya Kwiez (08:20): Yes, so I had, or I found, and I still have them, some amazing colleagues in London, mainly from just working there in a health food store for the first time I moved to London when I was in my twenties, you meet just so many different people. And then when I was older, I moved back there as a consultant trainer and speaker. So I met amazing practitioners, many I consulted on Harley Street with. And so I’ve sort of found after having close contact with those colleagues for a few years, they're sort of with you for life. We're, you know, on Instagram together, we're on Facebook groups together or just we're doing different things. And even if you're far apart, it's still such a small industry in a small world really.

So I also would say specialising, I think is key. So I have referrals from some of my old colleagues overseas in London mainly, and sometimes especially plant based clients. Some refer to me because plant based, they know, is my thing in research, in practice, in writing. I love it. And I also have been invited to do certain talks. So some corporate health, nutrition, wellbeing focused talks for different colleagues. So I would say reach out to people, you know, speak to people, make contacts, get on the UK, US or whatever country you are keen to work in, get on those dedicated practitioner Facebook pages, because that's just such a great way to E meet people, to network. And then there's so many now, you know, that you can get to know people that way. And I mean, you know, remote practicing, you know, zoom and teams, et cetera. It's just, it's great because it just allows us this platform now to be able to do so much internationally, even from home.

Wendy McLean (10:00): Yeah. That's it, I mean, it's certainly just changed the way the world works. There are some good tips there and I mean, social media it really has opened up a whole new network for everyone. And so you've also recently published a book plant-based nutrition. Can you share with us the inspiration for this book and your experience while undertaking the research and writing?

Tanya Kwiez (10:27): Yeah. So firstly writing a book is so much work. I didn't realise how much. So it took me two and a half years all up from the very start to finish. So, to the final edit and there must have been hundreds of edits, like honestly, hundreds, I cringe when I say it, but I initially started writing it as I had a conversation with somebody who was looking at the research on plant-based studies and benefits directly to the heart and the cardiovascular system. So I did a little bit of research for them. And then I just kind of couldn't stop. Especially when I started to read the incredible studies on how plant-based diet on its own, that was the only change that the doctors made in these studies with patients who had heart failure. So, you know, they were dying, and it was reversing heart failure and that's all they did, was change to a plant-based diet. And so after reading those types of studies, I was very keen to find out how many other body systems there were really good studies on being plant-based. So for mood, potentially mental health, for the brain, for the immune system, studies on cancer prevention and plant-based diets, the nervous systems, stress, you know, metabolic health, et cetera. So for the next 14, maybe 16 months, I wrote every day, probably six to seven hours a day while my son was at school.

Wendy McLean (11:44): Wow. So like fulltime job.

Tanya Kwiez (11:46): Full time. Yeah. It was full almost full time hours, five days a week. And I was also very fortunate because I wasn't working a lot for those two and a half years. I was living overseas, and my son had started school. So I was lucky that for the first time in my life, really, I was actually able to sit down and research and write something, you know, for myself and do something that I wanted to do. So, you know, I'm fully aware you need the time, or you need to find the time, you know, somehow. And then I showed people. So when I was pretty happy with what I had done so far, because it's quite intimidating, having to show people your work, especially when there's so much of it. They may not like it. But the biggest advice I can give is definitely the first thing you need to do when you've got a manuscript together. So mine was about 90,000 words by then.

Wendy McLean (12:36): That's quite an effort.

Tanya Kwiez (12:38): It was an effort. So it's when it's in print, I think it's 94,000 now it's published and that's about 400 pages maybe.

Wendy McLean (12:49): Wow.

Tanya Kwiez (12:51): So I got the manuscript to the 90,000 words, you know, sufficient chapters. And I thought that's a great amount of chapters. That's enough. And I felt like I had a manuscript that I was quite proud of by that point. So then the next step was to show people and I got some great feedback from colleagues. Some I liked, some I didn't like, but use your friends, use your colleagues, use your family. So the first person I actually showed was my brother, Ben, who is just so helpful. He's very analytical. And he reads very carefully and thoughtfully. So I chose him on purpose, you know, and he really went through it with a fine tooth comb through multiple chapters and gave me lots of advice and quite a few friends and colleagues did as well. It's also really good to get advice from people who aren't in the industry.

So my brother, for example, and another colleague of mine are in banking, completely different industries. They don't know that much about healthcare. So that was really important as well. They didn't know about the health industry. And I really wanted to know that my target audience, who was primarily, you know, people who wanted to educate themselves on plant-based nutrition and to be healthier, so not necessarily professional people, just people of, you know, of all ages or walks of life. So you sort of need to know who your audience is and get, you know, lots of information or feedback that they're understanding the way that you've written the text, because I came or I've come from a technical background. And that for me was the most challenging thing I think was to, to ask, my brother and then people afterwards who weren't in the health or a nutrition industry, that they could understand the terminology that I'd used. And that the way that I'd explain things was translatable to the general public.

Wendy McLean (14:31): Yeah. And having read it myself, it's definitely, I'd say very accessible, but also, very strong evidence based, you've got more than 400 references.

Tanya Kwiez (14:44): Yeah. Evidence based all the way.

Wendy McLean (14:47): That's fantastic. And then how did you actually go about getting it published?

Tanya Kwiez (14:54): So how did I go about getting it published? It was initially emails, hundreds, honestly, hundreds of emails to literary agents. At that point I was living in Italy, in Europe. So I was initially sending it mainly to literary agents in the UK and the US as well, but then also to direct publishing houses as well. So you get a book proposal together and that's the first step. And that's basically how you go about proposing your book or trying to sell it basically to a publisher or to a prospective literary agent who will then go on and sell it, you know, onto a publisher for you. So generally a book proposal, you know, you put that together, it's going to sell, like I mentioned, your great idea, but it's also going to contain a sample chapter or two as well is included in that. And then you just sit back and you wait and many don't get back to you at all. And some do, but each publisher or literary agent has a really specific format of how they like to receive a book proposal from people. So it takes a lot of your time up because it's a lot of individual research on their websites, making sure that you format your book proposal to their specific requirements before you send it off. So there's a lot of tweaking and making sure that you're on the ball.

Wendy McLean (16:09): I know they won't even look at it if you don't meet their formatting requirements, it won’t get off the slush pile.

Tanya Kwiez (16:17): So you've got to get that right. And then also being a non-fiction book, like mine is obviously, it's quite specific in its audience. Because plant-based nutrition obviously I'm targeting a certain audience, I suppose, with this type of genre or category. So sometimes you're better off doing independent publishing, there's assisted publishing out there. Sometimes you're better just to publish it yourself. You also get a bit more money that way but yeah, generally a book proposal is the first step that you send to publishing houses. And then the editing took at least another year. And I didn't believe other authors or what I'd read online. I actually just thought, you know, no, this I've done the writing. That's the hard part, it can't take another year, no way, but it did. It was such a long process. And every single time I would read it again, I would find another mistake, or I would add something else or tweak a table or do something, you know, it just took a long time to edit, but after the editing was done, I was happy. You know, that was that.

So I think that the greatest advice I could give to anyone is get the manuscript together in a format and in a way that you're happy with, make sure then that you show people and get as much advice as you can, tell people to be truthful and to give you tips or suggestions, you know, maybe do a table a different way or boxes or graphs, visual diagrams, et cetera. And then anything basically that they can offer you. And then also 100% you must read the book called the Writers and Artists Year Book. So whatever year is the latest publication is probably the best one to go for. So at the time I read the Writers and Artists Year Book of 2020. So when I finished writing, I read that and it's a wealth of information for anybody who wants to write a book. It tells you so many different things about publishing, how to get published, listings of publishers, advice for new writers, approaching like fiction versus non-fiction, you know, ISBN numbers, putting together your submission, the copyright, the law, like all of that, it has some really good chapters in there. It gives you many experiences from other industry people and other writers as well. So that was just a wealth of information. It's a totally new world. Obviously I knew nothing about publishing until I stepped into this. So it really is another world.

Wendy McLean (18:36): Fantastic tips there. And fantastic advice about that book as well [Writers and Artists Year Book]. I am familiar with that book, and I can definitely recommend it as well.

Your book itself is an excellent guide to thriving on a plant-based diet. I mean, there's so much information in there, but what are some of your key tips?

Tanya Kwiez (18:58): Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. So some of my key tips would be obviously fresh food. I can't emphasise it enough, avoiding packaging as much as possible. It takes 15 minutes, for fresh fruit and vegetables after you've cut them on the counter to start to lose their nutrient values. So those bioactive compounds, the vitamins, the minerals, the enzymes, et cetera. So I'm wary of this when I'm making smoothies, other foods, I don't leave them sitting there on the kitchen counter. So you want to reap the nutritional rewards from those fresh foods. So eat them straight away, you know, in a smoothie, drink it as soon as you've made it. So some studies actually show that 30 to 40% of our nutrients can be lost within three days of harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables. So local food, obviously where possible is going to mean you're getting a food with a much better nutrient profile that's still intact as it's been transported, you know, a much shorter distance to get to the shelf that you're purchasing it from.

I also tell patients and people to view the diet as your daily nutrition foundation. And then if you need to, we layer in supplements. So prioritise your food choices, colour, you know, buy as many colours of the rainbow when grocery shopping as possible. And variety, obviously super important. Read labels, like start to really get into reading labels and you become an expert, I think quite quickly.

Organic obviously, if possible, it's not, you know, they're not necessarily chemical free organic foods all the time because the food may be grown on land that was previously not used for organic food production, but the pesticide residues will be considerably lower in organic food. And also organic farming is more sustainable and it's better for our environment. So research shows us that the differences are small, but organic food has nutrition wise, it has lower nitrate levels. So from, nitrate fertilisers, so possibly immune system affecting concerns there. Organic food also has much higher vitamin C levels and also some minerals as well, especially iron, magnesium and phosphorus it’s been shown are much higher.

So obviously biodynamic food as well is great as it's food grown with prescribed compost preparations and also natural activating substances. So not always available, but when we can.

And also, super foods. So I know it's a term that's used a lot in marketing, but I love my super foods.

And obviously those foods that are anti-inflammatory foods, foods that are incredibly high in antioxidants, epigenetic foods. So foods that contain the isothiocyanate like broccoli. I love broccoli. It's a good thing but it’s expensive at the moment. Genistein in soy, resveratrol in red grapes. So these foods have been shown to modify the epigenomes. So this leads to super beneficial and very broad health outcomes and promotes healthier aging too. So definitely get to know some super foods that are extreme standouts, of certain micronutrients that you need on any diet, but if you are on a plant-based diet also really important.

So Kakadu plum is one of my favourites. I have that as a superfood powder almost every day and my kids too. Kakadu plum has the highest content of vitamin C on the planet. 100 grams would give you 3000% of your needs of Vitamin C. It's insane. So also very high in iron and I use this great powder that I love. I put it in smoothies, even juice. It's great.

So also know and learn some tips around enhancement of absorption. So what foods will enhance my iron absorption. So that's vitamin C, so eat some strawberries, Kiwi fruit, goji, red peppers, citrus, or another vitamin C sort of rich snack alongside or before your non-haeme iron rich foods being whole grains and quinoa and spinach, asparagus, your nuts, nuts and seeds. I talk so much about nuts and seeds, lentils, your dried fruits, you dried apricots. So also not drinking coffee, tea, obviously dairy as well, fruits that are really high in fibre. So those specific foods we know can hinder our iron absorption quite significantly. So have a cup of tea or coffee away from meals is probably the best thing to do.

And also protein combinations I think, is super important for plant based dietary focus. So a really easy way to remember. I tell patients and friends, everybody I can, legumes with nuts or seeds or grains. And I put that in my book in a box a couple of times. I like to drive home that lesson, because it's so easy:  legumes with nuts seeds or grain, then you've got your complete protein.

Wendy McLean (24:03): Yep. And I think it's just so important because so many people starting out think, oh, I cannot get enough protein being plant-based.

Tanya Kwiez (24:10): Yeah. And I mean the first question, I think the very first question that big meat eaters ask you and they don't, or they're not very familiar with plant-based diets is what do you do for protein? And it's actually very easy. So a nice way to remember.

Wendy McLean (24:26): Yes. And then you've got a couple of chapters that are quite specific for different groups. So you've got one for children. You've got one for athletes. So firstly, what are some of the tips for raising children on a plant-based diet?

Tanya Kwiez (24:41): Yeah, so educate, that would actually be my first tip, you know, and keep it fun with kids. My little boy, Zavian, he's eight, he's always been plant-based. He became really interested in foods when he was probably four. I think he would've been four, four and a half when I started to teach him about eating a rainbow basically. So I started with that and I taught him different foods, have different colours obviously, and those different colours are that pigment because of the phytochemicals inside. And it's a special chemical inside that plant that contributes to the colour and it has different properties and it does different things that help the plant, but also our bodies when we eat it. So red foods help our immune system. And I have a little rainbow chart on my fridge, and we tick off what foods he's eaten, what colour he's eaten in that meal or that day. It's good to stay on track and charts like that are so fun for kids. And he loves to know, for example. And I found patient’s kids that I've dealt with. They'd like to know, what are the foods for, muscles or for the brain?

Like what makes the brain work better? So chia seeds, they're packed with omega threes, omega three helps your concentration. It's going to help you focus at school. So you can also teach kids that protein foods will help your muscles to be stronger. So just little things like that, where you can get their interest. And educate them about the things that are in foods in a fun way. And that's why, you know, mum's trying to tell you to eat those foods. There is a reason behind it.

So that, and then also with kids, it's good to know your top five protein foods. So seeds and nuts, smoothies. My son won't eat nuts or seeds, but he has at least 10 different types in his smoothie and he has no idea. Lentils, oats, most kids love porridge. So, I sometimes mix chia seeds or I use white quinoa sometimes for a bit of extra protein in oats or porridge.

And protein combining. So again, an easy way to remember protein combination is the legumes plus nut, seeds, or grains. So, parents could use a dish to feed their children rice with lentils or hummus served with pita bread. So whole grains there. Tofu served with sesame seeds on top is a complete protein dish, whole wheat pasta with peas or corn, tortilla chip chips served with mashed bean chilis. That's a popular one in my home. And also nut butters are fantastic too, because if you've got whole wheat toast with peanut butter or another nut butter, that's a complete protein. So you're really maximising your amino acid combinations there.

And then obviously smoothies, there's some smoothies in my book. And thank goodness for smoothies. I think as a mum, I love making my kids smoothies. You can add green leafy vegetables. I throw in cooked peas, avocado, like I said, nuts and seeds. I have an LSA powder. I use chia seeds, et cetera. And I've found personally enough blueberries or enough strawberries in a smoothie and the little ones have no idea that there's green foods in it, that there's peas, et cetera. So my son loves them. He's super picky, but he loves them. I walk away with that empty smoothie glass, relaxed, content. I’m happy knowing that he's consumed all that nutrition and I've given that advice to so many friends with kids and, you know, patients, moms that are worried about their kids not having the vegetables and fruits that they should. But yes, smoothies are fantastic. I think most moms that agree.

Wendy McLean (28:26): Yeah, absolutely. That's a great tip. You can hide everything in it. And so the next group was the plant-based athlete. I'm really interested in that, any top tips for the plant-based athlete.

Tanya Kwiez (28:40): Yeah. So professional athletes, it's really interesting, isn't it? There's just more and more really high-profile plant powered athletes now in the media. And then also on social media we have now of course, so it's kind of suggesting a potential rise and a continuing rise in vegan professional competitors, I think. So it's really interesting when you look at the plant-based diet and how it's been linked to reductions in inflammation and also in muscle fatigue after intense bouts of exercise as well. So athletes will tell you how these two factors are really crucial for faster recovery times. So you also want to know about those expert fueling strategies that will support you if you're a plant based athlete. So that includes obviously your foundational diet, which is often an anti-inflammatory diet. There's some specific foods that have been really well researched increasingly in a number of studies actually specifically antioxidants, tons of studies on antioxidants, which assist in improving inflammation in recovery periods, post exercise.

So you're talking about foods such as tart cherries, quercetin, black currents, pomegranate, blueberries, watermelon. And then of course there's our fantastic herbs Rhodiola rosea, is one of my favorite herbs in the world. That's been studied extensively for athletic performance. Then you've got CoQ10 and even evidence-based strains of specific probiotics. Now such as there's a range, a few ranges here in Australia, actually that have been specifically designed for the athlete. So they've been clinically proven to improve certain parameters in enhancing the professional athletes’ post exercise recovery. So I think we're going to start to see more and more plant-based nutrients, phytonutrients being studied.

Wendy McLean (30:31): Yeah. And certainly, curcumin has been studied as well for recovery.

Tanya Kwiez (30:37): Yeah, definitely. And Pycnogenol as well, that's been shown to produce a 21% increase in studies for endurance on a treadmill. So it's all about knowing what these evidence based phytochemicals and nutrients are, and then obviously knowing what they do. And there's just so much research now at our fingertips because the plant-based athlete is such a focus point at the moment.

Wendy McLean (30:58): Yeah, absolutely. And I think with the rise of athletes wanting to switch to plant-based, it's important that we have all this evidence for them in one area and not just random things on Google, you know? So a comprehensive guide.

Tanya Kwiez (31:14): I agree completely.

Wendy McLean (31:16): Oh, well, that's just been wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing firstly, your journey and experience, but then also this wealth of information as well about plant-based eating and living.

Tanya Kwiez (31:29): Ah, you're welcome. Thank you so much for having me. It was good fun.

Wendy McLean (31:32): Thanks Tanya. And thanks for tuning into this episode today. We appreciate your support and feel free to leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. Thank you.


Tanya Kwiez’s website