Interview with Amy Lanou, PhD

interview with Dr. Amy Lanou

The following is an interview with Amy Lanou, PhD. A long-time vegan, Dr. Lanou is the co-author of Building Bone Vitality, and she has acquired a wealth of experience with bone health on a plant-based diet.

Could you share a bit about what you currently do?

I am a nutrition professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville. I also Chair the Department which means that I teach nutrition, food politics and nutrition policy and other health related classes and I lead a team of talented teacher scholars in serving students and communities in Western North Carolina.

How long have you been plant-based, and what initially led you to the plant-based lifestyle?

I have been vegan since January of 1996 so about 22 years. I learned when I was in college that I have high cholesterol (despite that fact that was was a runner, student of nutrition who was semi-vegetarian and at the low end of the healthy weight range). I found my way to a low-fat plant-based eating style in order to avoid taking statin drugs. At that time, they had not yet been tested on women (especially those of child-bearing age).

Was there anything you found to be the biggest obstacle to making the transition?

Changing habits. It took moving to a different city to stop drinking a skim milk latte each morning. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the people at the coffee bar who knew my order by heart and started making it when they saw me walking down the hill to the cafe. I also thought it wouldn’t taste good with soy milk.

Are there any health benefits that you have experienced or that you most commonly see in others?

When I finally stopped having my one skim milk latte and an occasional bit of parmesan or blue cheese, my cholesterol dropped 50 additional points. I also experience much fewer allergy symptoms (I am quite allergic to cats and dogs). And I am able to live with cats (with some precautions taken) now without too much trouble.
With others, I think most people have some thing that changes that they didn’t expect…better sleep, lessened digestive issues, better skin, etc. 

Do you have any advice for someone just going plant-based, especially if they are concerned about the lack of dairy, calcium intake, and bone health? Should people be concerned about their children not getting enough calcium?

This is a hard one for me to give a brief answer to….
Cow’s milk (and products made from it) are not necessary foods. Mother’s milk or formula is required for infants, but there is no need for children or adults to consume cow’s milk or other dairy products. Bones need 17 different nutrients to grow and stay strong, a healthy internal body environment (low acid and nutrient dense), and a reason to grow and stay strong (movement). The importance of calcium specifically to bones has been overstated by governments and the dairy industry. If you want to talk about this one, I would be happy to set up at time to talk.

interview with Dr. Amy Lanou

Are there any plant foods you would recommend consuming more of if someone is worried about getting adequate calcium?

Cabbage family vegetables (greens–collards, cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) and beans (of any type). The foods are rich in calcium and have very high calcium absorption fractions (about double the absorption of fluid cow’s milk).

How much emphasis do you think should be put on eating low fat? Is there a general fat percentage you would recommend staying below?

Because of my focus on preventing heart disease, I recommend that people shoot for 20% of calories or less for prevention and roughly 10% of calories if they are living with heart disease. More and more evidence suggests that at least fats from animal sources and other sources of saturated fat need to be limited for avoiding dementia, some types of cancer, and diabetes as well.

Beyond food, what other aspects do you find essential for healthful living?

Having a purpose (a reason to get up in the morning), community, connection with nature, rest, and more….

What does a typical day of eating look like for you? And what are your favourite go-to meals on busy nights?

My favorite breakfast is yellow corn grits, grilled mushrooms (with or without onions or scallions), sauteed greens, avocado, tomato, and a bit of chipotle hot sauce.
Lunch is usually salad with hearty toppings, a quick soup or leftovers from the night before.
Go to quick dinners….

Pasta with home made pesto and cherry tomatoes and a green vegetable (eg. green beans and mushrooms)
Sweet potato, corn, green vegetable, and a veggie meat (often with BBQ sauce)
Thai red curry vegetables with rice

Are there any tips, tools, or resources that you recommend or that you have found really help you or others you know with this lifestyle?

Plant Pure and NutritionMD (I helped to write some of this information) both have great information and recipes.  

[Note: You can also view an interview with Dr. Lanou on PlantPure TV.]

Is there anything else you would like to share for someone still getting used to living plant-based, particularly in regards to gaining confidence in plant-based nutrition?

Don’t worry about being perfect. Think about the fresh whole foods that you like and lean on those until your recipe/meal palate expands. For example if you especially like potatoes, rice, corn, carrots, black beans, cabbage, tomatoes, apples….think about the dishes you like those in and then look for vegan versions of those dishes. Don’t worry about the unfamiliar ingredients…chia, gogi, flax, coconut sugar, nutritional yeast, etc…
With those 7 ingredients you could eat well:
Breakfast of applesauce on oats with cinnamon
Lunch bowl of rice and corn topped with black beans and tomatoes
Dinner of oven roasted potatoes and carrots, with steamed cabbage and apples, black bean dip with tortilla chips
Hopefully, you get the idea. The most important thing is to work with mostly whole food ingredients. Buy them locally or pick them from your garden, and when possible sustainably raised. Cook them simply and season with herbs and spices rather than fats and dairy.

Further Resources recommended by Dr. Lanou:

“Preventing Osteoporosis: Building Strong Bones Over a Lifetime” by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD (on The Vegetarian Resource Group website)

“Parents’ Guide to Building Better Bones” (on Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis–Without Dairy Foods, Calcium, Estrogen, or Drugs by Amy Lanou and Michael Castleman  

Related: Top 25 Plant-Based Professionals’ Websites

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