Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
What does your job as a vegan registered dietitian entail?
Interviewed by Dina Aronson
I mainly volunteer for The Vegetarian Resource Group as a nutrition advisor and nutrition editor for Vegetarian Journal. With VRG, I work on all sorts of projects. One ongoing job is responding to questions from readers and from visitors to our Web site. This week I fielded questions on high protein diets for vegetarians, diabetes during pregnancy, and iron supplements, among others. I also work with interns and students who are interested in learning more about vegetarian organizations. I write 2-3 columns for each issue of Vegetarian Journal, in addition to book reviews and occasional articles. I also review each issue before it's published and often work with authors of nutrition-related pieces to polish their articles. I do some free-lance writing and speaking also.
Are you working on any projects right now? Please tell us about them.
I'm just finishing up the second edition of The Dietitian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets with Ginny and Mark Messina. We've done a lot of work to present the newest information about vegetarianism for dietitians and other health care professionals. Simply Vegan, Debra Wasserman's and my book, is being revised and updated as are many of the nutrition sections of VRG's website.
We started our second year of homeschooling in September. Right now I'm working on units on the great depression and machines and inventions as well as coordinating a newspaper by and for homeschoolers. I'm also an assistant Brownie leader and am in the middle of making several quilts.
How long have you been vegan and why did you go vegan?
I've been vegan for the most part for about 15 years. I was already a vegetarian before becoming vegan. In college I was influenced by Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet and saw vegetarianism as a part of the solution to world hunger. Later, becoming vegan seemed like the right thing to do - eating animal products is obviously not necessary from a nutritional standpoint, and I hate the idea of harming animals. Of course, other considerations like health benefits and a non-violent philosophy also played a part in my going vegan.
What are some of your (and your children's) favorite meals and snacks?
Favorite meals (me): bagel with margarine or jelly; tomato and mustard sandwich; peanut butter and nectarine sandwich; huge stir-fry with lots of vegetables and tofu; veggie pizza; big salad with all sorts of vegetables and chickpeas.
Favorite meals (children): blueberry pancakes; fruit and soymilk shakes; bean tacos and burritos; peanut butter noodles; pasta and tomato sauce; sweet and spicy tofu; stir-fry with tofu, broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, and straw mushrooms; pizza.
Favorite snacks (me and children): peanut butter on rice cake, trail mix, cashew butter and crackers, fruit, carrot sticks, red pepper strips, pretzels, chocolate, popcorn, nuts, homemade cookies.
For families who want to transition to a vegan diet, what do you recommend is the best way to do this?
I've talked to families who ate meat one day and were vegan the next and to families who became vegan gradually over the course of years. Both approaches (and something in between also) seem to work. If children are involved and they're not the driving force in becoming vegan, it would probably help to find some vegan foods that they enjoy and figure out what can take the place of their absolute favorite non-vegan foods before just informing them that they are vegan. Clear, age-appropriate explanations of the reasons for the family's new diet are also essential.
What books and/or articles have you written?
Co-author of Simply Vegan, Co-author of Vegan & Vegetarian FAQ, Editor of The Vegan Handbook; lots of articles including vegan/vegetarian babies and children, pregnancy, soyfoods, vegetarian travel, vegetarian athletes, disaster planning for vegetarians, vegetarian menus using convenience foods; USDA's resource list on vegetarian nutrition; brochures for teens, heart healthy eating, pregnancy, infants, children.
Mainly for professionals: Co-author of Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets, co-author of A new food guide for North American vegetarians (both were published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2003), several articles on vegan infants and children and vegan pregnancy.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career as a registered dietitian?
Vegetarian nutrition is an enormous field. I work hard to keep up with the latest research in everything from soy to omega-3 fats to diet and heart disease to iodine and zinc. It's also a challenge to find time to do everything I want to do.
What is the most rewarding aspect of raising your children vegan?
I don't know if it's because they're vegan or not but my husband and I have wonderful children - they are thoughtful, caring, kind people. Simply being with them is a reward (most of the time).
What advice do you have for busy parents who don't have much time to prepare food and snacks for their kids?
Simple foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, low or no-sugar cereals, and breads are often the best snacks. Try to keep healthy foods around. If you don't buy junk food, it won't be there to tempt you when you're short of time. Choose convenience foods with some nutritional value. Foods like veggie burgers, canned beans, jarred pasta sauces, quick brown rice, frozen vegetables, etc can be a big help when you need to make quick meals. For years I've relied on Nava Atlas's Vegetarian Express for meals in less than 28 minutes. I've just started making some extra food on the weekend and freezing it to use on days when I don't have time to cook. Also, teach your children to prepare their own healthy snacks and even some meals or parts of meals. If everyone helps, it often goes a lot faster.
What advice do you have for dealing with other parents, teachers, and others that need to be told about their children's dietary needs?
I recommend being very clear about what your children will and won't eat and making suggestions for foods that will appeal to them and that are realistically possible. I often offer to send food with my children if other parents aren't sure they can accommodate their needs. For teachers or childcare providers, write it down. It's a lot for someone to remember who may not be that familiar about vegan diets. Check back to see how things are going. I've had so many wonderful teachers, other parents, and friends who have really gone out of their way to make sure my children had good food.