Michelle Blackwood is a vegan and gluten-free Caribbean chef and cookbook author sharing recipes on Healthier Steps. She’s also a registered nurse and focuses on healthy meals that nourish the body and taste great. She initially went vegan two decades ago in hopes that the plant-based diet would help alleviate symptoms from medical diagnoses.

Here, in an exclusive interview with The Beet, Blackwood talks about her meal plan during the pandemic, her love of curries, and her sage tips for going vegan. She shows that plants are medicine and can help heal our bodies while also making for flavorful meals. We think her input will encourage you to consider the health benefits of a vegan diet.

TB: What motivated you to switch to a vegan diet?

MB: As a Christian, my first inspiration to go plant-based was from the bible, Gen 1:29 'And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you, it shall be for meat.'

I went vegan for health reasons, I was suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. I had two steroid shots and decided I didn't want to get a third. I changed my lifestyle, by switching to a vegan diet and lost weight and the symptoms disappeared.

I remember 22 years ago when I started how difficult it was. We had very few resources; we relied mostly on bland recipes. Today, we have lots of creative recipes and resources at our disposal. Then veganism was frowned up, today it’s a trend. I'm thankful that I never gave up and I'm so happy so many more people are enjoying the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

TB: What’s a normal day of meals for you?

MB: Currently, I'm on am on one meal a day (OMAD) plan. Due to all the stresses happening in society and reduced activity I decided to switch to an OMAD diet. After all, I don't need the extra calories if I'm not burning them.

On an OMAD plan, I consume all my meals for the day in one or two hours. I eat until I'm satisfied. I drink water and herbal tea throughout the day.

TB: What is your favorite vegan restaurant?

MB: My favorite vegan restaurant is Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Orlando, Florida.

TB: What is your favorite vegan meal to cook?

MB: I have to say any dish with curry, so I love to make curry chickpea, curry potato, cabbage curry. I curry a lot of ingredients.

TB: What is one ingredient you can't live without?

MB: Thyme, I use this herb in most of my dishes all year round.

TB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to go vegan?

MB: Remove 'temptation foods' from your refrigerator or pantry if your family is supportive. Start by making vegan versions of your favorite dishes. For instance, if you love macaroni and cheese, do a vegan version, etc. Don't go shopping when you are hungry, you’ll be more tempted to cave in and eat non-vegan foods.

TB: As an RN, can you share some of the health benefits of following a plant-based diet?

MB: There are plenty of health benefits that come with eating a plant-based diet. The first thing is that plant foods are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, they all function to keep your cells healthy and boost the immune system.

A plant-based diet is also high in fiber while meat has no fiber. Fiber is beneficial for gut health. increasing the feeling of satiety. Fiber also helps with weight loss. relieves constipation. lowers blood sugar and reduces cholesterol levels.

TB: What are some challenges you sometimes face being gluten-free in addition to being vegan?

MB: At first, it was difficult to be gluten-free as well as being vegan. The bread on the market tasted like cardboard but nowadays there are quite a few brands that have pretty decent bread. I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting with making baked goods, so it was frustrating at times for me when the recipe failed. The ingredients were not cheap!

TB: If you had 30 minutes to exercise what would your workout look like?

MB: We live on a 66-acre property so I now walk for 1-3 hours daily around a lake. I haven't been to the gym since the shut down due to COVID in march.

TB: What is your go-to smoothie recipe?

MB: I love my green smoothie with moringa leaves, almond milk, and banana.

TB: Do you have a mantra or thought/words to live by?

MB: 'Don't ever give up, keep going forward even if you make small steps'