Dr. Ian K. Smith is a nationally recognized TV personality and author of over 20 books, several on the New York Time’s bestseller list. In his upcoming book “Plant Power,” Dr. Smith gives readers a simple four-week plan to flip their plate toward plant-based eating. He sits down with Joey Thurman to discuss his recent ventures into eating less animal-based products and more plants, which has improved his energy and overall health.
Joey Thurman: I'm here with Dr. Ian Smith on Talking Plant Protein, and he's got a new book coming out called Plant Power. Man, he's an author of 21 books coming up, podcast host, national TV host, overall good guy, and a good friend of mine, and I appreciate him coming on. Dr. Ian, thank you so much.
Dr. Ian Smith: Thanks for having me, man. Good to see it.
Joey Thurman: Part of your book... You break it down into different sections, and you do have what you call jigsaw weeks where... A lot of your other books were talking about animal proteins, but you specifically in this book go towards plants and eating more plants. Why did you do that?
Dr. Ian Smith: Well let me just say, I have been a meat eater, a carnivore my entire life, also an omnivore, but for sure I've leaned towards eating meat. I like meat. I like the taste of it. I like the high protein content. But I'm also... I'm getting older, and I read like everybody else. I do my research. And I realized that there's a lot that goes with red meat. I mean a lot, a lot of bad stuff. Yeah, the taste is great, by the way, but there are other things, everything from how the beef is raised, to climate change, to the actual chemicals that come from cooking meat. And so I just felt like at this stage in my life I need to go more plant-based.
So I decided to go predominantly plant-based. I still want to eat meat. I want to have fish. I'm more of a pescatarian. Every once in a while I want a good steak or burger, but it's going to be predominantly based. So it's not going to be vegan or vegetarian. I think that's a big distinction. So my new book next year, is called Plant Power, which is going to be that kind of situation. How do you take somebody who eats 30% vegetables and fruits and 70% animal products and flip it? And so that's what Plant Power will do, and that's what I've done in my own personal life.
Joey Thurman: That makes sense. So that's still plant-based, depending on... I mean, if you're 51% plants, you're plant-based, based off of your definition.
Dr. Ian Smith: Yes. So my definition of plant-based is that, as you just said, that you are predominantly going to be eating plant-based foods. If you are vegan or vegetarian, obviously that's also plant-based, but that's strictly plant-based. And so plant-based, to me, is 51% or 50 point whatever percent that are plant-based foods of your total calories. That, to me, is plant-based.
Joey Thurman: Yeah, okay. So what are your favorite sources of plant-based protein? Because obviously you still want to maintain muscle tissue.
Dr. Ian Smith: Yes.
Joey Thurman: [Crosstalk 00:02:30] as we get older we get sarcopenia, muscle wasting, so we want to have that protein. What do you go for when you're looking for a plant-based source?
Dr. Ian Smith: I love lentils. I love chickpeas, garbanzo beans. So any kind of legume, I love them. I went to Morocco a few years back, which is the ideal of plant-based and eating non-animal protein, and it's just fantastic. And what I didn't realize before was all the different types of dishes that you can create even with these ingredients. It sounds kind of boring, like, "Oh, blah, blah, blah." But there's so much you can create that's tasty. I love hummus now. I didn't like hummus before.
Joey Thurman: Man, hummus should be an extra food group. I remember when I was with [Harry Connick Jr. 00:03:12] I was making a plant-based chili. And I said, "Harry, here's the deal. Some people shouldn't be doing dairy, so let's do roasted red pepper." And he looked at me. He's like, "Man, I'm going to tell you if I don't like this." And I put this big scoop of roasted red pepper in there, and he tried it, and he gave me the biggest hug. He's like, "That's brilliant." [crosstalk 00:03:27].
Dr. Ian Smith: It's delicious.
Joey Thurman: Hummus is absolutely delicious.
Dr. Ian Smith: Roasted red pepper is my favorite hummus flavor, but the beauty of hummus is so many different flavors too. And so, so for me, chickpeas, lentils, any kind of legume is just wonderful.
Joey Thurman: So when you started going towards... You're getting older, and you wanted to have more plant-based. Was there a change in your mental mindset? Did you feel better joints? Did you feel like you had more energy?
Dr. Ian Smith: So I've been doing it for about six weeks. And my family never noticed, by the way. I'm like, "Geez guys, I've been doing this." Because we were at dinner the other night, and my son says to me, "You're going to get the steak, the rib eye." Because I love rib eye. I was like, "Nope. I'm not eating steak." "Why not?" I was like, "Well, you guys haven't noticed, but I've been eating more plants, plant-based foods." "Really?" I was like, "Holy cow." So for six weeks...
So anyway, so I have felt lighter. My energy level is really high. I sleep better. My stomach feels better. You know what I mean? I don't feel sluggish. So I've had real impact from eating more plant-based foods. But also, I also feel like... This may sound corny, but I feel like it's also more environmentally friendly. When you research and look at how livestock is raised and treated and processed, it kind of turns you off actually.
Joey Thurman: So going more plant-based what excites you with the plant-based industry, and walking into a supermarket now, and you can see a plethora of things that aren't just like a vegan cookie? Now you see a lot of different options.
Dr. Ian Smith: What most excites me about the plant-based industry where it is now is that they are starting to realize to attract people like me, who also wants to have some meat every once in a while, that you have to make the products tasty. I don't want to feel like I'm eating grass. I just don't. I don't want to taste grass. And sometimes these products have no flavor profile whatsoever. And so I think that the industry has realized, "Wow, we can grow even more if we make it tasty." And it's not hard to make it tasty, by the way. And you don't have to make it tasty by having bad, unhealthy ingredients in it. It's just about how you formulate it. And so I'm excited, because I think that the plant-based manufacturers realize there's an opportunity, and they're now making adjustments so that everyone likes it and it's tasty.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. So what about the industry now? I mean, you go into a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or anything that has all of these good options, and you're seeing them more. Do you feel like companies are going to have an easier time now getting a plant-based product into those stores, whereas opposed to maybe five, 10 years ago it was harder?
Dr. Ian Smith: Listen, plant-based is hot, and I think it's more than a trend. I think it's going to stay here for a very long time. Sorry for the meat eaters, which I'm still part of. But I think that people are pushing away red meat and wanting more plant-based products, which means that that demand is going to keep manufacturers and retailers wanting to keep the supply high. So I think that more plant-based and hopefully smaller companies, because I don't think that big, gigantic companies should always take the shelf space, but hopefully more independent boutique companies can get into these stores and offer their product. And I think that the more product that's out there, the more attractive it's going to be for a larger swath of the population.
Joey Thurman: What about somebody who was like you six, seven weeks ago, who's trying to make that transition from maybe having like a meatless Monday or a flesh-free Friday, something along those lines? How can they go towards having a little bit more plants?
Dr. Ian Smith: I think the first thing is mental. I think people have to first accept that it's going to be a change. And then you have to do it gradually. I don't think that this is a transition you make abruptly. So for me, I just weaned myself down a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and then at some point I didn't miss it anymore. Every once in a while I have a thing for beef brisket, so guess what? I don't eat it a lot anymore, so I'll go get it. So when you actually are able to make the adjustment in a gradual manner, then it becomes stickier, and it becomes something you don't struggle with.
Joey Thurman: So you're allowing yourself that opportunity, as opposed to people who are trying to go cold turkey with stopping smoking or anything like that. Often that's when, and you and I know this better than a lot of people, is when you try to go on a specific diet or workout regimen, and you do that for a certain amount of time, and then you just hit a wall, and then you just go and engorge. If you giving yourself that opportunity, is what you're saying?
Dr. Ian Smith: I've always believed that when you deprive yourself in an accelerated fashion, very abruptly, it just... For most people it's just not going to work. It's going to have all kinds of backlash that you're going to experience. So it's the gradual method. It's slowly weaning yourself. It's opening your your palate, opening your mind to new things. And for me, that was most effective. And so now I don't feel guilty. By the way, there's also this guilt part. When you're trying to get away from something and you go back and have it, then you feel guilty that you're having it. And you don't want those kinds of emotions to run through you when you're trying to do something as difficult as making that kind of transition to plant-based.
Joey Thurman: And you touched on something earlier, that your family didn't even notice. If you would have said, "Hey, I'm going plant-based. I'm going vegan," they might have been like, "What are you eating, Dad? What are you doing?" But by you doing that slowly... Often I tell people, if you're going on a diet, maybe don't tell people about that, because then you're under a microscope, and some people try to derail you as fast as possible.
Dr. Ian Smith: So there are two schools of thought. There's your school of thought, what you just said, which is the idea is don't tell people, because then they won't pressure you and won't micro-analyze you or what you're doing, put you under a microscope. That's good. But the other school of thought is that, well, if you do tell people, and they love you and want to support you, then they can help you. So you become accountable to them in the best case scenario. So if I'm saying to someone, "Listen, I'm not really doing a lot of red meat," maybe when we go eat, they also will not order red meat ,because they know that they don't want me to see that. So it can kind of go both ways. In my case, they just weren't paying attention. And when I mentioned it, I'll be honest, I wanted a little high-five, a little pat on the back. I got zero. So anyway, it depends on your environment.
Joey Thurman: Good job.
Dr. Ian Smith: Thank you, man.
Joey Thurman: I appreciate that. I appreciate it.
Dr. Ian Smith: Thank you. I needed it.
Joey Thurman: So what are your thoughts on plant-based meats and plant-based burgers?
Dr. Ian Smith: You know, it's interesting. Doing my research on my new book, Plant Power, I actually looked at it, and what I realized is that a lot of these meat substitutes are extremely unhealthy. And the reason why they're unhealthy is because they're trying to imitate the texture and the flavor of meat. Well, meat is meat, and it's very difficult to imitate it without doing some bad things to food. And so when people say, "Well, I'm going to buy this burger or that burger..." There are very few out there, I won't mention their name, but there are very few out there that really are lower in calories, lower in saturated fats, because that's what you're worried about. You're worried about the sodium, the fat, also the level of iron, by the way. A lot of these products are putting a lot of heme to give the color of meat, and it's too much iron.
Joey Thurman: Because heme is only available in meat, and they're trying to add that heme iron.
Dr. Ian Smith: Exactly. And it's too much iron. I mean, you can have too much iron. And so you have to be very careful about meat replacements, these burgers. But that being said, I see the market going into a way that they're developing better products. So they're paying attention not just to flavor profile and texture, but also to what the ingredients are to make it healthy.
Joey Thurman: Okay, so you're seeing eventually there being much more products predominantly that are healthier that are a meat-based burger or product like that?
Dr. Ian Smith: 100%. But people have to also realize that meat is meat, and you're not going to get meat, so you got to kind of... You got to have it one way or the other. You can't say, I want to go plant-based," and then you still want a burger that tastes like a burger. That's very difficult to do.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. A burger is a burger, and a plant-based burger is a plant-based burger.
Dr. Ian Smith: A bean burger is a bean burger, and appreciate that it's a bean burger and it's not a meat burger, and don't compare them. Enjoy it for what it is.
Joey Thurman: What about all these alternative cheeses? How have you looked into that?
Dr. Ian Smith: You know, plant-based cheese, it tastes awful. And the reason why it tastes awful is because of our expectations. We expect it to taste like regular cheese. And so I believe that plant-based cheeses are really healthy, and they can be very good on the face of themselves, which means that you have to develop an acquired taste for what a plant-based cheese tastes like. But I do believe that they're going to get better and that they're going to get closer to what we expect a cheese to taste like. But it's not the same thing. We're removing dairy from it for a reason. And so I think people have to get used to it.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. Sometimes the melting point of it's a little different. And if you do it in a chili or a sauce, I think it's much better. But if somebody is trying to add it to a plant-based taco, I think that they're going to have that texture thing. And you made a good point. We did interview with a company at the plant [inaudible 00:12:32] in Chicago, and I said, "Oh, this is like a burger." He's like, "No, it's a meat-like product, but it's not..." And to your exact point, he wasn't comparing burger to burger. He was like, "A burger only tastes like a burger, and cheese only tastes like cheese." So that makes a ton of sense.
Dr. Ian Smith: And I think you're absolutely right. I think that people have to look at where they put it. It's where you put it and what you put it with that makes it more palatable. But if you make it a major ingredient of a dish, that's going to be very difficult, because your expectation is that it's going to give you what you got in the old non-plant-based cheese.
Joey Thurman: All right. Kale or spinach?
Dr. Ian Smith: Kale.
Joey Thurman: Blueberries or apples?
Dr. Ian Smith: Blueberries.
Joey Thurman: Spandex or sweats?
Dr. Ian Smith: That's easy. Sweats. I'm old-school.
Joey Thurman: As he's wearing sweats right now. Dr. Ian Smith. He's a stud and just an overall good guy.