Eating more plant-based meals is the fastest way to shrink your carbon footprint. And beyond helping Mother Earth, you’ll also improve your own physical and mental health.

Fitness instructor and blogger, Ana Alarcón, has powered herself with plants for two years. We spoke with her about why she’s plant-based, how veganism affects her relationship with the planet, and how plants are all she needs to support her active lifestyle.

Splendid Spoon: Hey Ana! When and why did you become vegan?

Ana Alarcón: I first went vegan about nine years ago for health reasons. Sadly I wasn’t well informed about how to make veganism work for me: I was undereating and didn’t really know how to cook, so I quickly gave up. A few years later — March 13th, 2016 to be exact — I went vegan again, for the same health reasons.

SS: Have you always been health conscious?

Ana: It’s weird to look back but yes, I think I have been. I always knew that eating more fruits and veggies would keep me healthy. I’m Mexican, and there were lots of people with diabetes and heart issues in the community I grew up in. There’s several doctors in my family so I learnt early on that junk food was just that. However, that didn’t stop me from eating crap for many years! But I did always know what food choices I should be making.

SS: Has being vegan affected your relationship with our planet?

Ana: Totally! It’s amazing how much it’s affected my life and my views. A lot of the things that I do, like shopping, have been heavily influenced by veganism. I shy away from buying fast fashion, and try to be eco-friendly as much as I can.

SS: What made transitioning to a plant-based diet easier?

Ana: I’ve never had any issues, but it was important to be open-minded, try new foods, and be willing to cook more. The kitchen is definitely my happy place now: I love cooking different Mexican dishes and making them vegan. Learning to make vegan versions of my favorite meals was essential.

SS: You’re a fitness instructor so are incredibly active. We always hear that it’s hard for vegans to eat enough protein. Do you think this is true?

Ana: I get asked this so much! We often forget that plants do contain all the macronutrients your body needs. They may come in varying percentages, but they’re there! I make sure I eat a variety of foods like legumes, grains, greens, nuts and seeds to get all the macro and micro nutrients I need. My focus is always on micronutrient dense food rather than one macronutrient e.g. protein, as being vegan takes care of the macros for me!

SS: What does a day on your plate look like?

Ana: It changes in the summer time, but now, when it’s cold, my typical day is:

  • Oatmeal for breakfast. I add some nut butter, berries, maca, flax meal or chia seeds, and cacao powder. I have matcha or mushroom coffee on the side (with nut milk, cinnamon, and turmeric).
  • Salads are my go-to for lunch. I’ll normally have a big bed of mixed greens and purple cabbage and top it with baked tofu or tempeh, veggies (onion, zucchini, cucumber, pepper) some kind of carb (quinoa, potatoes), and avocado or tahini for healthy fats. I dress it with apple cider vinegar and liquid aminos.
  • I snack on fruit, healthy baked muffins, or energy balls that I make at home.
  • Dinner is when we get creative. Most of the time we’ll cook veggie or tempeh tacos, a pizza, or mushroom burger. There’s always tons of veggies involved!

SS: What’s your favorite post-workout meal?

Ana: A good smoothie. It’s simple and refreshing. I always include berries for antioxidants, turmeric for anti-inflammatory benefits, greens, and hemp seeds.

SS: How do you use your shopping choices to make a positive impact on the environment?

Ana: I buy in bulk to avoid excess packaging, choose organic produce to avoid pesticides, and buy local to support local farmers. I always bring my own bags to carry my shopping home. When it comes to clothes, I never buy fast fashion. Instead, I shop from ethical companies or go thrift shopping.

SS: How do you make it easier for yourself to stick to a healthy, plant-based diet?

Ana: I don’t overthink it. It might sound hard, but I just make it simple. I always have good quality foods at home, I cook healthier sweets or buy from a good brand if I feel like snacking, and I always remember that I love my body and want to treat it in the best way possible.

SS: What tip would you give someone who wants to incorporate more plant-based meals into their life?

Ana: Start adding more veggies to every meal, and make simple swaps, like nut milk for cow’s milk, or more legumes instead of meat. Also, try using animal products as a side rather than main part of the meal.