Ebony McCorkell is an accredited dietitian, vegan and passionate chef. With a wealth of knowledge on various food topics, we decided to find out a little about her journey, how she helps clients and where she eats vegan on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria. Enjoy the chat with Ebony.
Tell us a little about you, your work & your vegan journey
I’m an accredited practising dietitian and chef. I work in private practice in the bayside region of Melbourne. My main areas of interest are: repairing damaged relationships with food, intuitive eating, gut health, and healthy vegan diets throughout the lifecycle including pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy and childhood.
My vegan journey is a long one! I adopted a vegetarian diet when I was in grade 4 after making the connection between meat and animal death, for a long time I was oblivious to the cruelty in the egg and dairy industries – and I naively believed these animal products were necessary for proper nutrition, but throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate studies in nutrition and dietetics I slowly started to realise this was not the case and went vegan when I started my masters without looking back.
Why do you think that a vegan diet is a healthy way for people to eat?
I think this question makes too broad of a generalisation to answer. There is no one perfect diet for all people, I’m happy to say why a vegan diet is healthy for me though. The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In that way, veganism is health promoting for me because I have access to ample food, education, and resources to consume a vegan diet which does not put me at risk of poor nutrition, it helps me live a life aligned with my morals which helps my mental health, and it has introduced me to a community of people who share my core beliefs and ethics, thus promoting my social well-being.
Fear plays a big part in people not wanting to go down the ‘vegan road’ what do you say to those who fear they won’t be getting adequate nutrition from a vegan diet?
This is an extremely complex question. If someone simply needs guidance on how to be well-nourished on a vegan diet then they should seek out a dietitian who is competent in vegan nutrition to assist them on their journey, it’s completely okay and responsible to have someone hold your hand through this transition. If the fear comes from a deeper place, say a background of food insecurity, or chronic dieting and you’re worried that the restriction is going to be triggering to you then I would say give yourself permission to put the idea of veganism on the backburner and work with a psychologist and dietitian (who is educated in eating disorders, even if you do not believe you have an eating disorder, they will be your best bet) to repair your relationship with food so you can make sustainable changes that don’t cause panic or distress. As vegans we’re usually concerned about animal welfare, I understand it’s inherently stressful to continue contributing to this system, but if we are constantly triggering ourselves through reading food labels or by having excessive control over everything we eat, we end up risking our own mental and physical health. This path is not only causing you harm, but it is also unnecessary and unsustainable, and shouldn’t be expected of you. If your transition to veganism isn’t a peaceful one, then it might not be the right time for you and it’s okay to revisit the idea when you’re ready.
What are some things vegans can do to ensure once they are vegan, that they maintain healthy nutrition levels? any regular steps?
1) Eat enough food. The biggest thing I see in my practice is people who go WFPB and lose a whole bunch of weight thinking that’s healthy and when I do a nutritional analysis on them it turns out they’re eating about half of their recommended energy requirements, significantly undereating protein, and ‘in the red’ for almost all vitamins. Weight loss is a red flag, no matter what your size is. Rapid weight loss usually signifies a very large gap between your needs and your intake and puts you at greater risk of malnutrition. It’s not a sign you’re just becoming super dooper healthy. When you’re not eating enough energy, it’s extremely difficult to eat enough vitamins, minerals, and proteins so if your body is changing, get your diet quality checked by a dietitian. If you want your vegan diet to be sustainable, it has to be safe.
2) Listen to your dietitian, who is giving you personalised advice, based on your individual circumstances, using their multiple years of study and clinical practice over any website/video/book or whatever other generic source you’ve found, even if it’s written by a doctor. They don’t know you, they aren’t sitting across from you, they don’t have access to your medical records and they haven’t written their advice for you. Most likely their advice is skewed for one particular audience and is written to the absolute extreme to make it sexy and exciting to fuel sales.
3) Take your B12 supplement, don’t believe anyone who says you can get enough B12 from unwashed organic vegetables or dirty water. Also before anyone says anything, duckweed has not been clinically shown to be able to improve b12 levels in humans so it’s still just an interesting discovery rather than anything of clinical significance, you should not be replacing your b12 supplement with duckweed.
What are some nutrient-rich meal ideas you suggest to vegans?
Haha. Nutrient-rich is such a confusing term for a dietitian. All foods contain nutrients. If you need more of one particular nutrient then you’re best off searching that up (or again, speaking to a dietitian). It reminds me of this tongue in cheek post I made on one of my Instagram accounts which aimed to show how many nutrient claims I could make for my regular old curry and bread. The same is true for anything, a quick lil analysis I did on two white potatoes roasted in canola oil revealed if I was trying to sell that product I’d be eligible to make no less than 18 nutrient content claims and then a whole bunch of health claims on top of it. For most people, the difficulty is being hung up on LESS details, not more. Eat what feels good!
What’s your Vegan ‘cheat’ meal?
I don’t believe in cheat meals because I believe that all vegan foods have equivalent moral value. I eat whatever I want whenever I want it, without restriction, guilt, or the feeling that I’m ‘cheating’.
Note: Ebony also recommended that anyone interested in learning more about ‘diet culture’ should:
“listen to FoodPsych podcasts or read Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon or Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole. FoodPsych is occasionally critical of veganism but I believe we need to stay critical to stay safe and keep moving forward.”
Who do you look to for information, knowledge & learning in the vegan space?
Specifically for vegan nutrition queries, mostly senior US dietitians Ginny Messina (The Vegan RD), Taylor Wolfram (taylorwolframrd), and Jack Norris (VeganHealth.Org), but I also have a little peer group of vegan dietitians across Australia and we all help each other with little questions and feedback on materials. In other aspects of veganism, I love the work of some more political and social influencers like Carol J Adams, The Bearded Vegans, and Chelsea Lincoln (@fatveganvoice).
You’re from Melbourne, tell us some of your favourite vegan eateries/cafes/brands
There are soooooooooo many places with amazing vegan menus, it’s hard to just name a few! I’ll stick to my faves in the bayside/peninsula region because they’re not usually talked about and where I go most when I’m working. In no particular order, I’d suggest checking out: Nature Café – Frankston, Hugo’s Donuts – Frankston, Assaggini – Mornington, Rebel Donuts – Mornington, Saki Souvlaki – Cheltenham, Papa G’s Pizza – Mornington, and Sabari Saravanaa Bavan – Carrum Downs.
Who should we interview next?
I think I’d like to hear from Melissa Gray – @whole.green.health
Thank you so much Ebony, some really great advice in here about truly healthy eating habits and how we can look at our relationship with the food we eat.
To follow more of Ebony’s work and journey see her links below and be sure to follow her on the socials.