Tackling Health Challenges Through Plant Centered Nutrition With Ashley Kitchens, RD, MPH

Tackling Health Challenges Through Plant Centered Nutrition With Ashley Kitchens, RD, MPH


Watch the episode here


We are in a system that is sick-care based. But we need to be more than that in order to really address the root of our health challenges. Our guest in this episode found the connection between her struggles with lifelong GI issues and plant-based nutrition. Now, she is on her path to healing. Joining Corinna Bellizzi is Ashley Kitchens, RD, MPH, a nationally recognized plant-based registered dietitian and spokesperson. She founded her company, Plant Centered Nutrition, to help others transition to a plant-centered way of eating through a holistic approach and intuitive eating practices. In this conversation, she tells us her story of using plant-based eating to heal herself. Ashley also talks about the challenges women often face as they navigate the healthcare system. Follow along with Ashley and Corinna as they show the power of plants to not only heal you from health challenges but also keep you healthy.


Key takeaways from this episode:

  • What is plant-centered and how can it support your health journey
  • How to have the most effective nutrient-absorption
  • The challenges women face with healthcare
  • Healthcare versus sick care
  • Plant-based diet recommendations


Guest Social Links:

Website: https://plantcenterednutrition.us

Instagram: https://instagram.com/plantcenterednutrition

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleykitchens


Tackling Health Challenges Through Plant Centered Nutrition With Ashley Kitchens, RD, MPH

We're kicking off Women's Healthcare Month with Ashley Kitchens, a nationally recognized plant-based registered dietician and spokesperson. She founded her company, Plant Centered Nutrition, after using plant-based eating to heal herself of lifelong GI issues. She recognized that there was a need for others who could also benefit from a diet filled with more plants.

She's made it her mission to help others transition to a plant-centered way of eating through a holistic approach and intuitive eating process. She even hosts a podcast called Plant Centered Nutrition. On top of being an RD, Ashley graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Master's in Public Health and Nutrition in 2011. Ashley, you've got quite the story. Welcome to the show.

Thank you. I'm so glad to be here.

I'm thrilled that we get to talk about public health issues at the same time that we learn your story. Ultimately, we are in a system that is a little bit more sick-care based than healthcare-based. As we kick off this month on May Day with Women's Health, we need to be thinking about how we support women throughout their life journeys, and learning from you about your personal story is a great place to start. I understand too that you got your start in life growing up on a cattle farm where they were farmed for beef. Being fully plant-centered is quite something. Tell us that story.

That's correct. I never expected to be plant-based. It just happened. Part of that was because, for twenty-plus years, I was managing sick care, essentially. I was managing my symptoms. I was managing these lifelong GI issues that I was struggling with. As much as I enjoyed being raised on an Angus cattle farm and even at that time, I enjoyed eating meat and dairy and all those things, I wasn't making that connection on the impact that it was having on my body and my health.

My parents struggled to make that connection. The doctors I was going to were struggling to make that connection. It wasn't until I became a dietitian. Corinna, I learned very little about plant-based nutrition when going through school. That was a while ago, but there was very little discussion about how we can prevent these things, especially for women who are going through chronic diseases, health concerns, and hormonal issues. A lot of it was how we can manage these symptoms or this sick care.

That's what was happening. After becoming a dietician, I was teaching patients and clients how to help manage their GI issues. I was like, “If it's not working for me, who's to say that it's going to be working for them?” At the time, I wasn't plant-based. I was eating a "healthy diet." I was moving my body, exercising, eating lots of fiber, and drinking lots of water.

To be very honest with you, I was struggling very heavily with chronic constipation. I was going to the bathroom maybe once a week or once every ten days and I had to use medication to help my body go to the bathroom. I basically came to this fork in the road where I was looking at my life and the medications that I was on and knowing that I'm going to continue increasing the dosage of these medications or I can maybe take a harder look at what I'm putting into my body to see if it has an impact on how I'm feeling. That's what started this whole plant-based journey for me. I felt very disingenuous in my message. I knew that something had to change in the way that I was eating so that I could help clients truly transform with how they were feeling.

I do want to start by helping people understand why somebody who has an RD might not have a deeper understanding of nutrition from different sources than you might expect. I've been in the nutrition field for a long time, working to formulate supplements, and collaborating with a lot of RDs. I have been to different conferences where medical doctors and registered dieticians abound.

What I noticed is a common thread between most MDs and most RDs, where the RDs go to food first. The doctors go to treatment first, but neither is looking at supplements that can help you on your journey or specific nutrients that come from specific foods where it's more of a culinary medicine perspective that doesn't look at that. They're not necessarily looking at what herbs might help you or what other tools could be in your toolshed to support health.

I found that surprising because, at one point, I was considering going to get my RD, having been in this industry now for many years. I started to look at the curriculum. I was looking at the continuing education courses you had to take and things like that. I was like, “This isn't as much nutrition as I want it to be from a functional perspective.” It was very surprising.

Retrospectively, it was surprising as well, especially being plant-based. I'm sure, I hope, it's a little bit different now in what's being taught that food can be an incredibly powerful form of medicine in a way. I truly believe that as much as I love my education, I've had to do a lot of extensive research to figure out how I can take someone who's suffering with their health. Possibly maybe put their Type 2 diabetes into remission, how to lower their cholesterol without medications, these things I wasn't necessarily taught in school.

Food can be an incredibly powerful form of medicine.

As we get to talk about specific health conditions, I'm going to butt in here with that health disclaimer. This show is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure. If you have a specific health condition like high cholesterol or whatever it is, you should be working with a medical professional who is skilled in that particular arena. This is not medical advice.

That was a good reminder.

We got connected a bit because I was following you on social channels and looking at the work that you're doing to help people understand Plant Centered Nutrition. On this show, we've also interviewed other individuals who helped us divine plant-based and plant-centered and who revealed that vegan and plant-based are not necessarily synonymous. Let's talk about what plant-centered is and how that can support the health journey of women around the globe.

Plant-based or plant-centered eating is your diet consisting primarily of plants. For a vegan diet, it's very easy to define what that is, what it looks like, or what that lifestyle means. For plant-based, there's a bit more nuance. I always say, especially when I'm working with women, it's up to you and how you want to define it and how you want to label yourself. Do you have to be 100% plant-based and have no animal products whatsoever?

If that doesn't feel right to you and you want some more flexibility with the way that you're eating, then that's okay. It's helpful to approach plant-based eating in a way that most of your plate is plants primarily. If you want some flexibility because you still enjoy eating meat or dairy, then that's okay too. We got to figure out a way where you can eat more plants in a way that feels best for you without having it feel restrictive or anything like that.

You mentioned a health condition as well that many will relate to, which is chronic constipation. I came off of an episode where I interviewed Dr. Doni Wilson about women's health, stress and, in general, the sorts of things that you might confront when you're overstressed and your cortisol and adrenal levels are completely out of whack. We talked a lot about migraines.

There's another thing that women can be very familiar with. More women suffer from migraines. Migraines and stress are closely related. Constipation can also be related to stress, but it can also be that you can have the direct opposite response when you're overstressed and get irritable bowel syndrome, where you literally can't hold anything in and you aren't absorbing the nutrients.

As we look at women's health in general, we understand that we can be over-constipated or also get a loose stool, depending on how stressed we are that we can have these polar opposite reactions based on our stress levels or what we're consuming. How do you counsel people in your work to ensure that they have the most effective nutrient absorption and ultimately don't end up in either of these polar extremes?

Many women do. They either come to me and maybe they're chronically constipated or diagnosed with IBS or loose stools and they're struggling like, “I can't figure out what the problem is.” Oftentimes, it's not just one thing. It might not just be stress. It could be related to depression, anxiety, or grief. It could be related to the food that you're eating or how much sleep you're getting. There are so many factors that play into your GI health and how things are moving throughout your GI system that need to be looked at as a whole.

Try to take a holistic approach instead of trying to pinpoint this one thing that you think is going to work. What often happens is when we start introducing more plants into the diets, that helps cultivate this incredible microbiome in your gut that can help benefit how things are moving throughout your GI system. For some people, it might take a few months to get things going naturally.

For some people, it might take years for them to heal their GI system, to heal their gut, and to heal their gut lining. It might even take special resources, tools, or even medications or supplements to help them improve their overall gut bacteria. It takes time. More than anything, I want people to know that it's not a quick fix. There's no quick fix, especially when it comes to your GI system. It takes time to figure out what's going to work best for you, especially when we look at nutrition and the food that you're putting into your body.

I think we shouldn't negate too. If we've been living in a sick care system and we have over-consumed things like antibiotics that have killed off both the good and the bad bacteria several times throughout our lives, then we don't have the seed that's needed to have a healthy gut microbiome. To your point, eating healthy more plant-based foods that are high in fiber, prebiotics and things like that can cultivate a healthy gut microbiome.

While many supplements available in the probiotic sphere are abundant in the marketplace, they may or may not survive to the spot you want them, depending on how stable they are, what strain they are, and other issues that you might be confronting in your digestion. Ultimately, one supplement can work great for one person and not always the best for somebody else.

I think it's so easy to see these shiny objects on social media. It's like, “This worked for me,” but again, it goes back to you have to figure out what's going to work best for you because of exactly what you're saying. Just because it worked well for somebody else doesn't mean that it's also going to work well for you.

NWC 55 | Plant-Centered Nutrition


I look at things like people who have been chronically constipated might go to a health food store and somebody hands them some silica husks. They go and throw that in a blender with a protein shake and they go to the bathroom, but it's not a normal stool. I don't know how else to put it. It's racist to your system.

That's the thing. A lot of these things, which can be great in the short term, are likely not long-term fixes. They might be putting a Band-Aid on the situation. That's where things may take time to uncover what's going on with your GI system.

We know that some of the products out there may not work, but what do you tend to lean on? I have a few favorites in the probiotic space personally that I've found that seems to work for almost everybody, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

There are some incredible probiotics out there exactly. I can't think of any specific brands off the top of my head, but there are some ones that I recommend to clients who are just wanting to cultivate more healthy gut bacteria. This might stem from them growing up and having a lot of episodes of strep throat, so they were put on a lot of antibiotics. From childhood, that started messing up their gut flora.

Probiotics are one, but honestly, what I recommend is again starting to introduce more fibrous foods into your diet, more plants, and more variety. The one thing that I recommend most often which is supported by research is trying to get in about 30 different plants per week. We find that is what your body and your gut microbiome love. That helps things move a little bit smoother throughout your body.

Another thing that I often recommend is a lot of people are chronically dehydrated. They don't realize that drinking a few glasses of water may improve their digestion. It may improve the consistency of their stools, which can be beneficial. I typically start with food first, as you mentioned earlier. It is looking at the plant-based intake and looking at hydration then going back to even movement. If I'm not looking at necessarily supplements or medications, especially if a client doesn't want that, what can we do to support the gut microbiome in a way that is more natural using food, hydration, and movement specifically? I am curious to hear what you have to say about it.

You have me thinking about the days when I was raising my babies. Babies are building their microbiomes as they go. I was fortunate enough to be able to have both of my children vaginally, so they got a good start. I also didn't have a situation if I had had meconium in my amniotic sac or something like that, then they want you to go ahead and do an intravenous antibiotic at birth. There are all sorts of things that doctors do automatically, even putting antibiotic ointment on the eyes of your child at birth to prevent some other issue from occurring.

I had to be very explicit in saying, “These are things that I don't want.” I was fortunate to not be in a situation where I felt like I was bombarded on all ends to force it. I've heard stories from women that sometimes have been almost bullied into a specific treatment for their child right at birth. This is something I think we need to, as women, talk about and ultimately share that we have choices to make.

We can make these choices. We can be our own best agents. In the case where you have not been able to have a vaginal birth too, your child may suffer from more constipation because they don't have a lot of that same microbiome at that point in their system. You can do more skin-to-skin and some things to help along, but even though, all of this was true for me. I didn't have the antibiotics. I didn't have to have a cesarean section or anything like that. Both were vaginal. I still had constipation issues in each of them when they were little.

The things that they tell you to do are like massage the belly, do the bicycle legs, and give them some more water. My nanny of the time would say, "You're not constipated, but you have coffee. You can't give them coffee." Movement is key then the products that I go to. I look at my digestive system as something that also needs a reboot periodically. This is a practice I started years ago. It makes me feel great, so I've continued with it.

I will go to the health food store’s refrigerated section and supplement area and get a flat of Bio-K. Bio-K comes in a few different formats. If you're vegan or vegetarian, you can get their soy or rice-based formulas. It is a super concentrated fermented yogurt-style thing. It's like lactobacillus. It's all of those great probiotics in liquid form. The dosage is something like 1/4, a serving, or something like that. I do one whole Bio-K yogurt as a yogurt meal like a sack. Do the whole thing once a day for fifteen days. The fifteen days are done, and I don't do it again until I think I need a reboot.

What I've found is that I both feel great. I'm getting extra probiotics into my system. It's not something I'm doing every day forever, but I do it periodically. I look at it as more like a digestive cleanse. It's supporting my microbiome. Sometimes, especially when you do a lot of air travel, people will get constipated from that, so I will take with me Healthy Trinity.

Healthy Trinity is a product by Natren. It's also in the refrigerator. I'm not compensated in any way for this recommendation. I've just found that it works well for a lot of people in my life. If you are running into a period where you're either constipated or you're finding you have a lot of loose stool and it's not getting back to normal super quick, this has helped a lot of people in my life. It's helped me.

You get overstressed, you run into something, you might get a little intestinal bug because we eat food and sometimes it's not as clean as we want it to be, and before you know it, you have an issue. You can manage that in some cases through a few key dietary support systems. For me, that's Natren and Bio-K. Those are the only two that I tend to routinely go to.

I need to look up the second one that you mentioned when I'm traveling because that sounds like it would be beneficial. Especially when you're on a plane, the moisture is sucked out of you. That’s a big reason why you end up becoming constipated because it's easy to become dehydrated or to lose a lot of water when you're flying.

Another thing that I found is sometimes I'll bring some mag packets of magnesium with me when I'm flying to take in the evening to help keep things regular. It's funny you mentioned the colon massage because when I was in college and suffering from chronic constipation, I had a friend who was in nursing school. She's like, “Let me practice on you with this colon massage.” I was like, “This is not going to work.”

It's like on the belly.

Yes, it worked. I was shocked. I had a great bowel movement. I was like, “I can't keep you around forever, but the more that you can do this, the better.” It was pretty phenomenal.

There's also a pressure point in your arm and your forearm that helps to move the bowel. If you spend any time doing acupuncture or anything along those lines, you can even ask your practitioner, “I've heard that there's a point in the arm. Can you show me where that is?” It's something that I think is personal for the individual. I can feel it when I hit. It's between the juncture of two of the muscles in the forearm just below the elbow a bit and on the forearm. That's another one that can get things moving meridian-wise.

I feel like I need to ask my acupuncturist about that. It is good to know.

Now we can walk away from the poop talk.

We can do that. It's a rite of passage for all dieticians.

It's something we all have to talk about. As it stands, I'm going to give you one little snippet of the Healthy Trinity product I mentioned from Natren. It is a combination of lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and lactobacillus bulgaricus. It's got both bulgaricus and acidophilus from the lacto side and bifidobacterium bifidum. It's just a good solid combination. A lot of times, that's what people need to ensure they can return to health. As we talk about women's health in general, I know you've been in practice as a registered dietician for some time now. What are the core things that you find more women are concerned with in the day-to-day?

I would say a big one, and this is coming from more of a healthcare perspective, is not feeling like they're being heard. We know our bodies best. No one else knows our body better than we do. When they are struggling with something and trying to relay that information to a healthcare provider or somebody else, one of the biggest frustrations that I hear from women is that they don't feel like they're being heard.

More than anything, it is important to find a healthcare provider that is going to listen to you. They don't have to eat the same way as you do. They don't have to live the same lifestyle as you, but it's important to find someone who is truly going to listen to you and try to get to the root cause of what is going on. I would say that's a big one.

When we don't feel heard, then it's hard to feel empowered. When you find a healthcare practitioner that you like, then suddenly you have your insurance change. I've had this happen. I had a health practitioner I liked. She wasn't an MD at the office. She was a physician's assistant, but she was so thorough and great with me and my kids. I felt like I was heard. It was such a beautiful relationship, but then the medical practice itself shifted and so then I had to find a new one. I felt like every time I met with a new doctor, it's like I had to break them in.

That is such a struggle.

These are the things I care about. No, I don't want to go to a pill if I run into a problem with my knee. I want to talk about what we can do differently. Thankfully, I'm in a healthcare area here in Santa Cruz County where there are a lot of mindful practitioners, but not everybody has access to that. What do you give as advice to those individuals who might have a mismatch?

If they can't find somebody else specifically, I try to encourage or empower them to stand up for themselves. Oftentimes, they're being steamrolled, and that's a big struggle. We were trying to give them the tools on how they can clearly communicate to their healthcare provider what is going on with them, whether it's keeping a journal over time and saying like, "No, this is what's happening,” or showing them the notes of what's going on with them to be able to truly articulate what is going on. If that's happening over and over again, where they're not being heard or listened to, then let's try and find someone, even if it's online because I feel like a lot of physicians and different health care providers are meeting online. There is a possibility to find someone who is going to listen.

It feels like there's a big movement towards that in the mental health arena with things like BetterHelp, where people can meet with someone over screen time and find the right match for them and be getting that service in an ongoing way. With medical doctors, they often have to be certified to operate in that state. Even if you do hear someone fantastic on this show for example and you're like, “I want to see Dr. Doni,” they may not be able to practice in your state, but they may know someone who can help you.

It's always great to ask. I will say too that there are functional medicine practitioners from coast to coast at this point. There are many in the alternative space. You can seek out a naturopathic doctor. As we talked about even a bit ago, an acupuncturist has an incredible depth of knowledge too. They're also certified in traditional Chinese medicine. They would have access to some herbs and some deeper knowledge that might support your journey as well.

This is getting to the whole topic of healthcare versus sick care. I know that some insurances will cover things like your mental health care and also things like acupuncture while others don't or you're out of network and it gets a little pricey. While some people may be able to set aside a couple of $100 to go and see somebody and get some advice that feels more at home for them, it's not always at your grasp. What other resources might you point them to from your experience, whether it be a book or something they might read?

There are so many great free resources, whether it's at the library, online, or if you have Netflix. There are great documentaries out there to help empower your journey. I've found that especially if people are trying to add more plants to their diet or eat more plant-based, it is helpful to find a community that's going to support you.

NWC 55 | Plant-Centered Nutrition


Even reading a show like this while you're running around or cooking dinner for your family, that can be a helpful part of your journey. It is having those tools and resources to encourage you and empower you when the people around you or the people that you're seeing in your healthcare system don't quite align with the way that you're living. I encourage looking up some shows like Corinna’s. I encourage checking out books at the library on a topic that can help empower you on your journey and checking out some fun documentaries on Netflix or Amazon, whatever that is to encourage you.

I'm bringing to mind another one. Let's say you're on the polar opposite and you have resources but you don't have agency. You don't have somebody sitting there advocating for you the way you want and you've been in a sick care system for too long. You're on five medications and they're not helping you get better. Look to somebody like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who we have interviewed on this show as well, who runs a live-in retooling of your entire life.

Basically, it takes you to the right nutrition, resources, and lifestyle changes and measures your progress along the way, then ultimately gets you to the point where you're able to come off your medications and get back to your more root health system back to equilibrium, back to balance and back to health. He does that in his program down in San Diego. You'd have to physically relocate for a while. I was tempted. I don't have the time.

It's like, “What do you have, time or money? I probably could afford something like that if I stretch to do it, but I don't have 2 to 3 months as a mom of two young boys who could do something like that.” Thankfully, I also don't have health conditions that would push me to that point. That being said, I could tell you a number of people in my life that could benefit from a service like that.

Have you heard of TrueNorth? It sounds very similar to what you're talking about where it's two plant-based doctors that run it. They take people in for a certain period of time and they conduct water fasting according to your needs and reintroduce a whole food plant-based diet. The success stories that come out of there are mind-blowing. It's incredible what they can do. You're being monitored the entire time you're there and you do have to relocate, but it can be again another incredible resource like Dr. Joel Fuhrman's place in San Diego.

There's even Plant Pure Nation, which is run by Nelson Campbell, who is the son of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who wrote the China study. They do something called Plant Pure Pods, which could potentially be local to where you're living, depending on where you're living. You can look up Plant Pure Nation and find if a pod is near you. That's basically a group of people that are meeting in a town or city and they're encouraging one another to live a healthier lifestyle or to live a more plant-based lifestyle.

They also occasionally do emergent programs where you go and live with them for 7 to 10 days. The success stories are incredible of these women and these people coming off of medications that maybe they've been on for decades or people who have been on insulin for over ten years or statins or their blood pressure is out of control. There's nothing like it. It highlights how powerful food can be in transforming your health.

That's what we're here to talk about, nutrition without compromise. The reality is that if we had the right tools and the right access, then we wouldn't necessarily be. There's the declining health that we see as we age. I looked at the pricing on his site. It is a sticker shock like you're buying a car to do a 2 or 3-month program. That being said, what do you have if you don't have health?

If you're constantly confronting these issues, it's something that you need to address in some way. Sometimes the hardest hurdle is getting over the habits of your everyday. You're eating on the go, taking care of kids, doing the soccer mom thing or even balancing the rigors of a high-stress job and trying to juggle your home life. You could be dealing with kids or a single person and still battling the same things because so much is demanded of us in the day-to-day.

We need to make space for ourselves to develop newer and healthier habits. Looking to food as medicine, it's much easier to get to a place where you don't have out-of-control insulin, your blood sugar is more stable, and you are ultimately trending in a more healthy direction when you eliminate grains from your diet or dramatically reduce them.

You eat whole food plant-based not too much. If we shift in that way, then a lot of the health challenges that we confront in the day-to-day work themselves out, everything from dysmenorrhea to headaches to acne and a lot of the superficial stuff that we run into like eczema or rosacea flare-ups because these things are signals that our inflammation is out of control. When you do shift to drinking adequate water, not overconsuming coffee, consuming more plants and a varied rich phytonutrient diet, getting enough protein, not getting too much carbohydrates, and eliminating processed sugars, you've reset everything.

In a matter of months, even if you're not paying to go to a retreat center where someone can manage that for you, then you're able to take charge, empower yourself, and see some real changes. While it might be hard in the short term, you can develop lifelong habits that will support your health journey for years to come.

There is an incredible story in the documentary, What the Health, which is on Netflix, and follows multiple people. There's a woman's story in there that I will just never forget about how her life was transformed by eating more plants. Even if we look at the number one killer of men and women globally, which is heart disease, there has been one diet that has proven to reverse it over and over again. That is a plant-forward diet. It's one of those things that I know that we're becoming more aware of the power of plants, but I'm hoping that more people will take heed in how powerful a plant-based diet can be.

There has been one diet that has proven to reverse heart disease over and over again and that is a plant-forward diet.

We hear this echoed by a lot of the experts, but some are a little bit more likely to push to animal-based proteins because they see that they get more complete proteins into the people that they treat. As the case with Dr. Doni Wilson who we interviewed, she was talking about specifically tryptophan and the fact that if you get more of that, it can be a precursor to 5-HTP, which then affects your serotonin and melatonin levels, which affects how well you sleep and how relaxed you are among other things. She's like, “While you can do it, it's sometimes easier to also integrate animals.”

While you might be on one of the extremes, you could be a carnivore or be a vegan or somewhere in the middle, looking to have as varied a diet as possible will support your journey. If you're eating exclusively plants, then you need to be sure that you're getting a broad spectrum of those proteins. Often, you might have to look to a protein shake or something like that periodically or even on a daily basis to help round out the proteins that you are getting so that you can get healthy levels of these nutrients.

In some cases, it still might not be enough. That's when you need to look at supplementation with something like a 5-HTP with vitamin B12 methylcobalamin, which thankfully at Örlö, they're able to extract from the spirulina that they're producing for the Immunity Boost products. Immunity Boost contains inborn vitamin B12 methylcobalamin. I'm going to say this, and I'll say this again and again. My husband calls me the Omega-3 Evangelist.

You can't get too much omega-3s. It's nearly impossible. They do help to balance out your system so that you can return to homeostasis, produce healthy cells, create natural energy, ATP energy, and ultimately live your healthiest life. An omega-3 in the polar lipid form is highly bioactive and is available from our sponsors Örlö Nutrition readily on their website as well as on Amazon.

It is wonderful. I also take Örlö.

I usually take it when I'm in an interview like this. I'll say, “That's my reminder. I'll take it now.” I've already done and my immunity boost is right here too.

You do bring up a great point, especially if someone is looking to eat more plants in general or eat plant-based. Plants do contain all twenty amino acids. They contain all nine essential amino acids. That doesn't mean though that every plant is a complete protein. They contain different levels of those amino acids. It is important, like Corinna was saying, to make sure that you are getting a variety of plant-based foods into your diet because that's going to help ensure that you're getting all the amino acids that you need. That doesn't mean that you may need to supplement every once in a while. We're taught food first, food first, which is great, but supplements do play a role in your health as well. They can be a valuable piece of your journey too.

It is important to make sure that you are getting a variety of plant-based foods into your diet because that's going to help ensure you're getting all the amino acids that you need.

As far as protein shakes go because I know that's where a lot of people go when they say, "I'm going to shift to being vegan. I know I'm not getting enough protein. I'm going to the gym and lifting iron and I need to make sure I get enough," what do you tend to lean them towards?

Protein shake-wise?

Do you like peas? Do you like hemp? Do you suggest an alternative? What sorts of things are you looking to?

I personally don't take protein shakes, even though I do go to the gym and lift the iron, but I do tend to recommend more around “clean sources” of plant-based protein. What I mean by that is typically if it can be single ingredient sources of protein like you're saying, whether it's like a hemp powder or brown rice. There's even a lentil one that's out there now. Corinna, there's a vegan whey protein supplement out there now, which is incredible. My partner takes it, and he loves it.

That's typically what I recommend first, looking at the back of the ingredients and trying to choose a protein powder that's going to contain fewer ingredients. There are great supplements and great protein powders out there that contain multiple ingredients. I double-check that that's third-party tested and that all the ingredients align with your goals, your health, and what you want to be putting into your body.

I'm going to add to this. I've taken protein shakes for a long time. I like them. It's a great way for me to start my day because I'm busy and I could get some protein as my first meal of the day. I shifted from doing whey protein shakes a while ago and have been experimenting with plant-based versions. What I will say about all of them is all protein shakes for me are too sweet. A lot of them use stevia sides or monk fruit or, in some cases, artificial sweeteners, which I am full stop against. Some have even used xylitol, but they're too sweet for my palate.

When you work to sensitize yourself to sugar and don't eat a lot of processed sugar, which is great for your health and I recommend it for everybody, you tend to find that things that were perhaps not sweet enough anymore are far too sweet. I was cutting them with cranberries forever. I would take frozen cranberries and throw it into my shake to make it tarter and cut the sweetness, then I decided, “Why can't I get unflavored?” Now I'm getting unflavored, unsweetened protein powders that are plant-based and I'm experimenting with them.

What I'm finding is taking half of a frozen banana with one of these standard unflavored, unsweetened protein shakes, throwing some walnuts in there, and even some matcha powder, I'm getting an incredible treat. It has some high glycemic sugars in there because it's got the banana but I cut it with the walnuts. I'm also throwing in some matcha for its antioxidant powder. It's an incredible smoothie, and it tastes divine. It's like if you're going to make yourself a treat that's full of natural phytocompounds that are supportive of your health, consider getting into the kitchen and experimenting with something like that too.

I think that's key too, experimenting and figuring out what you're going to like best because there are some off-putting protein powders out there. If you want to try them, don't let one discourage you. Keep on trying and see what you can find.

That's right. Thank you so much for that. As we prepare to go into this last stage of our interview here, I would love to ask you a simple question. What does nutrition without compromise mean to you?

What I think it means is eating in a way that authentically aligns with you. You're not eating because someone else is telling you how you should eat. You're not eating because that's the way your parents always ate or your caregivers ate. You're eating in a way that truly aligns with your health. You're choosing foods that honor your taste buds but also honor your health and make you feel good. I believe that you're not compromising anything because you're honoring your taste and you're honoring your health at the same time.

Sometimes the way you grew up eating is health degrading. It might be fine for somebody else but not fine for you. One I can point to is a dear friend, Diane V. Capaldi, who goes by V. She is Italian. She so loved pasta but, as it would turn out, she has MS. If she has any gluten, it triggers her, and she can't even eat pickles. Pickles are often made with vinegar that comes from gluten. I didn't realize that or contains gluten in some way. She can’t eat any pickles.

That makes a big difference.

That means that she can't eat any of the pasta, bread, or any of that with her family, but now she's worked to create similar recipes that are free of gluten that she can enjoy the same way.

Which I'm sure in a way is uncomfortable or challenging, but I'm also sure it's incredibly empowering that she's choosing foods that make her feel her best.

That's right. She's able to get her symptoms of MS completely taken care of and can feel her best every day. I want to thank you for coming on here. I want to offer you the floor for a moment to talk about the services that you offer as a registered dietitian and also a snapshot into what people can expect if they jump over to your podcast, Plant Centered Nutrition, to listen to you there.

I'll start there. Our podcast is about uplifting people who have transitioned to a plant-based diet and have transformed their health in some way and want to share their story. If you're looking for more stories centered on plant-based eating and the health benefits or life benefits in general that it can provide, that's a lot of what we talk about on our podcast and interviewing different guests.

NWC 55 | Plant-Centered Nutrition


What I do basically is I do work with people one-on-one to help them transition to a more plant-forward way of eating that aligns with them. I also work with people who have chronically dieted to help them turn more into an intuitive way of eating where they're listening to their bodies and figuring out what works best for them. They're not chronically dieting anymore, which is the goal. I also have a couple of courses. I am very active on social media, specifically Instagram. If you want some fun plant-based education, I would recommend going over there because I enjoy creating reels specifically.

They're entertaining, too, and that's @PlantCenteredNutrition on Instagram. Thank you so much for joining me, Ashley. This has been my absolute pleasure.

Thank you so much, Corinna. I appreciate it.


What a treat. We get to talk about all things plant-centered. She helped clarify that plant-centered doesn't have to mean vegan. It doesn't have to be militant. It can be easy and you can adapt it just for you. Ultimately, that's too what I believe nutrition without compromise means. I also encourage you to reach out and follow her on social channels. As we talked about, she is @PlantCenteredNutrition on Instagram, where she's very active.

If you have questions about this episode or topics that you'd like to see covered, please reach out to us via social channels or send us an email directly from the site. You can also contact me directly at Hello@OrloNutrition.com. As we close the show, I hope that you'll raise a cup of your favorite beverage with me as I raise mine, and cheers to all women managing their health and their healthcare first. Here's to your health.


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About Ashley Kitchens

NWC 55 | Plant-Centered NutritionAshley Kitchens is a nationally recognized plant-based registered dietitian and spokesperson. She founded her company "Plant Centered Nutrition" after using plant-based eating to heal herself of lifelong GI issues and recognizing that there were others who could benefit from a diet filled with more plants. She's made it her mission to help others transition to a plant centered way of eating through a holistic approach and intuitive eating practices.

Ashley graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Masters of Public Health and Nutrition in 2011.


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