Emanuela Gornati, why should you practise a healthy vegan diet?
Emanuela Gornati or why should you practise a healthy vegan diet?
By Fabiola Gálvez
Emanuela Gornati is passionate about vegan cooking, is chef and expert on healthy food, has around 19 thousand subscribers on YouTube, where she posts tips and delicious vegan recipes. She’s Italian, based in Spain, she had two vegan restaurants called “MioBio”- one of them was the first restaurant in Valencia to use 100% organic product. Now manages a healthy catering for athletes.
She always was vegetarian, until 2014, when she opened her second restaurant in Valencia and took the step to veganism. She felt the need to fully get involved in this lifestyle in order to express it with the soul, mind, and body, in her elaborations. She says that the general trend in the vegan world is the biggest fast-food chains, vegan fast food such as pizzas, burgers, nuggets. There’s no gourmet or healthy veganism. For that reason, her philosophy is always betting for healthy veganism, with the natural food and dismiss the processed ones.
So, not all vegan diets lead to eat healthy, let’s learn a little more in the next interview.
What do you think about meat?
I’ve always been vegetarian because I’ve never liked meat, even as a kid, my mother used to make me eat it, out of fear that I might be lacking in nutrients. But, there’s no way, I hated it, I couldn’t stand the smell or flavour and overall, its texture, what led me to look for alternatives. Although I completely stopped eating it, I’ve never promoted its consumption. What I’ve always defended is moderate consumption (if you can’t eliminate it), and its ecological origin.
I consider the problem of meat is the intensive breeding of animals, the exploitation and the conditions in which the cattle live, the use of antibiotics to avoid diseases, the reduced and unhealthy space, the artificial feeding that is provided, and the latter, determines the quality of the meat and what we eat.
Of course, meat provides essential amino acids and vitamins that may be lacking in a vegan diet, that’s why I’ve always insisted that anyone who wants to eliminate meat completely must consult with a professional, otherwise it can have consequences that affect their health.
For this reason, I’ve always collaborated with nutritionists, where they define the guidelines to follow and I translate them into tasty, balanced and easy dishes for everyone.
How did you start your career as a vegan chef and health coach? Tell us a bit about it.
I started to look for information and alternatives to conventional food because of my sister who, due to intolerance and health problems, had to make a drastic change in her diet.
So, I decided to learn more with the principal experts at the time (over 20 years ago) in healthy cooking, such as Italian oncologist Dr. Franco Berrino, or Dr. Filippo Ongaro, an expert in epigenetics and anti-aging medicine in Italy; René Levi, founder of “Cuisine et santé” in France and restaurants such as L’albero della vita; Francisco Varatojo, founder of the macrobiotic institute in Portugal; Patricia Restrepo, from Montse Bradford in Spain; until 2008 when I open my first restaurant-school in Valencia, inside the Polytechnic University.
The type of food I offered was based on whole grains, all kinds of vegetables, legumes, vegetable proteins, providing vegan and vegetarian proposals and alternatives for nutritional intolerances. Besides, it was the first restaurant in Valencia to use 100% eco-products.
To become vegan came after that when we opened the second restaurant. It was 2014, I decided to become 100% vegan, not only for coherence, but because I wanted to witness the effects of this diet in my own body, which led me to seek excellence, both in the product and the preparation, cooking techniques, utensils, and water: with 100% organic product, cooked with filtered water and a cooking system in titanium free of toxins, as we realized that it made no sense to use organic products and then re-contaminate it with water and cooking utensils.
I think you can define very well: what is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian?
Both do not eat meat, but the vegan diet is much stricter, eliminating even any animal products such as eggs, dairy, and honey. More than a diet, for many, it has become a philosophy of life, where they also avoid clothes, shoes, and objects made of skin or that have involved animal sacrifice.
In terms of diet, it is important for me to tell apart between healthy veganism and radicalism, to avoid eating animal products, the quality of the food is completely neglected leading to a significant risk of nutritional deficiency. In fact, most vegan food is not healthy and is extremely unbalanced. To be a healthy vegan, you have to do it right and take care of many aspects of your diet that normally those who follow this diet ethically do not value.
What do you mean with most vegan food is not healthy?
Unfortunately, a vegan diet is not synonymous with a healthy diet, even though we tend to consider it healthier because it is based on vegetables, but in fact, it’s not.
In reality, the vegan food we often find in restaurants or fast food is not healthy, as it includes processed foods, refined sugars, hydrogenated fat and excessive use of starches, thickeners, and chemical flavours to mimic the textures and flavours of conventional foods.
Normally, the proposals we find are banal: burgers with chips, fake chicken nuggets, pizza with fake cheese… if we read the labels of these ingredients we will see that there are much more chemicals than natural foods, making it a nutritionally unbalanced diet, as 80% are processed products in the proposals we can find today in the hospitality industry. This is because there are no cooks who really know how to handle these types of foods, and prepare dishes with real ingredients, without looking for artificial substitutes.
This is why I have always defended healthy veganism, avoiding the industrial, and increasing more foods of vegetable origin, mainly eco.
There are vegan Chinese restaurants, vegan Indian restaurants, vegan Peruvian restaurants. Sometimes I feel that we have the idea that vegan cooking is about adapting different cuisines. Is that the true essence of vegan cooking?
I think it is necessary that every restaurant has a vegan and vegetarian proposal on its menu because it is not only a trend but a need to find more alternatives. However, most people lack the knowledge on the preparation of these foods such as seaweed, vegetables, soy derivatives, etc., what they do is to imitate the dishes of traditional recipes simply by replacing meat with a substitute. To me, this is one of the biggest mistakes that are being made in the catering industry, because most cooks do not research how to prepare these foods, or do not know how to flavour them up. Also, the lack of nutritional knowledge often leads to the combination of incompatible foods that is very hard to digest.
As a Vegan chef, what has been the biggest challenge in communicating your message?
The biggest challenge was getting a nutritional balance and satisfying the palate, and then communicating our differences. Communication played a very decisive role, and this was led by our marketing director, who knew how to bring our differentiation and uniqueness to the customer, today, there is nothing like that.
Are there basic ingredients in vegan cooking? What are they? You can give several examples
Traditional vegan cooking, many soy substitutes to imitate meat, but healthy vegan cooking uses ingredients such as different types of cereals: millet, quinoa, buckwheat, seaweed, and vegetable proteins, such as tofu, tempeh.
Does a vegan restaurant have to be expensive?
Not at all, I would even say that it should be cheaper than other options. Now, if you’re looking for a vegan but healthy option, it’s clear that the organic quality of the product, as well as the experience in different products and types of cooking necessary for this type of preparation, will increase the price, but for those who appreciate it, the experience can never be expensive.
To end this interview with something sweet, what is your favourite dessert?
What I most enjoyed in my restaurant was developing recipes for healthy desserts without sugar and dairy, and without a doubt, the most successful dessert was my vegan cheesecake, with coconut milk, and my favourite is its chocolate version.
Thank you so much for the interview on vegan diet , Emanuela!