I've got a few friends in my space who are documentary-aholics. Lately, they have been goin' in when it comes to watching ones that have to do with why people should totally nix meat and commit to a life of veganism for the rest of their life. One of my friends, in particular, makes this formal proclamation every time she watches a vegan food doc. Then, about three months later, she has a steak. I'm so used to the pattern that I tend to tease her and say, "Girl, just say that you're the ficklest 'vegan' on the planet and go." But then there are those who are so impassioned to the world of veganism that they impress me by how much time and effort they devote to researching the topic. I'm so impressed that they actually inspired me to pen this piece.
Whether you're someone who is a new vegan convert or you're simply considering going on a plant-based diet in order to detox your system, I first recommend that you check out the really insightful article "15 Ingredients That Are NOT Vegan | Non-Vegan Ingredients To Avoid" (whey, beeswax and oleic acid are just some of the things that aren't vegan). Then, take a moment to go down the list of things you should and absolutely should not be eating while you're on your plant-based diet—or lifestyle. Because, if you're gonna do the whole meat-free thing, you might as well do it right…right?
A Beginner's Guide: What To Eat On A Plant-Based Diet
Potatoes are plants. So, if you're someone who loves homemade sweet potato fries or white potato soup, you can indulge in either or both without too much stress. After all, potatoes are considered to be a "high healthy carb food" which means that they can provide you with the energy that you need to get through a long workday or an extensive workout.
Potatoes, in general, have lots of fiber. Also, thanks to the Vitamin B6 that's in them, they are good for your heart. Sweet potatoes, specifically, contain potassium, calcium and antioxidants. Yams (which are not the same thing as a sweet potato; you can read more about that here), contain copper and manganese, are able to ease menopause-related symptoms (which is why some menopausal women choose to apply wild yam cream) and bodily inflammation as well. So again, if you think that a plant-based diet means you have to kiss your potatoes goodbye, nothing could be further from the truth. Just watch how you prepare them; baked instead of fried is always better.
DON’T: Sugary Foods
Just because you might be foregoing meat, that doesn't mean that you should go crazy on the sugar content. Too much sugar consumption can do everything from throw off your blood sugar levels and put you at risk for diabetes and heart disease, to damage your immune system, promote tooth decay and even accelerate the aging process.
If you just read all of that and thought to yourself, "No problem. I'm not big on desserts, anyway", that's great. Just remember that juices and yogurts contain a good amount of sugar as well.
If you're curious about how much sugar you should have on a daily basis, the average woman is good if it's six teaspoons or less.
A good thing to keep in mind while you're making your morning plant-based smoothie or you're putting some sugar into your hot cup of herbal tea.
DO: Whole Grains
Whole oats. Whole wheat. Buckwheat. Millet. Spelt. Quinoa. These are some foods that are considered to be whole grains. The reason why they are great for a plant-based diet is because they're grass-like plants that are high in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, proteins and disease-preventing plant compounds like polyphenols, stanols, and sterols. Some other health benefits of whole grains are they're able to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains are also able to reduce chronic inflammation and assist with healthy digestion. So, if you like having oatmeal for breakfast or snacking on popcorn, enjoy—both of those foods are totally good for you.
DON’T: “Fake Meat”
I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist. There are a lot of vegetarians in that denomination. It didn't mean that a lot of folks battled less with their weight, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, though. That's because a lot of the meat substitutes that they thought were so much better than real meat contained so much sodium, additives and preservatives that it still put their health at risk.
I just read that Wendy's has joined in with the un-meat burger craze. Before you head over there for lunch, you might wanna read articles like "Vegan and Vegetarian Meat Substitutes Could Pose Health Risks, Researchers Warn". The things that I just said about my religious diet experience while growing up? More and more content co-signs on it.
DO: Plant-Based Oils
Some people think that if they decide to go on a plant-based diet, they need to not cook with oil anymore. That's not true. The key is to go with an oil that is plant-based because they contain mono and/or polyunsaturated fats that can help to keep your heart in good condition. And just what qualifies as a plant-based oil? Olive oil. Sesame oil. Avocado oil. Almond oil. Coconut oil. Flaxseed oil. Walnut oil. Pumpkin seed oil. Peanut oil. Cocoa butter—that's just a few of 'em. All of these are oils that you can prepare your meals with. The key is to make sure to buy the kinds that are virgin or extra-virgin cold-pressed. Oil that is in that state is less refined which means you're able to get more nutrients from it which is always beneficial.
DON’T: Vegan Dairy
Some say that dairy is the devil. I mean, if you make the time to do your own research on it, it's hard to find credible enough information to debate them. Dairy contains hormones, microorganisms and pesticides. The main protein in milk known as casein can increase your cancer risk. And, while most of us were raised to believe that dairy is good for our bones and teeth, there's research that indicates that it can actually put our bones at risk too.
So, what about vegan dairy substitutes like vegan eggs and vegan cheese? While they certainly can help you to bypass all of the dairy drama, most of them still fall under the category of "processed foods" which is oftentimes loaded with fat.
Still, if there is no way on this earth that you are totally going to go without a slice of pizza or some mac 'n cheese, opt to make it yourself. Also, make sure to use one of the healthier kinds of vegan cheeses. You can check out a list of some of them here.
DO: Fresh Fruits
One of the best things about going on a plant-based diet is all of the fresh fruit that you can consume. Fruits are full of water and antioxidants and are oftentimes low in calories too. If you're wondering which fruits make "the healthiest list", some of those include—grapefruit, blueberries, mangoes, pomegranates, watermelon, oranges, pineapples, bing cherries and bananas. Oh, and due to all of the Vitamin E that's in them, olives are on the list too (yep, olives are a fruit!). Just make sure to get most out of any fruit you choose by consuming them while they are actually in season.
DON’T: Anything Soy-Based
When I'm not coaching couples or sitting in front of my laptop, sometimes I'm helping someone to birth a baby. As a doula, whenever a woman tells me that she would prefer to not breastfeed (if you're currently pregnant and you're on the fence, check out "101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child"), I make sure to say, "Then please make sure to avoid formula that contains soy."
Soy is a phytoestrogen which means that it's a plant-based kind of estrogen. Eating estrogen all of the time isn't good for children (especially male children) because it can cause their bodies to mature faster. High levels of soy can prove to be toxic in adults as well.
So yeah, please don't be out here thinking that, just because you are drinking soy milk or having a soy burger, you're dodging potential health issues up the road. This includes when it comes to soy sauce (to get a list of some healthy soy sauce substitutes, click here).
DO: Fresh Veggies
It would sound real crazy for someone to say that they are going on a plant-based diet, but they had no intention of eating any veggies. Vegetables are low in fat and calories while being high in vitamins and minerals like fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins A and C. As far as the vegetables that will do your body the most good, some of those include—spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, peas, red cabbage, bell peppers, garlic and collard greens. Veggies have peak seasons too. Refer to that link in the "fresh fruits" section to see which ones you should get right now.
DON’T: Anything “White”
Here's the thing—foods like white pasta and white rice definitely qualify as being a refined grain; this, in turn, makes them a plant-based food. But the reason why "white grains" get an aggressive thumbs down on the plant-based diet tip is because the production of them strips the grains of the nutrients and fiber that your body needs. As a result, they tend to fill you up less, resulting in you eating more—eating more calories and more empty carbs as well. That's why white bread, white flour or even white tortillas aren't a good look. No processed food really is.
If you're someone who likes to snack throughout the day, seeds are a good option. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are great because they are full of protein and fiber. Or, if you like to cook with seeds, add some hemp, sesame or chia seeds to your meals.
I don't care what kind of diet or lifestyle change that you are on, food would suck if you didn't season it well. As far as plant-based spices go, the ones you should definitely have on your rack include onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric and pure vanilla. All delicious, all healthy and all a big "do" when it comes to plant-based cooking. Enjoy!
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
How To Stan For Your Newly Vegan Homegirl Like She's Beyoncé
A Bad Breakup Inspired Mya To Change Her Diet & Shed 30 Pounds
15 Vegan Soul Food Dishes That'll Make You Rethink Meat
How I Transitioned My Meat-Loving Family to a Plant-Based Vegan Lifestyle
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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