Why Nickelodeon’s Dana Heath Went Vegan & What She Eats On Set
Whether you watch Nickelodeon and know who Dana Heath is, your younger family members are already fans of the up-and-coming actress, who plays superhero "Mika" on Nickelodeon's hit series Danger Force. Her more than 372,000 Instagram followers like her every move, and are already well aware that the comedy show –– a spin off of the popular series Henry Danger also available on Netflix –– is likely a stepping stone to bigger things for the 16-year-old TV star.
Danger Force, for the uninitiated, follows the adventures of a group of super-powered friends who use their unique powers to fight crime. Mika's unique weapon: She can generate a super-sonic scream to tame her enemies and win the day.
Among the many things that make Dana unique: She has been a vegan since age nine. To talk to her, you get the feeling she is as heroic off the screen as her character is on it. The Beet had the opportunity to interview the cheerful young TV star about her vegan lifestyle during a quick break between filming. She enjoyed a box of Oreos as she chatted about her family's upcoming Thanksgiving plans, which will feature vegan dishes, including her favorite creamy dairy-free mashed potatoes.
Why Dana Heath Went Vegan at Nine Years Old
Fans of Danas may not know that no dairy or meat products are included in her lunchbox on set and that she has followed a vegan diet for the past 7 years. The star went plant-based when she was 9 years old, the same year that she and her mom moved to Los Angeles from Sunny Isles Beach, Florida for her acting career.
Her initial reason for switching to a veggie-based lifestyle was for her health. "Non-vegan foods were messing with my stomach and I was sick all the time," Dana recalls from those early years. "I just never really felt healthy," she added.
How Dana Heath Became Vegan
The actress was advised by her doctor to cut back on processed foods, more specifically, the foods that most people "have trouble with" to help reduce inflammation and pain in her stomach. Her doctor highlighted dairy and meat products as inflammatory and told her to start by cutting out the burgers and cream-based pasta sauces she once loved. At that moment, Dana decided to make the switch to a plant-based diet, not only for her health but for the sake of her career.
During our conversation, Dana opened up about the health problems she endured before she went vegan. Previously, her stomach pain was so intense that she would have to take five to ten minutes out of the demanding shooting schedule and lay down in a dark room to rest her stomach and recuperate. "I would get super sick," Dana told The Beet. "Now, eating vegan, I'm able to power through it." It's a benefit she's grateful for since it meant she could step into more ambitious roles and not worry about the toll on her physical health.
How Dana Heath Deals With Cravings
Dana's journey to eating vegan was pretty seamless, but like everyone else, she has moments where she'll get a craving for non-vegan desserts. Cutting out meat from her diet was no big deal, she said since she wasn't eating much beef, fish, or poultry to begin with. About a week into a meat-free lifestyle she gradually removed dairy products from her diet which was the hardest step for her. Especially tough was walking into a bakery or ice cream shop and smelling the aroma of baked goods or soft serve ice cream. She told herself that feeling healthy was worth giving up these momentary pleasures.
A couple of months later, after staying consistent on her vegan diet, Dana says she started to fully reap the benefits of healing her digestive system, and that made it all worthwhile. "I was a lot happier and I could eat a bunch of food and not feel the repercussions as much, I didn't have as much pain in my stomach and I became less sick."
What Dana Heath Eats on Her Vegan Diet
"When I first went vegan almost seven years ago I was eating much healthier, and I'm trying to get back to that." Starting out, she loved to eat quinoa bowls and Mexican-style dishes that were made with vegan ingredients. A few of her favorites include rice and beans, lettuce wraps, and salads. Now, Dana explains that it's not always easy to eat the healthiest vegan foods when she doesn't have the time to meal prep. She gives her grandma a shout-out for helping her pack meals to bring to the set now that they live together.
In fact, the Heath family is so supportive of Dana's decision to eat plant-based that her mother even went vegan at the same time as Dana did. Dana said that her mom had been spending more money at the grocery store to shop for herself in addition to vegan alternatives for her daughter. Instead of making two dinners or breakfasts, Dana's mom decided to eat the same dairy-free products she bought her daughter and cut out meat and fish from her diet.
A Vegan Thanksgiving
This year, Dana and her family are celebrating a vegan Thanksgiving in Los Angeles and can't wait to eat her grandmother's famous dish: vegan mashed potatoes. "They're the best in the world," Dana says confidently. She and her family plan to enjoy corn, green beans, spinach, stuffing, and possibly a tofurkey (tofu turkey), as well as a less-traditional taco bar with all kinds of vegan toppings like lettuce, diced tomatoes, dairy-free cheese, sour cream, and more.
"My grandma's trying to be vegetarian and we're encouraging her to eat healthier," Dana shared. In her household, there's always something vegan cooking on the stove or in the oven so they'll often eat whatever is being made.
"I try to encourage my family and others to eat plant-based by telling them how much it has changed my life in a positive light, I'm a lot happier in my mental and physical state."
Dana Heath's Advice for Fellow Vegans
We asked Dana how she thinks parents or anyone with a loved one who eats plant-based should handle a foodie holiday – or any shared meal where everyone is not eating vegan. "To make family members feel more included, I suggest looking up recipes for a vegan alternative so no one feels isolated. It's not always fun to be eating salad at the table when your family is eating burgers, so it's better to find a veggie burger recipe or something else that's hearty. I don't want to make anyone feel like the weirdo in the room for choosing to eat plant-based."
For Dana, eating plant-based is all about being inclusive. When she encourages others to eat this way she does it in a gentle manner: "I bring it up as a, 'Hey this has helped me out,' but I never force it on people because I don't want them to turn against plant-based because I pushed it on them."
At the end of our conversation, the actress explains that she never forces things on others, or judges people on how they live. Words Dana lives by are: "Live and let live."
For more interviews with plant-based celebrities, visit The Beet's Lifestyle & Culture articles.