Mayim Bialik made us laugh until our sides hurt as Sheldon's brainy better half on The Big Bang Theory, but she isn't cracking jokes when it comes to raising awareness about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The Emmy-nominated actress, who first became a vegan in 2009, recently partnered with longtime friend and chef Ali Cruddas as an investor in the L.A. restaurant Bodhi Bowl, a fast-casual plant-based eatery which serves up everything from tempeh bacon paninis to grain bowls with jerk tofu and pineapple salsa.

The Beet recently caught up with the multi-tasking mom to talk about what she ate for breakfast, her favorite vegan indulgence and taking her kids–Fred, 11, and Miles, 13–on their first trip to a fast-food drive-thru.

Q: Why did you first decide to stop eating meat?

Mayim Bialik: I was 19 and living on my own for the first time in college. I always felt a sense of unease and guilt about eating animal products. But, growing up in the late '70s and early '80s, there wasn't really an option, so I just felt weird about eating animals.

When I became a vegetarian and was having a lot of allergy problems, a doctor at UCLA [where Bialik studied neuroscience] asked if I'd ever cut out dairy. I said no, and he told me that a lot of people have a sensitivity to dairy. I was the kind of person who was always sneezing, always having allergy issues. I still had some trace dairy but when I got pregnant with my first son, he was allergic to dairy through my breastmilk. So that was the end of dairy.

Q: Is a plant-based diet something you plan to continue indefinitely?

MB: Oh yeah, I have no desire to switch back. There have been several people in the press saying, “I'm not vegan anymore.” Everybody's got their reasons and people need to do what's right for them. But, for me, that's my preference and my assumption.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face raising kids in a meatless household?

MB: To a certain extent, we get to control what our children eat, watch and consume. I can't speak to what they'll want to do when they leave my house, but I didn't want to raise snobby, judgmental vegan children. I wanted to raise children who understood what we do is what we've decided is best for our health and that there is a humane and ethical aspect to it.

But everybody gets to do life the way they want. My parents became vegetarian after my kids were born, which was really nice because it made it a little easier at family events. So did my husband after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Living in Los Angeles, there are so many people with weird food things. We're just one of the weird food people.

When I became vegetarian, there weren't vegetarian restaurants. Now there aren't just vegetarian restaurants; there are vegan restaurants. Once in a while, I'll run into someone who's like, “If there's no meat or cheese, it's not a meal!” But there are so many choices, I don't really think my kids feel limited.

Q: How do you make sure you get enough protein in your diet?

MB: The short answer is that the meat lobbyists have done a great job of convincing us that we need a tremendous amount of protein from consuming animal products. The fact is, we get too much protein as a country. There are health implications from consuming too much protein. The China Study talks about that a little bit. I think the first thing is most people don't even know how much protein they should be having. And the second thing is there are plenty of protein sources that aren’t from animals. We're actually the only country that gets our main source of protein from animals. 

Obviously, beans and tofu and quinoa are all great sources of protein. But there's also protein in pasta. There's protein in all sorts of foods. It's not like I'm constantly eating beans or putting beans in my smoothies. I think that's something we need to keep working to dispel. It's really not that difficult or expensive to get enough protein and nutrients as a vegan.

Q: What else do you eat to make sure you stay healthy?

MB: I try to eat foods that have colors. I find that Asian food is a really good option for me. It's naturally dairy-free. Most Thai, Chinese and Japanese places have tofu on their menus. There is also usually an abundance of vegetable options, which is good. We do a lot of rice and beans. I try not to do a ton of processed food. As a treat, we'll have veggie bacon but I try not to eat too much processed stuff, especially at home.

Courtesy of Mayim Bialik

Q: What is the most challenging part of a vegan diet?

MB: I think the hardest part is social events. Eating is a very communal, intimate thing so it's hard when you're at a large social event and can't participate in that way. Like, I sometimes can't have a friend's wedding cake. But it's completely doable. The best thing about being vegan is I no longer feel guilty after I eat. That's huge because that was a burden I felt very strongly as a child. In general, there are many wonderful things about reducing our impact on the environment and living kind of a spiritual life. Kindness is really what the practice of being vegan is really about.

Q: Is it hard to being vegan on set?

MB: I sometimes bring my own stuff but on The Big Bang Theory set there was always an abundance of fruit and veggies. I've gone through periods of doing vegetable and fruit juices at home and bringing that to work, but I usually did okay. Thankfully, craft services is pretty well-rounded these days. Also, I wasn't on a film set which is very different. On a TV set, we work a limited amount of hours every day so it's easier to keep fresh food.

Q: You came out with your own vegan cookbook, Mayim's Vegan Table, in 2014. What are your favorite recipes to make at home?

MB: I like to cook things that my children will eat! I recently found the perfect vegan French toast recipe. My children love French toast on Sundays. It's something I hadn't eaten since I became vegan and they had never eaten it because they were born vegan. So that was really fun, perfecting this French toast recipe.

I like to bake a lot. That's part of what I have in my cookbook. I take cake recipes and vegan-ize them. I like baking for other people a lot. I mean, I like baking for myself, too, but I really like baking for other people. I like cookies. I'm going to make banana bread later today. I come from a pretty Jewish culture of eating and food. A lot of people in the Jewish community think, “How can you have a good Jewish meal without meat?” but plenty of us do. I found a quinoa matzo ball recipe that is pretty delightful.

Q: What did you eat for breakfast today?

MB: Today I had a rice cake. I was going to have strawberries with it, but somebody ate them all! So it was just a rice cake, but I usually make oats. I put chia seeds and flaxseeds and some berries in it. That's usually breakfast. Or I have leftovers from the night before.

Q: Do you like vegan meat products like Impossible and Beyond Burgers?

MB: Yes, I have partaken. I actually make a vegan chili and add a little Impossible to make a meaty chili. I took my kids to a drive-thru for the first time in their lives at one of the establishments that carries the Beyond Burger. They were just excited to go through the drive-thru and order food in the car. It was really funny. I don't eat a ton of fake meat, but I definitely do enjoy a good vegan burger.

Q: Do you like the taste of those types of burgers?

MB:  I tend to not really like the taste of meat so sometimes the things that restaurants do with those products are too meaty. That's not a taste that I miss. I will say there are certain flavors that I remember really, really loving. Usually, though, the vegan stuff really satisfies those cravings.

Q: What are some examples of those cravings?

MB: I do love cheese. Cheese is a wonderful thing. And I've been really impressed with Kite Hill. I think my children would eat their ravioli three times a day if I let them. A lot of people have issues with Daiya cheese, but I really like what it does on pizza. We also make nachos with it. That's something really fun and satisfying that we enjoy.

Q: What are your all-time favorite indulgences?

MB: If I was allowed to, I would eat fried food all day. I like fake buffalo wings. I also love buffalo cauliflower. That's not always fried but usually, it is. I love fried artichokes. There's a bistro here in L.A. that does fried artichokes and it's my favorite thing.

Q: How has your body changed since you switched to a plant-based diet?

MB: When I first became a vegetarian, I was very slight so I didn't think much about my body. It was more of an emotional change. When I became vegan, that's when I started noticing that my dairy allergy and my seasonal allergies got better.

Q: What would you tell other people considering this change?

MB: I would tell them that it's incredibly rewarding. Also, there are so many ways to eat more fruits and vegetables and grains,. We all need to improve the way we eat. Even making small adjustments makes a difference. I think that is really important for people to hear. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Meatless Mondays is a great place to start. Also, be aware of the foods that you already eat that can be meat and dairy-free. Many people enjoy salads without cheese. They're still delicious. Pasta marinara is something I like to point out to people who are already vegan. You do not need to add an animal product to make it a meal.

We asked Bialik to share her favorite treat from her cookbook Mayim's Vegan Table. Below is her favorite banana bread recipe, which is a perfect housewarming treat or afterschool snack kids are sure to enjoy.

Bev’s Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • Egg replacer equivalent of 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9x5-inch loaf pan with the non-stick cooking spray.
  • Mash the bananas in a large bowl. Add the egg replacer and stir to combine. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, and pour into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center, comes out clean.

Kitchen Tip:

For a heartier bread, add ¼ to ½ cup of wheat germ, ground flaxseeds, or rolled oats, reducing the flour by the same amount. Also, makes great muffins, prepared as directed and poured into an oiled muffin pan.