Vegan, versatile, and a 15-year NBA veteran, John Salley, 48-year-old Brooklyn-born actor and host of the Emmy-nominated “Best Damn Sports Show Period” follows a strictly animal-product-free diet he's taken up since retiring from basketball in 2000. He’s inking deals with CVS and Walgreens while building the largest internet health grocery store with a line of products he’s calling BETTA, an acronym for Better Eating Today, Tomorrow and Always.
“I totally showed everyone you don’t have to be a wimpy guy to be a vegan,” Salley says.
After seeing family members suffer from cancer and diabetes, Salley began making a connection between foods and health. After two championship seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Salley befriended teammate Adrian Dantley who presented him options for better eating habits. Soon after, Salley started following an organic plant-based diet in the hope it will make him live a fitter, healthier, and longer life.
Salley was the first NBA player to win four championships with three different teams! Was his success partly due to something he ate? Salley thinks so. He’s so committed to this idea, that he now spends time educating others on the benefits of eating a healthful diet. He speaks at Whole Foods markets across the country, and stumps for vegetarian meal options for students in front of Congress. Salley recently became the Los Angeles Unified School District health and wellness guru.
Meanwhile, Salley’s also enrolled in a chef school to become a certified raw food chef. But as he moves toward incorporating a raw diet that shuns heating foods above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, his favorite meal remains the one that starts his day at 6:30 every morning: Savory Grits, Mashed Avocado Toast, Grain-Meat Sausage and ‘Oh So Green’ Kale drink.
“I cook organic grits on the stovetop. I add in sweet paprika, black pepper, and other seasonings. My daughter says it tastes like having pizza in the morning.” Next, Salley cooks up grain-meat, an alternative to beef, pork, or turkey breakfast links.
“I take the Field Roast sausage and fry it in my beautiful ceramic cast iron pan with no oil, no salt, no sugar.”
Then, Salley toasts a slice of bread from a loaf in which whole grain sprouts were kneaded into the dough, including the wheat germ, creating a rich texture and boosting protein.
“I put avocado on top of the bread, I mash it down, and then hit it with a little balsamic vinegar. I put turmeric on that because it’s good for the blood.”
Salley’s partnered with California Island, a group of people who sell organic produce from a collective of seven organic farms. These organic farms are where he gets the ingredients for his self-named “Oh So Green” kale drink.
“In a Vitamix, I put kale, frozen spinach, a banana, a Fuji apple, one orange, some parsley, and I throw in fresh gated ginger. I pour in alkaline water — it’s phenomenal — and it has a pH of 10.5. I drink a cup of that and carry the rest around in a container and drink it all morning.”
“I totally showed everyone you don’t have to be a wimpy guy to be a vegan.”
Why He Loves It
“Grits are like oatmeal, and I had gotten to the point I didn’t want to eat oatmeal every day. So the grits with seasonings gave me that nice warm feeling. For that mental part of needing meat, I wanted something that tastes just like spicy sausage. And my kale drink is the best thing in the world.”
What Makes It A Healthy Meal
Mindy Black, a registered dietitian who holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition from University of Florida, says Salley’s breakfast is a healthy alternative, especially for people struggling with high cholesterol. The meal contains about 700 calories, 17 grams fiber, and 37 grams of protein. Furthermore, Livestrong.com’s dietitian Kelly Plowe, MS, RD, elaborates that the meal is adequate for an active Salley at 6 foot, 11 inches and 230 pounds, but may be on the higher end for those with less caloric needs. Reducing the portions or omitting one of the foods are great ways to help balance the overall calorie intake.
Black adds: “Juicing gets many fruits and veggies in one drink rather than trying to get — in John’s instance — seven servings of fruit and vegetables throughout the day, but the juice has less fiber and filling qualities than if he were to eat whole fruit and vegetables.”
How To Make The Meal Even Healthier
Salley’s breakfast appears satisfactory in most nutrients, except for a few such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium that are key for many vegans, says Black, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“If vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium are not accounted for in his later meals, John could add a soy beverage fortified with calcium to the side of breakfast and take care of all deficiencies,” Black advises. “Or he could add dried savory or celery seed to his juice to include calcium.”
How To Make John Salley's Vegan Breakfast
John Salley’s Savory Grits, Mashed Avocado Toast, Grain-Meat Sausage and ‘Oh So Green’ Kale Drink Recipes
SAVORY GRITS (Makes 4 servings) Ingredients 3 cups water 1 cup organic grits ½ teaspoon of sweet paprika Dash of black pepper
Preparation Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a pan. Turn down to a simmer, and then add 1 cup of grits stirring mixture slowly for 5 minutes, checking occasionally to ensure the grits don’t burn or bubble. When the grits are almost cooked, prepare the sausage.
MEATLESS SAUSAGE (Makes 1 serving) Ingredients 1 link of Field Roast grain-meat sausage
Preparation Cut the grain-meat link lengthwise. Place sausage slices in a cast iron skillet on medium heat, and then sauté for a minute or 2 until hot and browned evenly on all sides. (Salley shuns frying in oil, but you may add a small splash of olive oil for moisture.)
MASHED AVOCADO TOAST (Makes 1 serving) Ingredients 1 slice of toasted sprouted bread ½ organic avocado Balsamic vinegar Dashes of turmeric
Preparation Toast 1 slice of sprouted bread (such as Ezekiel bread). Cut and remove pit from avocado. When the toast pops, spoon half the avocado on top of toast, and gently mash it with a fork to make a chunky spread. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the mashed avocado. Sprinkle with turmeric.
JOHN SALLEY'S 'OH SO GREEN KALE DRINK' (Makes 2 generous servings) Ingredients 2 cups of roughly chopped kale 1 cup of frozen spinach 1 organic banana 1 organic Fuji apple 1 organic orange 5 parsley stalks 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger 8 ounces of water
Preparation Toss all ingredients into a blender, and blend on high for 60 seconds. Pour into a glass, and enjoy.
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Based in Toronto, Monique Savin has been a journalist since 2005. As a columnist and multimedia producer, she has worked with national newspapers such as "The Globe and Mail" and various magazines.