Tell us about yourself
If I could summarise in a few words, I’d say I’m an aspiring polymath.
I have a keen interest in expanding my knowledge over a variety of different subject areas. To name a few of what interests me right now is Actuarial Sciences and investments, sports and fitness, the human anatomy and nutrition.
I was born and bred in Johannesburg. However, my paternal Pedi cultural roots extend to Limpopo. Given the exposure to a diversity of cultures and experiences, I’ve grown up to be multi-lingual. Maybe this is what sparked my curiosity in being a multi-dimensional human.
What does being vegetarian entail and why did you go vegetarian?
As a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat or fish. Some take on this dietary route for a moral or religious reason. In my case, it was more for health reasons.
In 2015 I was diagnosed with a condition called Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the large intestine. In order to manage my condition, I did my research on dietary changes I could make in order to alleviate the symptoms. I found many testimonials of people who had found relief by reducing processed foods and following a more plant-based diet. This is what lead me to become vegetarian, I have been in very good health ever since and I rarely get any of the UC symptoms other than when my stress levels are high.
What is the difference between vegetarian and vegan?
Vegetarian – in summary, this diet is “meatless”. Vegetarians eliminate all meat and fish but are comfortable including some animal by-products such as eggs and milk or foods made of these by-products
Vegan – in summary, vegans are strictly against animal products in any form. Vegans don’t eat any animal or anything that comes from animal i.e. they eliminate meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin etc. Vegans take it a step further and also eliminate animal products from their skin care products (e.g. avoid beeswax lip-balm), wardrobes (e.g.. avoid leather) and other areas of their lives
Plant-based – a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. People following a plant-based way of eating, eat more plants and plant protein but they can allow for reduced intake of animal products (i.e. not entirely removing meat but drastically cutting down on the intake). Furthermore, plant-based diets avoid processed foods.
In summary, if a vegetarian or vegan avoids processed food, then they can be considered as plant-based diets with no allowance for meat or no allowance for animal products in any form respectively.
What are the benefits you have experienced so far since going the vegetarian route?
I have become more conscious about what I eat and the nutritional benefits of the different plant-based foods. I feel light and energetic after my meals (as opposed to sluggish), but this also depends on how the food is prepared. My metabolism is faster and has complimented my progress with my fitness goals.
Overall, has really helped reduce symptoms I used to get from UC which why I started this journey in the first place.
How has being vegetarian changed/affected your life?
I’ve had to adjust my life to prioritise meal planning because then I can easily find myself resorting to eating foods like fries more often than I should. I sometimes have to remind friends and family of my dietary requirements and often offer to bring along a bowl of salad to share when visiting. I also need to be alert and on the lookout for leafy greens, like spinach, stuck in between my teeth.
How do you ensure you get sufficient protein intake?
I gravitate towards complete plant-based proteins i.e. they provide all the needed amino acids necessary to build muscle and tissue such as quinoa. However, most plant-based proteins are incomplete and don’t provide all the necessary amino acids, to avoid protein deficiency I consciously combine proteins throughout the day e.g. eating lentils with roasted sweet potatoes.
By planning my meals carefully, and knowing which vegetables to select, other disadvantages (in addition to protein deficiency) can also be avoided such as a deficiency in vitamin B-12, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron.
For example; good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds and flaxseed, whereas plant-based foods high in calcium include almonds and leafy greens. Nutrient absorption can be made more efficient by eating a meal with iron and vitamin C such as a salad with kale and sweet yellow peppers.
List three plant-based protein sources which are within budget
- Lentils and beans (such as black beans and chickpeas)
- Natural peanut butter; the protein content may vary by brand, try to gravitate towards a brand with no added sugar
- Dark leafy greens (such as spinach which I would prepare in a salad as it shrinks when cooked)
What challenges do you face being vegetarian?
Eating out is a bit of challenge as most restaurants have limited vegetarian options, I generally would download the menu if I know where I’m going in advance and I try to think of ways of modifying what’s available.
(Laughs) I find myself repetitively explaining that fish is not included in a vegetarian diet.
What are misconceptions about being vegetarian?
- Weight loss is guaranteed.
If you don’t plan your meals in terms of the kind of food and how it’s prepared, you may find yourself eating cookies and potato chips which don’t contain animal by-products but are not conducive for weight loss
- Building muscle is difficult.
There are nutrient and protein-rich plant-based foods that can assist with bodybuilding goals; meals can also be timed 2 – 3 hours before or 30 minutes – 2 hours after a workout to more efficiently assist muscle recovery and growth. It just takes a little planning.
- Meat substitutes are better for you than actual meat.
There are many products on the store shelves which mimic meat; they don’t have any animal protein and are likely low in cholesterol. However, the ingredients are often highly processed and have a high content of sodium and fat.
Any advice would you give someone trying to be vegetarian?
If you have the means, try to visit a dietician and they can provide professional advice tailored specifically for you.
In my experience, I did a lot of internet searching and research on what a plant-based lifestyle entails. I found themes that repeat from different sources which I highlighted and asked some of my vegetarian friends and colleagues on what worked for them.
Taking a phased approach might assist if you find it difficult to stop eating meat and fish all at once, however, it’s important to keep in mind a timeline with the goal of stopping.
Once I was full on vegetarian, I told my friends and family which helped keep me accountable as they would consistently ask how I’m doing along the journey – almost like a buddy system.