We know people with underlying health conditions are at an increased risk of becoming sick if they catch COVID-19. Although vaccines have been rolled out, new coronavirus variants including the latest Omicron, continue to emerge. Even the most positive amongst us are struggling with endless restrictions on our daily activities. Inevitably our health care institutions and economies are struggling to cope under the strain of continued pandemic surges and are in dire need of help.
STOP AND READ! One does not have to move wholly to a vegetarian or vegan diet to gain much of the health benefits discussed in this article. As you read this article consider joining ‘Meatless Monday’, simply reduce the size of the meat portions in your meals and purchase a vegetarian cookbook to gain inspiration. Now please enjoy the remainder of the article.
There are many behavioral shifts that can happen in individual homes that may make all the difference to our health.
If we adopt a plant based diet to stay healthy, we not only protect our own health and that of our families, but we also reduce the burden on our hospitals and doctors as they cope with another pandemic surge. In the process there is potential to save ourselves money and reduce the demands on food supply chains particularly if we eat seasonal and locally grown foods.
In this article we concentrate on the health benefits of switching to a plant based diet from our own UAN plant based hero’s who offer an insight from two different experiences.
(Climate change is not within the scope of this article but we appreciate some people will choose a plant based diet for reasons other than health and weight control).
Concerns around keeping healthy can trigger a change to a plant based diet.
We are keen to share our personal stories that are equally likely to happen when you have either a health concern or a sports injury which forces you to change your diet and take control of your health. It is important to recognise that this is for people already on this journey and to share positive support stories. The journey is not always perfect and we can all agree it is okay to ‘fall off the wagon’ very occasionally to eat some donuts in the pursuit of happiness.
Try shopping at local farmers markets for the freshest produce where you can literally eat the rainbow.
Janet’s story – The start of 2021 was a personal turning point leading to her going fully plant based after more than half a century eating meat. A health concern and abdominal pains of unknown origin forced her to examine the underlying causes. The mystery pain could have been caused by any number of reasons. While doctors ordered tests (which was not easy in the middle of a pandemic), she questioned long covid, lactose intolerance, a gluten allergy, crohns, diverticulitis, Irritable bowel syndrome, stress or worst case scenario, bowel cancer. Being in general good health, both body and mind, she was concerned to have consistent pain for no reason.
As the doctors worked through each of these with a battery of intensive tests, she considered whether it was time for a pure plant based approach. A year later, she says there is no clear reason for the mystery spasms in her sigmoid bowel. After much worry and the national health service a good few pounds lighter for the experience, the pain had disappeared. The difference was purely down to a change in diet. Yes that’s true, cured by a minor miracle of tomato juice transfusion with nebuliser of green tea, greens injected straight into the stomach and dare we say it, a garlic enema. Okay well that last one is a step too far, but many comments from our garlic covid article will reveal the benefits.
It’s still perplexing why some doctors do not fully discuss (and this could be down to the pandemic) a healthy diet but have all the time in the world to organize an expensive time consuming colonoscopy, several visits to consultants and countless lab tests. Now if you were a procurement specialist you may question the efficiency of this and the long term outcome versus cost. However, we have to face the facts, medicine has become a business and doctors acting in the best interest of patients are compelled to refer to an expert in fear of missing a major diagnosis. We don’t disagree.
The point is, wouldn’t you rather have control of your health than rely on an overstretched health service?
Switching to a plant based diet requires a degree of thought particularly if you suffer from an illness. The reason we say that, many plants will have active phytonutrients that can make your bowel extremely ‘reactive’ and increase metabolism rate initially. This in the short term can make you feel worse. Doing it gradually, by slowly cutting the number of processed meats (we are not advocating a complete cut of meat, remember this is a country of free will and is for those already looking for advice on how to do this switch) to limit it to at least 2 days per week for a start.
It doesn’t have to be complicated to have the best flavor, coriander* and spinach* Koftas with a lettuce* salad for lunch.
In tandem with any physiological concerns it’s also important to balance your psychological life and continue to achieve personal goals. For Janet, it is being competent to sail the archipelago of islands she calls home on the west coast of Scotland. We can’t emphasize how important it is to get outside to allow your skin to absorb sunshine which helps convert cholesterol in the liver to Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), an essential cofactor for iron absorption. With increased levels of Vitamin D the expression of proinflammatory cytokines can be significantly diminished, which is critical for COVID-19 recovery.
Exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle when combined with a plant based diet. The type of exercise you choose can determine how many calories you burn (remember 30mins cycling is not equivalent to 30 mins swimming). Doing this outside can also help you build up Vitamin D levels, preventing the need for supplements.
Chris’s story – A keen sportsman, Chris is no stranger to a daily exercise regime. People who know him well will know he cycles whenever he has time and the weather cooperates. When he is not on his bike (or at work), he can be found hiking along rivers in search of fish or paddling the lakes with his wife or close friends in the pursuit of health and happiness. Age, time and injury have forced him to change his normal routines. Whether it is a trip to the gym, the pool or simply a long walk with his wife and dog he continues to focus on exercise as a way to manage stress, anxiety and weight. Signs of aging caused him to approach his doctor with questions about changes he was seeing with his body. His doctor encouraged him to take a break from meat to try a plant based diet, convincing him that ‘it really can’t hurt’ considering it’s ‘free’ medicine. Following his doctor’s suggestion of ‘what do you have to lose?’ Chris says, in hindsight, it was the best health advice he ever received. Despite this great advice, he kept eating at the same rate (well he is a big guy!) without realizing his changes in activities and age did not burn an equivalent amount of calories and he soon started to gain weight. His doctor then suggested small additional changes in his diet that could help him shed excess pounds. Although he was skeptical at the start, he managed to shed 15lbs in 2months.
Multitalented, Chris grows these chillies* and makes delicious cowboy candy preserves that can be stored for winter or added as supplements to meals. Preserved and pickled vegetables are a great fermented food source, perfect for promoting a healthy microbiome. Remember covid is known to affect the balance of gut microflora.
When to expect the first positive effects and how to start transitioning to eat plants
As you transition to being a herbivore one of the first things you notice is an increase in energy and vitality. Gradually, and this will take a few weeks, the largest organ in your body, the skin, will reduce outbreaks and dryness. For some you will notice a positive difference in the color of the whites of your eyes and texture of your hair and nails. These are all outward indicators of eating a healthy non toxic diet.
Add these anti-inflammatory prebiotic foods to your diet to extend your immunity to combat new virus variants and even to help you recover from long covid. Read our extensive EAT THIS blogs for access to information on the health benefits and how to grow some of these plants in CEA.
‘New Year’s Resolutions should be daily to have a super life’ Darin Olsen, Author of Super Life.
So what difference has this made to Chris? He has managed to lose weight, feel healthy and still stay happy with no negative impacts from eating a plant based diet which helps him keep fit and in control of any weight gains.
It’s important to recognise men and women have different experiences when switching diets to lose weight.
The answer is to keep it simple. Much of it is about controlling your mind. It’s not always a good idea to measure calories or get fixated on measuring weight although it’s a good idea to see if you are staying on track. Health is initially more important than weight. Food should look good, make you happy when you eat it (not eating for convenience sake) and if you follow that you will become more enthused about eating the rainbow.
Breakfast and early/mid morning snacks are a great place to start with easy gains. Red color will stimulate your mind to think of nutrition, again another small trick in supplementing what you already eat. Subconsciously you will add more to this everyday and it will become something you look forward to in the morning.
Eating a handful of blueberries* and redcurrants every morning will not only help you lose weight (they are low in calories) but they are also high in antioxidants and will keep your heart and liver healthy.
Snacks – keep it simple with pickled peppers* with avocado on sesame Ryvita.
Hydration is most often associated with cool drinks but if you live in a cold country like Scotland during the winter try keeping hydrated with hibiscus* tea as a good substitute.
As growers we are exceptionally lucky to have easy access to some of these amazing health promoting plants as we have the skills to grow them in our farms. We believe you are only one step away from this too if you emulate our advice on growing in CEA and you can then create wonderful meals filled with anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Pan roasted Lentil Lasagne with Caesar salad and tomatoes is an easy recipe except for cutting rectangular lasagne sheets to fit the pan. Soften them first in water. Soak the green lentils and use them as a direct minced beef replacement. We don’t count calories, just enjoy the pleasure of having this meal once a week. Lentils are rich in fiber, Iron, B vitamins, folate and potassium so the heart health benefits of managing blood pressure and cholesterol outweigh any calorie damage from the cheese sauce.
Or what about an easier recipe if you are in a hurry and on the go? Try cold smoked salmon flakes, light orzo pasta and Vitamin D fortified eggs. A little drizzle of home made sweet chilli dipping sauce will bring it altogether. Once your taste buds become accustomed to great flavors (no salt required) you will crave great tasting food every day.
Tomatoes*, cucumber*, onion, salmon, orzo, mushroom* and fortified egg – 5min maximum preparation time.
A recent review in BMJ reveals people eating a plant based or pescatarian diet have a 73-59% lower risk of developing a moderate to severe Covid infection. A number of studies now point towards the advantages of having a plant based diet to protect against SARS-CoV-2 especially for those in high risk groups like diabetics, and those who have heart disease or are overweight.
It makes sense at this time in history to take personal steps to protect your health.
Based on our experiences we encourage you to talk to your doctor about a healthy diet but it is also a good idea to speak to a dietician or nutritionist particularly if you need advice to compliment an existing long term health condition.
Finally if you want more information on the power of plant phytonutrients in the fight against COVID-19 we have it all covered in our COVID article on EAT THIS.
Janet Colston PhD is pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.
You can follow The Functional Plant Company on Instagram.