Bumrungrad Hospital

This post had been sitting in my drafts file for six months! I may as well finally publish it! ūüôā

surroundsound5000

For the second year now, I have been lucky enough to have a full medical provided by the medical insurance that I have as part of my job. The small amount of money we get to actually go quite far in Asia and as well as having all the basics done, I always like to ask to have a few extras done, especially those nutrients that a vegan can be lacking. I headed on over to Bumrungrad¬†Hospital in Bangkok (because I just moved back here… YAY) early in the morning with an empty belly to get all my numbers done.

After lots of poking and blood work, I went back to the doctor and listened to the results. Here is our interaction, because I think it illustrates just how much many seeds that can be planted in such a short exchange.

Doctor: So your results are in. Your blood pressure is a little bit low but not low enough to require any treatment. Your BMI is excellent, calcium is fine, iron is a tiny bit low, but not enough to require any work to be done. B12 is good and your cholesterol is excellent.
Brighde: Great. Do you know why my numbers are so good?
Doctor: Why?
Brighde: Well, I have a family history of osteoporosis and high cholesterol, so I am quite sure the numbers being good is because I am vegan. Do you know what that is?
Doctor: No?
Brighde: Someone who eats only plants, like jeh. No meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, fish etc. You know, you should recommend eating this way to your patients who have heart disease. I think it would really help them.
Doctor: But, I think that it is really difficult. Even I cannot do that.
Brighde: Well, I agree with you, that at first it is difficult while you learn to eat a different way, but I want to know. What is worse? Having your chest cut open or eating vegetables?
Doctor: Hmm… Well, what about burgers? I would miss burgers.
Brighde: I can teach you how to make burgers that will be really tasty.
Doctor: Well, that sounds interesting. (She is being very polite while I am telling her how to do her job.)
Brighde: Can I have a piece of paper?

I scrawled down the names of some important films or books that she might like to peruse in her own time.

After our pleasantries, I left the office with a skip in my step knowing that I had planted some really good seeds in that interaction.

Today, I need to go an see her again to pick up the report, and I will be offering her a USB stick with my favourite health related movies which of course, she might watch.

Some other thoughts about this interaction is:

1. Why don’t doctors know more about the health benefits of eating a vegan diet? Well, I think part of this is just the few hours that doctors spend on nutrition in medical school?
2. Why are regular doctors prescribing such moderate and ineffective recommendations to heart disease patients which are rarely successful? I think an answer to this, is that they feel it is impossible to make such ‘drastic’ changes to THEIR lifestyle, surely their patients could not do it either.
3. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if hospitals had health coaches in them, that were covered by insurance that would give the sick people all the help they needed to live a plant-based lifestyle, eg cooking lessons, supermarket trips, counselling etc? Bumrungrad does have a ‘nutrition program and weight management area’ which I must find out more about, but I bet it is not what I have just described.

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Health Improvements Since Becoming Vegan

Since going vegan three and a half years ago, I really do believe that I am much healthier than I was before. Some of these changes are tangible some are just ‘how I feel’, ¬†and I just wanted to share what some of those are. Obviously, this is not a scientific study and I m not claiming anything more than this is what I have observed, and these improvements have been noticed by other vegans and have been documented in research too.

First of all, I have to say that even before I was vegan, I did not really have many health problems. I was rarely sick but I did seem to get more than my fair share of colds, probably about 3 or 4 per year and I also suffered from what I thought was mild hay fever. ¬†I also think it is worth noting that since I have been vegan, my diet has really changed. Today, I eat a huge amount of vegetables of many different colours, which are incredibly nutrient dense, the grains I cook at home are nearly always whole grain but I still try to limit those as they displace the vegetables that are much more healthy. When I started being vegan, a typical dinner might have been a huge plate of pasta with a vegan pesto for example. These days, I might still have the pasta, but it will be a much smaller amount and with a massive green salad on the side and the pasta will probably be wholegrain. I won’t eat pasta 4 times a week (yes…really) rather it will be once a fortnight, perhaps less.

Why are vegetables so important? If we consume a massive amount of different colour vegetables, we are consuming a massive number of photochemicals. These phyto chemicals are so important to our cells’s health and are just not available in animal foods ( phyto actually means plant) which is why government recommendations are that half our plate be filled with non starchy vegetables.

So, healthy improvements that I have noticed are:

  • My nails used to peel considerably and today they don’t.
  • I used to suffer from lots of colds, I rarely I get them anymore. Last year, I got one cold and I think I have had 3 in the 3.5 years I have been vegan. In 3.5 years I have taken 2 days sick leave from work and one of those was a mild flu (fever) and the other was due to a bug of some sort (shaking someone’s germy hand probably). Considering that I work in schools with children in a tropical climate, I do think my immune system is working very well indeed.
  • I used to suffer from something I can only describe as morning mucus… Gross….. I don’t anymore. I suspect might be down to drinking dairy products. No scientific proof, it’s just a hunch!
  • I have also lost a considerable amount of weight. I am now on average 8kg lighter than I was before I went vegan (About 13% of my total weight). When I went back to Australia for the first time last Christmas, many family members commented on how well I looked…. OK… They might have just been polite, but I’ll take it! I am sure this is down to me eating foods that are nutrient rich and lower in calories than dairy, refined flours, cheese etc. I also very rarely drink anymore.

As part of my school’s insurance package, I was also able to have a full medical back in May, ’12 and as well as the general stuff you get tested for, I also asked for tests for my iron, b12 and calcium. I was so happy, to find out, that actually according to those test results, I am in excellent health. My cholesterol is at a very good level (much lower than ‘normal’)*, all my nutrients levels were in good shape.

While, I know that my results might have been the same if I was vegan or not, especially as I do not have a ‘before’ test to compare but I do know for sure that I am in excellent health DESPITE being vegan.

*It’s worth noting here that people who have ‘normal’¬†cholesterol¬†levels STILL get heart attacks. I want to be heart attack proof which is why I aim for a very low¬†cholesterol¬†level.

 

Post Cleanse Reflection

I arrived back from my amazing summer trip about 3.5 kilos heavier than when I left and I was feeling seriously bloated and bleurgh. I often look forward to coming back home for a couple of reasons. 1. I get to see the cats and 2. I can get back in to my normal habits with eating and exercise. For me, I wanted to get back to eating properly and ideally lose the weight that I had put on over the holiday. These were my big priorities alongside getting started with my new position at school.

I decided I was going to do a cleanse when I came back from the USA before I even left for Canada. I even knew which one. I bought a copy of Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast and it was waiting for me in Canada. Even the timing of the cleanse worked out well as Seb decided to prolong his trip by 2 weeks. I had the sneaky suspicion that he might not be in to this cleanse business as much as I would be.

Ani’s Book

On arrival, I was so excited to see that it would be easy to do in Indonesia although I did purchase some of the super foods that the book specified as I knew they wouldn’t be available there. I bought things like hemp protein powder and green matcha powder but I certainly don’t think you need to have them to get the same results as they could be easily substituted or omitted.

What is the cleanse about? The food on the cleanse is pretty much 100% raw. Ani divides the cleanse into 3 parts. The first 3 days are smoothies and cold soups only. The next 4 days add a salad in to the 5 daily meals mix and in the last 7 days more of a main meal is added in the evening. There is a wide range of different ingredients used to make the recipes and all of the ingredients have their own nutritional benefits. When you are doing this cleanse you are really just getting a huge range of very healthy foods in to your body.

Observations about the cleanse itself: First of all, I really don’t like the term cleanse. Sadly, these days there are so many negative associations with this word. You hear about the cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse and it just sounds ridiculous. However, to me, this actually was a cleanse ¬†in the true sense of the word. It was about eating incredibly healthy food, rebooting my system after a few weeks of indulgence and hopefully installing some new habits. I think it is usually completely pointless to go straight back to what you were eating before a cleanse. I think you need to have some take aways and I really did from this experience. I am under no delusions that something magical happened to me to lose weight. I know that I lost weight¬†because¬†the calories I ate were less than the calories I expended which led to a calorie deficit. Ani talks about coconut oil being a fat burner. I am a little¬†skeptical¬†about this and many of the claims she made in her book as they were not properly referenced. I did do a calorie count of some of the days meals and I was certainly would have had a significant¬†deficit each day however, the challenge with dieting is eating enough to feel satiated. Ani’s plan managed to do this most of the time probably due to the use of nuts and plenty of foods chock-a-block of fibre. I should also add that I stuck to the cleanse 100% with only a couple of dish or ingredient substituions when needed.

Reasons for doing the cleanse: Like I stated above. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained on holiday and feel a bit less bloated. I also wanted to try 100% raw for a while and follow a program that was quite rigid so I could see if there were any results. I also needed a bit of a reboot after a very decadent summer, try some more things and get in to some new habits. I also wanted to see what would happen if I went without gluten for 15 days. Would it make me feel any different like so many people say?

Positives:

  • I liked most of the food and some of it was surprisingly very good. It was quick and easy to prepare. Every work evening I would make dinner for that night and then breakfast, snack, lunch and snack for the next day. That’s 5 different things! I would say that I spend about 1 hour in the kitchen in the evening. Not too long considering.
  • I¬†especially¬†loved all the wonderful breakfast smoothies. Some of the combinations like ginger mint and pear, lime ginger shake were fantastic.
  • The food kept well in the fridge. This meant I could prepare food the night before and just take it to work.
  • I didn’t get to weigh myself until the end of the day 2 due to the batteries being empyty in my scale. My weight at the end of day 2 was 66.5kg. On the morning of day 16 at the end of the cleanse it was 62.4kg. That’s a total of 4 kg! ¬†This was really exciting for me. I like the idea that I can just do a few days of eating this way if the kilos pile on and get rid of them. I felt so much lighter than before.

Negatives:

  • I didn’t like all the dishes. Some of them were only just edible for me (perhaps 10% of the total recipes). Luckily I am just one of those people that can usually get something I am not keen on down the¬†hatch regardless. This would have been a bigger problem for someone who only likes to eat things that they like.
  • Secondly, I did get hungry from time to time. This was much more of a problem at the weekends. During the week when I was busy at school then there wasn’t usually time to get peckish and to stand in front of the fridge. The weekends when I was wandering around the house was much more of a problem as the meals didn’t keep me full for as long. This I find very telling. It shows that I often eat when I am bored / or have time on my hands. I didn’t think I was an emotional eater, but I might be when I’m bored. I need to work on strategies to deal with these feelings.
  • It wasn’t very social to be on a cleanse. I had to take my food with me when going out the the mall and eating it (during fasting month) was a bit of a challenge but I guess I am used to that. ūüôā
  • For some people not used to vegan or raw food this might be a challenge. There are funny ingredients and very different foods to a the diet that most people eat. Lots of cold soups might freak some people out. This might lead to people giving up. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are looking to try to go vegan as they might not be able to do it and then give up on veganism. I would recommend it to people who were fully open and committed to make drastic changes in their diet to see if it gives them results.
  • I would have liked to see a nutritional breakdown of the recipes. Of course, we can do it ourselves, but I think it adds a certain amount of validity to the book to have that. Also, on the 15 day meun plan I wish page numbers for the recipe could have been included. Going back to the index all the time was annoying. The book did have a very cheap feel to it and I also saw some problems with the index.
  • The groceries for the cleanse were a bit more expensive than I would normally spend. I had to have lots of avocados and also berries which were out of season. The “superfoods” I purchased were pricey as they always are, but I will be using long after the cleanse is over so during the cleanse they were not that expensive for the duration of the cleanse.

My Takeaways:

  • I will be reusing many of the recipes from her cleanse on a regular basis as I enjoyed them so much. I will also prepare my morning shakes the evening before and possibly a snack shake for lunch or a snack.
  • I’ll try to stick to similar portion sizes and snack on low calorie fruit and vegetables when needed. I love to eat and can put food away like nobody’s business, but I often find that the more I eat, the more my appetite increases. Keeping a moderate appetite will help keep me balanced.
  • I am also going to cut down on the amount of grains that I eat and try to have one or two serves a day only. Grains (even wholegrains) are high in calories and not very high in nutrition (compared to leafy greens for example). Of course, I love grains but I don’t think it is realistic for me to keep them out of the diet. I don’t want to and don’t need to (Seb wouldn’t like to be 100% raw and I don’t want to be cooking different meals) but limiting them to a couple of serves a day will help keep my calorie intake low.
  • I will try to eat 100% raw for two meals a day. I will try to eat very high % raw at the weekends.
  • Miso is my new BFF. Many of the savoury dishes called for some miso and it just adds that Umami flavour that most of us really like. I am sure this is when turned a dish from meh to really delicious.
  • I would certainly do this cleanse again if I put on weight or felt a bit bleurgh.

If you are interested in doing this cleanse, check out Ani’s book.

FAQ # 2 – Do I Need to Take Supplements on Plant-Based Diets?

Vegan nutrition is a fascinating subject and if you do a search on the interweb you will find a huge amount of information on this topic. You will find people who have been vegan for 20 years, have never taken anything and they feel great. You will find adverts for all sorts of nutrition powders that promise all sorts of health benefits. How do we get down to the crux of the issue and work out what it is that we really need?

First of all, of course, I am not a scientist, nor nutritionist. But what I can do is refer you to some people who are leading the way in assessing peer-reviewed studies and getting that information out there. Asking your local doctor is not the best course of action. The average amount of time spent studying nutrition is only 6 hours.¬†As a general rule, we can’t trust their suggestions or recommendations. I am also not going to tell you what I have found out on this blog¬†because¬†I think it is really important that you get the information yourselves from the many wonderful resources out there.

“But why should I do this?” you might be thinking. “I thought a plant-based diet was extremely healthy.” Yes, it is. It really is a wonderful healthy way to live, however, we ALL , no matter what diet we follow, need to be more knowledgeable about what our bodies need. Let’s look at the diet of most omnivores. They consume many animal products and as a result we have a health care crisis where the biggest cause of death in the US would be easily preventable with some basic education about nutrition and how to make changes.

The American¬†Dietetic¬†Association’s position on a vegan diet¬†is

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

The only thing that irritates me about the above stance is the comment ‘appropriately¬†planned’. This leads the reader to conclude that this diet is the only one that needs proper planning, when we know that is not true.

So, if you are thinking about being vegan or eating a nearly or completely plant-based diet in the long-term, then there is some essential information you need to know. There are certain supplements that you must take. Failure to do so can lead to deficiencies that when severe lead to conditions that are irreversible.

The following resources are fantastic places to get started in learning about plant-based nutrition. The nutritionists are excellent and not your fly-by-night quack-like nutritionists like Gillian McKeith. Of course, as I always say, don’t take my word for it, look at their credentials and their work critically and decide if you think I am right or not. All of these¬†nutritionists¬†WANT to promote a plant-based diet for health or ethical reasons. They believe that in order for a plant-based diet to be a viable lifestyle option for people, it must have the most accurate and reliable information. Let’s also not forget that scientific studies and findings are being published all the time. Keeping on top of this information is daunting. Luckily these nutritionists look at these studies and distribute this¬†information¬†to the layman like you or I. Their information and recommendations are insurance policies to ensure we have all our bases covered. While we know that a whole-foods plant-based diet is an incredibly healthy way to live, we also know that French Fries and beer are also vegan. There are plenty of vegans out there who eat poorly. Just like meat-eaters who don’t eat vegetables, they are bound to be deficient in some way.

The absolute minimum you need to know can be found out by looking at Jack Norris’ website, Vegan Health. Here are his recommendations¬†and what he personally takes. His advice changes from time to time depending on the latest studies which is (IMO) how it should be. Take this information and go shopping.

If you want to find out more, and I suggest you do, then you should buy a copy of Vegan For Health by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina. It’s an entertaining and informative read and as it was only released last year, it has all the up-to-date information that we need. I also suggest that you subscribe to Ginny’s and Jack’s blog. They often respond to the latest fad or health claim in the media and answer some very specific questions.

So, Ginny and Jack are great resources, but someone who I have only recently discovered is Michael Gregor. I must have had my head in the sand, because this guy is amazing!

Photo by by VancityAllie

He is well-published and well-educated and last year he started putting together an incredible bank of information at his new site Nutrition Facts. Michael is committed to posting a little bite sized informative video every weekday for the next year at least. He already has hundreds of videos. While I am not suggesting you watch all of them, I recommend subscribing to his feed (look at the bottom of this page and click on the RSS button) and watch one of these little 2 minute videos once a day to take away a little nutriton tidbit! Also, his blog is well-worth subscribing to as well.

So, what supplements can you take? Well, those people who are plant-based for ethical or allergy reasons will want to take supplements that are non-animal derived. Deva is a well established brand and not expensive. Your local health-food store should carry supplements that will usually state if they are derived from animals. If those are not your motivation, a local chemist or supplement store like GNC will have everything you need.

One last thing I want to address is the suggestion that if are taking supplements, then does that mean we no longer need to eat fruit sand vegetables? To that I say absolutely not. While supplements have their place, no supplements can supply us with the fibre and anti-oxidants that are so important to our health and well-being. I think the best way is to eat a whole-foods plant-based diet full of  a huge variety of fruit and vegetables and supplement.

If you found this post useful, please share.

Photo by  anolobb

A Day of Vegucation

Last weekend was the third weekend of the 30 Day Veg Challenge. So far we have enjoyed a few different events. Firstly we had a supermarket tour followed by a cooking class where we learnt a few very healthy meals that could be enjoyed packed up at lunch the next day as well quick dinners that can be done after school or prepared ahead of time. We also did a class on demystifying tempeh and tofu. After missing a weekend, I decided to ask those interested to come over to my house for a day of vegucation.

We started the day with a brunch that I’d prepared. We had it all. ¬†Tempeh bacon, cinnamon rolls, lemon yogurt, pancakes, ice cream and sausages. We followed that with a viewing of Get Vegucated¬†and finally a cooking lesson where we focussed on baking in a vegan way.

I had a few motivations for doing today. I really wanted to make a delicious brunch for the challengers because they really deserved it. They have worked so hard in the past few weeks and have made a massive effort in not just cutting out the animal products, but have taken the¬†time to find replacements and learn to cook in a different way. I also wanted to show them that it was possible to replicate all those wonderfully¬†decadent¬†brunch favourites with healthier ones. Well, I think I did an OK job as everyone seemed to enjoy them, either that or they were very polite. As a side note, I made Julie Hasson’s Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream for The Vegan Diner and it is by far, the BEST vegan ice cream I have tasted. So rich and creamy.

I also wanted to thank those that came for being open to seeing Get Vegucated. Get Vegucated is a documentary showing the journey of 3 people from different backgrounds who answered an ad on Craig’s list about going vegan. Marisa Miller Wolfson (vegan turned film-maker) wanted to see if these people would react in the same was as she did when presented with the information that helped her become vegan. I was hesitant to show this film to our little group, as I had stated from the get go that this challenge was about health, not ethics. However, as time went on, I realised that some people did have ethics as a motivator and people who started out thinking about health were starting to think about ethics too. I decided to show the movie with the trailer so people could make up their own mind about whether this was in their remit or not. There were 9 people all together and we watched the film. I’m not sure if this was the first time these wonderfully open people had seen footage of the standard agricultral practice before, but it was clear when we stopped half way through for a break that it had been shocking for at least some . I was actually a little bit surprised¬†because¬†in my eyes, this footage was not the worst I have seen. While the images were shocking and saddening, the context of the film gave us reason to have hope and the idea that we as a group¬†KNOW that there is an alternative way to live and eat. I guess, when you have seen Earthlings and receive¬†information¬†on the latest undercover investigations that go on, perhaps one forgets how powerful seeing those images for the first time can be.

Luckily the film ended on a good note and we moved over to the kitchen where we prepared some chocolate desserts. I wanted to introduce a few different ways to cook desserts. We prepared a chocolate mousse  dates and avocado, some raw cookies made with nuts and dried fruit, some no added refined oil brownies using applesauce as the binder and also a coffee cake with spices.

We stuffed our face for the second time that day. Life was good.

Here’s Jane preparing the chocolate, avocado, vanilla and date mousse.

Here’s Lucius, Daniela’s son. Daniela has been vegan for a few months now. Lucius has recently become vegetarian because he doesn’t want to harm animals. Go Lucius!

Moi with our desserts

Daniela with the mousse

Shruti and Briony making brownies

Ildi and Shruti making cinnamon coffee cake.