Vegan diet can reverse chronic diseases that are prevalent in Nigeria, says Olatunji
Today is World Vegan Day, a day set aside since 1994 to celebrate the benefits of veganism to humans, animals and the environment. Being vegan entails complete abstinence from all animal products, animal by-products and animal exploitation, but in a country where the number of pieces of beef, poultry or fish you have on your plate is almost a status symbol, being vegan is mostly unappealing. Vegans, however, are inclined to mention the immense benefits of their diet. To highlight some of the benefits, LOLADE NWANZE spoke with health and nutrition enthusiast Bolanile Olatunji, founder of Vegan In Nigeria, and owner of Eat Tu Live.
What does it mean to be vegan?
A vegan is simply a pure vegetarian, a person that abstains from all animal products, animal by-products and animal exploitation in any way. The most common difference between a vegan and a vegetarian is that in addition to not eating meat, fish, chicken etc, a vegan will also not eat honey, eggs, milk or other dairy products. It is beyond just food and an ethical decision that is conscious of the impact our lifestyle has on other living beings, the environment as well as personal health.
Is it a practical lifestyle for Nigerians?
Very practical! In fact, most of our traditional Nigerian dishes are vegan-friendly with large amounts of plant-based ingredients- rice, beans, yam, sweet potato, Irish potato, pasta, plantain, vegetable stews with swallow etc. Just remove the meat, fish, chicken, prawns and it becomes vegan. There are great plant substitutes for meat or animal products- mushrooms, Eat Tu Live meatless crumbles, Eat Tu Live soy-free tofu, Veggie Victory veg meat are a few available in the market right now.
What are the challenges of living the vegan lifestyle in Nigeria?
The most common challenges people face while being a vegan in Nigeria is knowing how to prepare a variety of strictly plant-based meals, having time to cook healthy home-cooked meals, sourcing affordable packaged items in shops and finding restaurants that support the lifestyle. Vegan In Nigeria is working to solve some of these challenges with educational content, our monthly meet-up events, working with establishments to add more vegan options to their menus, highlighting where to source specific items as well as the brands that provide products that support a vegan lifestyle.
At what point did you decide to go vegan and how long did it take you to reach the decision?
I transitioned from an omnivore diet while defining what it means to be healthy and after researching the impact of animal foods on the human body. I made the decision to take my health serious immediately but the transition took about 5 months. I recommend those that are interested in changing to a vegan lifestyle to start by adding in more plant-based foods and make small gradual changes daily.
How long have you been vegan for?
Why have you assigned yourself the task of propagating the vegan lifestyle with Vegan In Nigeria? I have been vegan for almost 2.5 years. Since going vegan I have experienced so many benefits from my lifestyle- more energy, mental clarity, sensitivity and compassion towards all living beings, I rarely am sick but if I do become sick the recovery time is quick (ex 24 hours for severe cold). I don’t suffer from common ailments most people have like headaches or constipation.
The purpose of the Vegan In Nigeria community is to promote food consciousness and healthy living. The method we use to achieve this is plant-based. Studies have shown that whole food plant-based lifestyle can prevent and often times reverse many of the chronic diseases that are prevalent in Nigeria – cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, cancer, respiratory disease, obesity etc. People need to make the connection between the things they consume and the health issues they have. You are what you eat and the body is constantly trying to communicate its state of disease with symptoms such as headache, gas, heartburn or chronic pain. If these messages are ignored it manifests into diseases that can become fatal. We just want to do our part and help those that are looking for real solutions. Your health is your wealth and prevention is better than cure.
Are there other accompanying lifestyle changes recommended for the full vegan experience?
The lifestyle changes required to be considered a true vegan would include giving up consuming animals as food, stop wearing animal fur or skin (leather), do not support animal labor or slavery by going to zoos, aquariums or riding animals, do not torture or beat animals, respect the earth / environment by not destroying it with animal farming. I would also recommend people be mindful of the types of plant food they eat and try to avoid acidic food items. Definitely stay away from food with toxic chemicals like monosodium glutamate (MSG) & genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That means all the brands of spice cubes and getting to know your local farmer and how your food is produced. Try instead to cook the way our ancestors did by using fresh herbs and spices!
Is Nigeria ready for the promotion of veganism? And why should we go vegan?
Of course! Now more than ever it is important for Nigerians to try a vegan lifestyle. The vegan movement is growing globally and it’s only a matter of time for Nigerians to catch on and join the movement. Go vegan for your health, the health of your family and friends, the benefit of your environment or community, the animals that do not deserve to be raised only to be slaughtered, spiritual enlightenment, to lose weight, to or feel great. There are many reasons one could choose but more importantly don’t just eat for the satisfaction of taste or to fill your belle, eat to nourish your body with vital minerals.
What are the vital things one must know before embracing the vegan lifestyle?
It’s important to have some sort of support system in place. That could be go-to meals that can easily be prepared when hungry, a sense of community made up of family or friends that encourage your new lifestyle, balancing your diet so you aren’t consuming a lot of fried foods, starch or empty carbs. Food is medicine and if you perceive it as such then you will eat foods that will benefit your body and help it be the best it can be. When I changed my lifestyle I had people that encouraged me and was willing to teach me how to make certain foods. My mom would also support by purchasing fresh vegan produce for the house anytime I visited my family home.
Are there days that you desperately crave fish, meat or dairy food? and how do you respond to the desire?
Never. I don’t crave death. I want to promote life in my body so I eat things that are aligned with that. Dead animals promote death in the body. I prefer to eat to live 🙂
Something amazing happens when you go vegan and your body’s cravings change. You just don’t crave those things you used to and instead will crave other things. Like I will sometimes crave my mushroom suya or vegan omelette. My body craves raw and fresh food items like fruits, salads, wraps, vegan sushi in the hot summers and warm/savory things like tomato basil soup or quinoa porridge in cooler climates.
How long did it take to retrain your tastebud and how can one transit gradually?
I don’t think it was a specific period or that I was tracking it. They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. If I had a goal for training my tastebuds I would aim for at least 21 days. To successfully transition it’s better to gradually add in more plant-based foods while reducing meat/animal food intake. Try going meatless for one meal or one day then one week. Once you are successful try one month or as long as possible. It may be helpful to also seek professional support. My vegan brand Eat Tu Live offers health and nutrition coaching to help people reach their lifestyle goals- going vegan, adding more plant-based foods into their diet, losing weight etc. Being a vegan is just a different perspective on food and living. It’s not only healthier but can be tasty and fun.
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