Personal health benefits of a plant based diet

Why did I change to a plant based diet? How long have I been on this diet? Am I ever tempted to go back to my old vegetarian diet? Am I seeing any benefits since the change? How did I fight my dairy addiction? Where do I get my nutrients from? Do I take any supplements? These are some of the questions I am asked regularly. To answer them, first here’s my background.

My name is Rajaram and I come from an ethnic Indian background, born in South India, raised as a vegetarian. My diet predominantly included milk, yoghurt (curds), butter milk and ghee. For the first 35 years of my life, I didn’t know the taste of cheese. The next 20 years, in addition to the normal dairy infused vegetarian diet, saw a steady increase in cheese consumption , particularly cheddar, mozzarella and feta. However, my ghee consumption waned off to complete exclusion.

Being an IT professional, my work life was desk bound. Coffee intake was 2 to 3 cups per day. Have always been a non-smoker. Exercise was scant or none at all.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, high triglyceride level and high cholesterol level. With medication alone, it took 3 years to achieve normal cholesterol level, 7 years to control blood sugar level, 7 years to regulate triglyceride, which was more a roller coaster ride. Maximum potency of medication, combined with regular exercise didn’t result in any dramatic change. Frustration prevailed.

On December 14, 2017 my wife, after many a repeated requests, finally convinced me to sit and watch What the Health on Netflix. That was the first time I learnt about the benefits of a plant based diet and decided to give it a go. December 15, 2017 was a major milestone in my personal calendar, when I gave up dairy for good. The decision was difficult. I loved my yoghurt, much more than milk or cheese. Fridge was always stocked with natural set yoghurt. If I chose to gradually reduce eating yoghurt, I knew that would be a failing battle. So, I decided to take the plunge, make a binary switch to plant based diet, emptied the fridge off all dairy products. There was no source of temptation in my immediate surroundings.

The change reflected well in the medical tests repeated eight months down the line. Sugar level, cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed a significant change towards the better. That made me never to look back at dairy.

I must confess that it was very difficult to keep myself from digging into a pot of yoghurt. Will power held me back. I had to devise a method to keep away from dairy. In an article by Michael Greger with title – “How much pus is there in milk?”, I learnt that the average somatic cell count in a spoonful of milk was 1.12 million. EU allows 400 million pus cells per litre of milk! Industry says this is Okay because the milk is pasteurised. To me, it was disgusting. By introducing and constantly reminding myself of this “YUK Factor”, I was able to keep all dairy products at bay. I started telling myself that yoghurt was “fermented pus” and cheese was “concentrated pus”. Thus a new path of resistance opened up in my mind.

My wife had already switched to a plant based diet because of her intolerance to cruelty meted out to the dairy cows. My son, then 10 year old, also switched to a plant based diet to support me. My mother, then 76 year old, also switched to a plant based diet. I was, thankfully, surrounded by family who helped me stick to my new diet. This played a key role in the change process.

It wasn’t difficult to cook meals without dairy. Some traditional Indian dishes use butter, ghee and yoghurt. Today, these can be easily substituted with non-dairy alternatives. I use Nuttelex for “butter” spread on toast. Virgin coconut oil is used for cooking.

I eat a healthy balanced meal every day. Heavy breakfast – mushrooms on toast, hummus on toast, avocado & tomatoes on toast, scrambled tofu (tofu burji) on toast, to name a few. This keeps me going for a good 4 to 5 hours. Moderate lunch – chickpeas, read kidney beans or butter beans, seasoned with mustard, ginger and curry leaves in coconut oil, with salt and ½ a lemon juice. I finish my lunch with a glass of “butter milk” made from a couple of tablespoons of coconut yoghurt, a pinch of salt, a pinch of asafoetida and two to three crushed fresh curry leaves in a glass of water.

Dinners include salads with soft toasted bread and cheese made from cashews. I end my dinner with a bowl of fruits or a glass of fruit juice. I still have two cups of black coffee with no sugar. Sunday is the only day we, as a family, enjoy a traditional Indian meal but with no dairy products. 

I take B12 supplement as sub-lingual drops or tablets. Recommended to one and all. My uncle who was a vegetarian is now on a plant-based diet, had B12 deficiency despite consuming dairy. A couple of my friends had to take B12 injection. Their diet included red meat and fish. This convinced me that B12 supplementation is essential for everyone, not just for those on a plant based diet.

I now advocate a plant based diet to anyone who is willing to listen to my story. Some of my friends and older relatives say – “we have been consuming dairy for hundreds of years. So, why should I change now?” I share two points with them, which I would like to share here.

1. The dairy industry today is not the same as it once was.
2. The impact of dairy on our health hasn’t been well understood.

For those of you consuming animal products because of tradition, I would like to quote my father who taught me to step away from the “Black cat in the basket syndrome”.

The story goes like this. It had been a tradition for an Indian family to place a black cat in a covered basket before performing a religious ceremony. But then, it became a struggle to find a black cat before each religious ceremony. Not only was it proving difficult to find a black cat but the process was becoming a logistical nightmare and expensive too.

Stepping back, when he was asked why he wanted the cat, his response was that he was following a procedure laid down by his father. Speaking to his father about this, it was discovered that he practised it because his father did so. Finally, on reaching the grandsire and asking him why he did what he did, he replied that the household had a black cat, which was a big nuisance during the ceremony and had to be placed in a basket in order to progress with the ceremony uninterrupted! 

I think the time has come for each one of us to step back and question whether we have been trapped by this syndrome. 

There is more than enough research articles not funded by the dairy industry, which throws light on the negative impact on our health. I have read some of these articles and have watched talks by Dr Neil Barnard, Dr Michael Klaper and Dr Garth Davis on Youtube. I am convinced beyond doubt that my decision to change to a plant based diet is irreversible.