Taking the vegetarian route

Noy Pullen shares how she changed her diet from meat eater to vegetarian and the benefits she has experienced. Plus, she shares three vegetarian recipes.

Agents for Change, rather than being a prescriptive programme, is a voyage of discovery where the presenters and participants cultivate the fields of health, sowing new seeds that may appeal to someone who has reached a certain point in life and wants to change something.

It’s a basket of ideas taken from diverse sources and holistic opportunities for change. When my colleague, Buyelwa, presents the nutritional element of Agents for Change, she brings three pictures.

These pictures and a few others are presented below in hopes that one of these seeds falls on fertile ground. Ground that you have cultivated unconsciously perhaps, but now it is the right season for you.

Pictures that make you think

Who is the King of the animals? is the first picture question. Of course, most people call out “The lion!” “But is it?” Buyelwa teases. “Who is the strongest; who is able to uproot trees? The one with the stately walk? Who fears no one? (Certainly, not the lion.) The one with the longest memory? The one who eats only vegetation?” After some time, we agree it’s the elephant.

Second picture question: What kind of teeth do humans have? Our incisors aren’t suitable for tearing meat like the cat family. They are meant to grind and chew herbs and vegetables.

The third picture comes from the book of Daniel in the Bible: the king needed advisers to interpret his dreams. He wanted to cultivate wisdom amongst his finest young men. Daniel, a slave who was respected by the king, asked that he and his three friends be excused from eating the delicacies provided from the king’s table. They chose to eat only vegetables and drink water. The king’s guard was afraid that they would be weakened and unable to help the king. Daniel asked to be given his choice for 10 days. After this time, it was found that these four were fitter and more clear-headed than the youths who had eaten the delicacies from the king’s table and drunk the wine.

At some stage of life, we discover that our body isn’t what it used to be. We tend to rely on the medical profession for the solution. Western medicine focuses on the medicinal approach of pathogenesis (discipline which focuses on the production and development of disease) 1. It can’t by its very discipline be all things for all ailments. We can also take responsibility for our own salutogenesis (the relationship between health, stress, and coping)2. This may entail radically changing one’s habits. The very act of changing a habit can bring new positive energy.

My own journey

Recent health issues made it necessary for me to make changes in my own lifestyle. Even before my surgery and follow-up therapy, there were digestion difficulties especially when travelling. The signs were there – loss of energy, stuffiness in the head in the morning, slightly laboured breathing, general low-grade anxiety and feeling out of sorts.

Chatting to people, I discovered I was not alone in this. After hearing from my doctor that most women ‘my age’ (they know how to hit a nerve, don’t they?) use a mild form of laxative daily (wow!) and being prompted by a nagging friend, I went to see a nutritionist.

The vegetarian route

Deep within myself I have been hearing a still small voice whispering vegetarian for a long time now, thanks to Buyelwa’s picture and the food demonstrations we offer at Agents for Change. Everyone on our courses finds these refreshing, filling and delicious. Many of my close friends and family have taken the plunge into the vegetarian lifestyle. My sisters and their family members look great on this new vegetarian life choice and radiate good positive energy.

Yet somehow it was too much of a mission for me. I would have to change my whole kitchen I mused. I would be anti-social I argued. My partner and I would not enjoy our meals together like we used to. Nola, the nutritionist, changed all that. After she finished her introduction to a healthy liver, the old pun ‘To have a good life depends on the liver!’ became a maxim for my daily life. The mission to correct the acidic imbalance in my system has become a priority for optimal health3.

The vegetarian changes

Most animal protein has been replaced by plant protein. I have said goodbye for the time being to anything sweet – most fruit, baked goods, sugar and even honey. Also anything starchy, except vegetables.

I’m even learning to make delicious cheese from various tree-nuts! I’ve been introduced to Kitchari, a combination of white Basmati rice and Moong Dhal (yellow split Mung bean). Apparently, this combination forms a whole protein if one follows the Ayurvedic way of cooking. It’s the basis for most meals when starting the detoxing process.

Pro-biotics and digestive enzymes have been part of this healing path. Starting each day with something called golden milk, available from health stores or pharmacies, or the homemade equivalent (a tablespoon of sesame seed or olive oil mixed with a few drops of soy sauce (optional), finely fresh grated or powdered ginger, grated lemon rind, turmeric (borrie), with a dash of cinnamon and cayenne pepper) can kick-start anyone’s day. Also try a refreshing glass/mug of hot water with a slice of fresh ginger and a slice of lemon (becomes alkaline in the body) instead of tea or coffee.

Spices have become my new palette. You literally paint your dishes with various fragrances. Cayenne pepper and fenugreek – a rich royal red bite; cumin and cinnamon – subtle warm browns; turmeric – magical zingy golden sienna; fennel and ginger – a subtle harmonious hum in any combination. Each choice brings exciting taste experiences. I’m painting my palate with spices. The taste buds wake up and everything seems sweeter, even my morning oatmeal and yoghurt.

The results of being a vegetarian

In the past four weeks, my whole digestion has taken its life back. I stopped the laxative after only one day of my new life. My blood pressure dropped from 188/93 to average 130/65 after two weeks. I’m still taking the same prescribed allopathic dose. My aim is to move to a natural way of lowering the count. I feel more positive, lighter with clearer intentions and the energy to carry them out.

I can now feel the gentle caress of cool air right into the bottom of my lungs, as I have learnt to breathe effectively, when I go for a good brisk daily walk and my new hobby of singing with a voice coach. Thanks to giving up the processed carbohydrates and venturing into being a vegetarian. This is the start of my journey and who knows where it might lead.

Two journaling tools as coping strategies

The discovery of two great tools, which involves keeping a record, has helped me. Each evening to wind down from the day and prepare for the night’s rest, I spend a few minutes reading some lines from an uplifting book. I write out one sentence that jumps out from the page in a special ‘quotes’ book. The following evening I read what I had written and see whether it echoed somewhere through the day. This builds up inner courage for life.

The other tool is to keep a daily diary of my blood pressure which I take b/d. This is important as my long-term goal is to reduce my blood pressure naturally. The only way to do this responsibly is to keep a record. If I had diabetes I would probably record my blood glucose levels in relation to my goals.

Writing it down is a consciousness-building tool rather than relying on electronic memory which doesn’t activate the will. It also reinforces one’s intentions. On the same page you write everything you had to eat that day and in a separate column what you drank and perhaps the insulin dose. In this way, we can perceive the consequences of what we take in. It’s a process of self-knowledge on an inner and outer level.

For someone with diabetes, it would be a great way to monitor the mysteries of the daily blood glucose pattern. You’ll be amazed what an effective self-diagnosing tool this is. It’s a great guide for your health ‘buddy’ whoever that may be.

Have a buddy in your corner

My nutritionist holds my hand every day; she wants a WhatsApp of my blood pressure and any comments, worries or questions. It’s comforting to feel there is someone at the end of the phone following and supporting my process. She is in my corner and is willing and competent.

I invite nutritionists, dietitians and those who work with diabetes patients in the clinics to make this offer. You will have a much better picture of your patient before they hit a bad patch and stray from the desired path you’ve agreed to. It’s an empowering tool and keeps the connection and encouragement which is so important for chronic conditions. You address the danger of ‘burnout’ and can offer a helpful hint, before things snowball into depression.

Welcome to the new you

A commitment towards realistic activities like dietary changes, appealing forms of physical activity, the arts, music, meditation that resonate with your own inner being. All these will energise you, bring peace, joy and renewed life-giving forces. No negative side effects, just good active participation, enhancing your health and celebrating the richness that the birth of each day and night has to offer.

Try these basic vegetarian recipes

Please contact Noy Pullen if you would like more information: [email protected] or 072 258 7132.



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  • Pathogenesis is the discipline which focuses on the production and development of disease. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pathogenesis
  • Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. The term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. More specifically, the “salutogenic model” is concerned with the relationship between health, stress, and coping. Antonovsky’s theories reject the “traditional medical-model dichotomy separating health and illness”. He described the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the “health-ease versus dis-ease continuum”.https://www.definitions.net/definition/salutogenesis
  • — pH affects our body’s state of cleanliness (health) or filth (disease) — Closer to pH of 7.35-7.45: best state of health, able to resist disease and onset of symptoms — Below 7.35 = potential danger or disease state — When blood is acidic, acid waste gets pushed into the tissue cells, compromising them — Over time, cells corrode and its activity is interrupted
  • Chronic diseases associated with pHCancer — Heart disease — Arteriosclerosis — High blood pressure — Diabetes — Arthritis and Gout — Kidney disease — Asthma and allergies — Psoriasis and other skin disorders — Indigestion, diarrhea, nausea — Obesity — Tooth and gum diseases —Osteoporosis — Eye diseases https://www.uc.edu/content/dam/uc/ce/docs/OLLI/Page%20Content/Body%20pH%20and%208%20Health%20benefits%20of%20food.pdf

Welcome to the Superfood lifestyle

Dietitian, Mignon Jordaan, shares ways to incorporate superfood in to your diabetic menu plan. Plus, she shares two Superfood recipes.

Superfood is taking grocery stores by storm and consumers might not even understand the exact role or benefit it has in the body. It almost sounds like food that has superpowers, doesn’t it?

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), diabetes is one of the top three diseases causing early death due to uncontrolled high blood glucose levels. Uncontrolled Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes was shown, by scientific research, to increase the risk for oxidative stress and inflammation and can lead to detrimental conditions, such as heart diseases. So, does this mean as a diabetic patient you need to add Superfood to your grocery list?

What is Superfood?

Many know it as Functional foods, Organic foods or Power foods. Defined by Harvard School of Public Health as: a food that offers high levels of desirable nutrients; are linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value.

However, there is currently no official definition of the word approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) according to the American Diabetes Association.

Personally, I recommend Superfoods to both Type 1 and 2 diabetes patients. All due to the natural existing ingredients that contain some diabetic-specific benefits like lowering your risk for macro-or microvascular complications.

How will Superfood benefit me as a diabetes patient?

Many internet sources have an ongoing list of health benefits such as:

  • Possible cancer prevention
  • Might reduce cardiovascular risk
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Possible anti-ageing effect
  • Might improve blood glucose levels

It seems quite impressive, but let’s have a closer look at a few popular Superfoods that we can consider adding to our grocery list and why.

Popular Superfoods to put in my trolley

  1. Super-fruit

Decide which of the following fruits you would enjoy, combine two-three of them together to increase the quality of nutrients per portion.

Super-fruit Benefits Recommended portion Examples
  • High in vitamin B
  • Might lower risk for heart diseases
  • Reduces oxidative stress
  • Can improve lipid profile and blood glucose levels
  • High in fibre
1 portion = 125g/½ cup

(15g carbohydrates)

175g Pot from Woolworths added in a salad, smoothie or cereal
Blueberries/ Raspberries
  • Low carbohydrate-containing fruit with high amounts of vitamin C
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Low in GI


1 portion= ¾ cup

(15g carbohydrates)

125g Pot blueberries at Woolworths to eat with plain yoghurt
  • High in vitamin C and soluble fibre
  • Low in GI
1 portion= 15 medium size strawberries

(15g carbohydrates)

300g Frozen strawberries to add in a smoothie or to flavour water
Goji berries
  • Boost immune system
  • Might improve blood glucose levels and cardiovascular disease in diabetes
  • Lower risk for cancer, especially colon cancer
  • High in vitamin A, B, C, E, iron, copper, selenium and zinc
  • High in fibre and low in GI
  • Also, high in an antioxidant, named beta carotene
1 portion= 40g/¼ cup

(18g carbohydrates)

Mixed in cereals, smoothies or casseroles

Alternative to raisins

  1. Super-vegetables

These are high in fibre, low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals, to add bulk to your meal or snack.

Super-veggies Benefits Recommended portion Examples
Broccoli sprouts
  • High in vitamins, like folate
  • High in minerals, like calcium
  • Might lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease
1-2 cups cooked per meal Mix into soups or casseroles

Steamed and added in salads

Added in smoothies, stir-fry’s or soups

  • High in vitamin E
  • High in minerals, like potassium and magnesium
  • Rich in carotenoids
1-2 cups cooked per meal
  • High in vitamin A
  • High in minerals, like calcium
  • Might lower the risk of cancer
  • High in fibre and help to control blood glucose levels
  • Might lower risk of heart disease
1-2 cups cooked per meal
  1. Super-nuts and seeds

Are high in unsaturated fat and are such a yummy snack to have during the day, or added to food for an extra crunch.

Super-nuts Benefits Recommended portion Examples
  • Rich in phytochemicals, fibre and protein
  • Rich in omega 3
1 portion= 2-4 tsp Mixed into smoothies, cereal, salads or soups
  • Rich in omega 3, vitamin B and E
1 portion= 3-6 nuts Mixed in salads or smoothies
Chia seeds
  • Rich in omega 3
  • High in fibre
  • High in antioxidants that can prevent cancer and delay ageing
  • Lower risk for heart disease
1 portion= 2-4 tsp Mixed into smoothies or soaked in oats
  1. Super-spices

These are high in antioxidants and other beneficial properties. To be added to dishes for an amazing aroma and flavour.

Super-spices Benefits Examples
  • May improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels in uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes*
  • Might improve cholesterol levels (especially LDL- ‘bad cholesterol’)**
  • May reduce risk of cancer
  • Might assist in fighting bacterial or fungal infections
Added to teas- e.g. like Chia cinnamon tea

Mixed into porridge like oats

Mixed into smoothies

Use as an ingredient to bake rusks, energy bars or biscuits (be careful as these items are usually high in GI, sugar or fat)

Turmeric (or known as Curcumin)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • High in minerals, such as iron
  • Can assist to fight or reduce risk of cancer
  • Might improve blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels
  • Might have anti-psychotic effect***
Ideal for a curry dish

Popular ingredient in the Afrikaans dish ‘Boboti’

Mixed into smoothies, stews, stir-fry’s, savoury rice or soups

Can be added to tea for taste

  • Antioxidant properties
  • Might assist to lower inflammation and risk for cardiovascular disease****
  • Possible preventative effect on diabetic nephropathy*****
Can be added to tea for taste

Added stewed apple or pear

Mixed into stews, stir-fry’s or soups

Used as a flavour for smoothies, fish or vegetables such as butternut

Used in diabetic friendly baking, such as biscuits, muffins or cakes (be careful as these items are usually high in GI, sugar or fat)

*See B.mang et al, **See Robert Allen et al 2013, ***See Hamidpour et al 2015, **** Mahmoud et al 2013*****Rafieian-Kopaei M et al.2013

Aim for balance

Superfood are sometimes seen as a ‘marketing strategy’. There is still research to be done to prove more significant health benefit, especially human studies.

At the end of the day, the definite fact of these Superfoods containing all these beneficial vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, are not to be doubted, and there is clear evidence to ensure the beneficial effects on your health.

As a person living with diabetes, you need to remember to always make sure you have a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates, lean protein and unsaturated fat to prevent any nutritional deficiencies and improve overall health.  There is no harm in incorporating all these Superfoods in your everyday life with the goal to identify the beneficial effect it has on your own body and to never compare your body’s response to someone else’s. Bring on the Superfoods!

Try Mignon’s delicious superfood recipes.

Superfood smoothie: Green vitamin booster

By Mignon Jordaan RDSA Serves 1 Ingredients 1 cup kale and cucumber 1 cup chopped

Goji berry pecan oats

By Mignon Jordaan RDSA Serves 1 Ingredients ¼ cup raw oats-soak in yoghurt overnight ¼/40g


Mignon Jordaan is a registered dietitian. Her hearts desire is to make a difference in people’s lives with her knowledge of nutrition. Being a Type 1 diabetes patient herself, she can walk the journey of “mindful eating” with her clients.

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