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