Living healthy with plant-based diets

Closing dinner Veg- Fest main NIU veggie bake with ota salad and breadfruit crisps. Picture: VEGFEST.

Diet is one important aspect of life. But if you look at the number of premature deaths related to unhealthy lifestyle choices, you might seriously want to consider a diet that promotes healthy living, happiness and longevity.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that this year noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for about 85 percent of deaths in Fiji.

Qualified nutritionist in dietetics specialised in plantbased diets and sports dietetics, Vittoria Pasca says a plantbased diet is not only healthy and sustainable but reduces our carbon footprint.

Since starting a plant-based movement through food tasting events such as the VegFest, Pasca has seen a growing interest from younger segments of the population between the ages of 25 and 30.

“We would like to promote local varieties of vegetables, fruits and starchy crops to ensure people are eating healthier,” she said, Pasca and her partner have also added a medical outreach component to the movement to promote plant based diet as a tool to prevent NCDs.

“We have been partnering with the Fiji Cancer Society, the Hope Clinic, and the 10,000 toes campaign to do some village and corporate outreach.

“Two years ago we went to the west for the 10,000 toes campaign and I did a healthy cooking class with local ingredients with a nutrition explanation at the FNU campus at Nadi.

“We also went for a village outreach in Sikituru and since last year we have been joining the FCS for some outreach activities on Komave on the coral coast to talk about breast cancer prevention plant-based diet.”

She found that there was a lot of interest in food and people were always curious to know what was said but not everyone would necessarily like change his or her eating habits.

“With the pandemic, people were eating more vegetables, so I think getting people to eat vegetables isn’t something that people would resist.

“Even if someone wants to have one plant-based meal a day then that’s a good investment for health and the planet.

“It’s about giving options and showing that other ways of eating are possible; even just eating five serves of vegetable per day is a great achievement. Pasca’s motivation for going 100 per cent vegan was because she wasn’t comfortable with eating animals. She also did some research on animal treatment and farming so she decided to stop.

“It’s a personal contribution to a cause that you really care about, you don’t need to become a vegan tomorrow but you can decide to start with three meals per week to not eat any animal product.”

She said with a Pacific plantbased plate one could easily receive all the nutrition they needed, and there was often a misconception that plant based food had insufficient protein levels.

“Plant protein sources can be found very easily, you see legumes are a wonderful source of protein, 100 grams of lentil/dhal would have more or less the same amount of protein as meat.

“But they’re much lower in fat and don’t contain cholesterol but have high amounts of dietary fibre, which animals don’t have, along with other important minerals.

“The only thing I would say is keep an eye on your vitamin B12, sometimes you might need supplementation and occasionally when you do blood tests that can be checked.”

Pasca said budget-wise if one went to the supermarket and compared the prices between a bag of dhal and any type of meat,it would be obvious which one would be cheaper.

“Legumes are extremely filling and if you can grow fruits and vegetables than that’s perfect, you save more.

“Otherwise, follow the seasons and see what’s selling around the market. We love local starchy crops and basically we are not buying imported vegetables.”

Pasca feels quite positive about the trend in Suva where people are trying to find better ways of changing their lifestyle, in an enjoyable way.

“I think that VegFest has helped with that, where people try new food without any animal products and I’m also seeing a trend of more heathy restaurants and local food menu.

“Even in January this year there were a lot of people contacting me from Suva who were just trying plant based for a month as a type of detox.

“We have this idea that eating healthier is like a punishment and you have to make sacrifices of everything you like but it’s not.”

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