Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
6 minute read
25 Feb 2021
11:59 am

‘I haven’t been to a doctor in five years’. How a plant-based diet can change lives

Sandisiwe Mbhele

Eating healthier has never been more practical and the right thing to do, it's a win-win says a vegan and vegetarian.

Athlete Wewe has attributed his improved sports performance to a vegan diet. Picture: Supplied

Changing your eating habits can be based on decisions out of necessity, from cardiovascular diseases, heart disease, choosing to exercise or a personal choice for healthy living.

Conscious consumers are influencing the market like never before. More than ever vegan, vegetarian and plant-based meals and products are easily accessible.

What is a plant-based diet?

“A plant-based diet is a diet that focuses on foods derived from plant sources. This includes cereals or grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts. The diet generally omits meat, poultry, fish and dairy products,” says dietician Lethabo Hlahla.

So why are people choosing this route?

Hlahla says there are many reasons for going vegetarian such as personal preference, religious or ecological concerns as “they believe a plant-based diet is healthier or want to lose weight”.

“Many people make the switch to a plant-based diet because of the potential health benefits. This diet is rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, a lower proportion of fat and fewer overall calories which have been associated with improved health. Outcomes including lowering blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL) bad cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, some cancers (breast, colon & prostate cancer) and help maintain a healthy body weight.”

She cautions that for people who follow this diet, some nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and essential amino acids are not easily found in plant sources. Alternatives can be found in nuts, seeds, beans and seaweed.

What separates vegans from vegetarians is vegans have completely cut out all dairy and certain healthier sweet alternatives like honey.

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As a fitness enthusiast and now a vegan, Wethu “Wewe” Ngubo has participated in triathlons and marathons and enjoys pushing his body to the limits.

Health and exercise is a major part of his life. The fitness fanatic used to eat a normal meat protein diet but slowly transitioned to a plant-based diet three years ago.

“I knew about a vegetarian-based diet but never about a vegan diet. For me, I wasn’t getting to the level of fitness I wanted to get to. My recovery was slow, it was taking me longer to recover. Funny enough I came across someone on YouTube about people who were on plant-based diets and how much better they were performing.”

Athlete Wewe has attributed his improved sports performance to veganism. Picture: Supplied

Wewe remembers a time he went to a health lecture. To his surprise he found that 80% of the food on offer was plant-based. He says a person he met there looked 20 years younger than his real age.

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“He told me he had been on that diet for several years and that he was in his 40s. I was absolutely shocked because he looked much younger.”

Intrigued, he did more research and found out about vegan bodybuilders who weren’t eating any meat for rgwue protein. From 2016 to 2018 he started eating more vegetables, cutting down on sugar, dairy, meat and eventually leapt to being a vegan.

Wewe says he immediately noticed the differences, he was more energised, lost weight and felt lighter and healthier.

 

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“It had improved my cardiovascular system. I used to have heart palpitations that eventually went away.  My recovery was much quicker and my energy levels went straight up.”

Adding more fibre (beans, broccoli, banana) to his meal plans, the overall changes reduced his visits to the doctors.

“I haven’t been to a doctor in five years,” he proudly says.

Wewe disagrees with the misconception that taking the healthier route is more expensive and will increase your spending budget.

“For R200, I can buy veggies, chickpeas, beans and fruits. It would cost you the same amount to buy a steak, so it’s much cheaper.”

Wewe’s fridge is packed with all greens and plant-based ingredients. Picture: Supplied

He adds that popular meat alternatives such as Seitan ribs, bacon, steak and Beyond burgers will cost you more as they are expensive.

Seitan options have swamped the industry with people feeling they need to have meat alternatives with the texture and taste of actual meat.

The athlete likes being in control of what he eats and for him, veganism is a way for people to do better. He isn’t necessarily advocating for all people to go vegan.

Wewe concluded he is never going back: “I will live this way until my last breath.”

At just seven years old, Mia van Niekerk decided she no longer wanted to eat meat and admits she never liked meat anyway.

As a vegetarian, the now 10-year-old said she had a few health diet problems and explains her decision: “The reason I actually started was that I felt really bad about other animals and I didn’t want to go back to eating them.”


In part her commitments were based on the content she was consuming, videos of animals suffering on farms that produced meat.

“I saw baby piglets getting slaughtered and I really hated that. I think it is fine that other people eat meat, I am not going to judge them, I just don’t eat meat myself.”

Her resolve was helped by her growing love of vegetables as her mother continued to cook more of them. She feels much happier as a vegetarian, has less anxiety and felt good that in her own way she was helping animals.

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Mia says that adults are the ones with more questions and judgement about her decision, especially during social events, but this has not deterred her. She has also influenced friends to try out vegetarianism. One friend, Sophia, decided to go vegetarian, convinced by the points she made.

Some of her family members have tried as well, even though their attempts were not successful because they “got bored” with eating vegetarian food.

A plant-based meal doesn’t have to be boring, though. Mia says one of her favourite meals is a salad she makes with her mother. “There’s some feta cheese, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and lots of vegetables.”

Check out the video above of her making a delicious vegetarian meal.

For a plant-based meal plan or more information, a registered dietitian can be a beneficial resource.

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