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My Life As An Unhealthy Vegetarian

How I had to relearn how to eat

Dr Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

My Life as an Unhealthy Vegetarian

I was born a vegetarian.  And if I had lived in India in the 1930s, that would have been enough to avoid diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.  Granted I would have had to deal with malaria, tuberculosis, and dysentery but let’s focus on diet-related diseases.  That is in fact the very heart of the problem.  That is what makes proving the benefits of a healthy plant-based diet so hard.  People who eat a varied, nutritious plant-based diet will only live a long and healthy life if they are also blessed with living in a stable, modern society with relatively good access to healthcare and low rates of infections.  If you eat a healthy, varied, unprocessed, whole grain plant-based diet but then die because you were stung by a scorpion in your bedroom or because you could not have surgery for your ruptured appendix ( both things that have happened to members of my family), then you are going to die.  This is the problem with a recent study that was published in the Lancet (funded by the makers of cholesterol-lowering drugs) that suggested we should eat more fat.

My father came to the United States in 1970.  My mother, my two younger siblings and I came over about a year later.  Almost immediately upon settling down in the United States, our diet changed.  There was ample access to processed foods.  Though we ate traditional vegetarian meals that my mother prepared from scratch, we also started eating chips, cookies, and ice cream.  My father had a Danish pastry with a cup of coffee every day at 3pm at work.  As I began kindergarten and started watching Saturday morning cartoons, I learned about chocolate bars of many kinds. Soon Twinkies, Raspberry Zingers, and Fudgsicles were staples in our house. 

Many things other than the processed foods made my family unhealthy vegetarians.  Prior to refrigeration and factory dairy farming, most of my relatives got a small amount of milk from a local farmer every few days.  Milk and other forms of animal dairy were plentiful in America, causing our dairy consumption to go up.  Furthermore, cheese was never a part of a South Indian diet but once we came to the United States we started to eat cheese, which is concentrated dairy.  Brown rice use to be the cheapest form of grain available to my ancestors but global market forces caused rice producing countries to sell only highly polished and refined white rice.   Lastly, as economic prosperity came to certain segments of my family, the ability to buy lots of oil increased.  Oil had been very expensive, limiting its use.  But as it became readily available, more and more of it was consumed.  Many Indian foods are fried or have lots of oil added which increases calories without adding any nutritional value.

I changed how I ate by eliminating animal dairy.  I make my own soy yogurt so that I continue to get good bugs in my diet.  I use only whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat, oats, quinoa, and barley.  I use extremely miniscule amounts of added oil in my cooking.  I have eliminated processed foods from my diet.  I have eliminated added sugars and have cut back on salt.

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