Looking to Go Vegan? Advice From a Physician Who Tried a Plant-Based Diet for 21 Days

2 years ago
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Are you apprehensive about the thought of change, but toying around with the idea of getting healthier and making some adjustments to your diet? A plant-based diet could be a good option.

According to recent reports, the benefits of a plant-based diet are many. US News and World Report recently reported that a plant-based diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes, improve heart health, slow or prevent macular degeneration, and help aid in weight loss.

If you are considering taking the plunge into a plant-based, vegan diet – take heed of the advice offered by Dr. Angeline Ong, a physician at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City. Dr. Ong leads an active lifestyle, is the mother of twins, and followed a vegetarian diet before submitting to a 21 day plant-based diet challenge that she led amongst other physicians and staff at Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Kicks off 21-Day Plant-Based Diet Challenge. From left, Zee Apelian, Vegan Chef A.J, Dr. Ong, and Nancy Daghighian

1) What were some of your motivations for doing a 21 day plant-based diet and what are some of your biggest successes following this 21 day period?

I have a strong family history of diabetes and hypertension. In addition, I had gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia during my twin pregnancy, which puts me at greater risk for developing diabetes and hypertension in the future. After reading Dr. Joel Fuhrman's book "Eat to Live," I became vegetarian in June 2015 to better my health and prevent weight gain. 

At that time, I was not sure if I would be able to go fully vegan.  I attended the Kaiser Permanente Hypertension symposium in October, and a panel of physicians spoke about the plant-based diet. I learned about other medical centers within Kaiser Permanente doing a 21-day plant-based challenge, and wanted to promote this at our medical center as well.

I did not think I would see much of an improvement in my diabetes and cholesterol results since I had already been vegetarian for 7 months before the challenge (unfortunately I did not check my labs before I became vegetarian). However, my hemoglobin A1c dropped from borderline prediabetes to normal. My total cholesterol also decreased: My LDL (bad cholesterol) decreased from 113 to 79. These are very noticeable improvements for me.

Dr. Ong at a race with her children

2) What are your favorite plant-based recipes?

I knew my biggest challenge would be desserts - I have a sweet tooth! I loved Chef AJ's truffle recipe. At the start of the challenge, I made a batch of the truffles, and had one after dinner every day. This really helped me stay motivated and enjoy the plant-based diet challenge.


3) For those who are "scared" of doing a plant based diet, what inspiration or words of advice would you share?

I really want to encourage a whole-food plant-based diet - avoiding all (or most) animal products, but also avoiding processed foods. It’s not that scary! So much of the food that we eat now is processed store-bought food or fast food. These foods contain tons of added sugar and fats, and are devoid of fiber and nutrients that are good for your body.  You can eat French fries and rice all day, and still be vegan, but that is not any healthier for you. 

Honestly, most of the feedback that we got was that the plant-based diet was a lot easier than people thought it would be. I shop at my local farmer's market on Sunday for what I plan to eat for the week. It is also good to buy a pressure cooker or crock pot. Make a big batch of beans or lentils on the weekend, and you cut down on your cooking during the week.  I did the same thing for desserts (see above regarding truffles.)

4) Should everyone consult their doctor before taking part in this diet? Are there any who might not benefit from a plant-based diet?

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, I advise consulting with your doctor. If you truly adhere to a whole-food plant-based diet, you may need to decrease your dose of high blood pressure and/or diabetes medications. One of our participants was able to stop her insulin.

I would encourage anyone to try a whole-food plant based diet, and take small steps towards incremental changes. You never know, you may find it easier that you imagined. For additional vegan recipes, feel free to visit the Kaiser Permanente Food for Health blog: https://foodforhealth.kaiserpermanente.org/recipe_type/vegan/

 

 

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