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How a Vegan Diet Affected My Health

Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.

Let food be thy medicine (Hippocrates)

Let food be thy medicine (Hippocrates)

I Switched to a Vegan Diet

To put my cards on the table at the start, I became a vegetarian way back in 1984. A few years after that, I had a brief dalliance with veganism, which I was unable to sustain due to peer pressure, poor product availability and, if I'm being honest, a lack of commitment on my part.

Time marched on, and 2011 saw me in a relationship with a young woman who lived with me. One day, right out of the blue, she announced that she was switching to a vegan diet. I was taken aback, but jumped on board with her, keen to explore this further step again, but this time with a soulmate. Our relationship ended soon after that, and she has since lapsed, but I found that the diet and lifestyle suited me, so I kept it up.

And this time around it was a lot easier than my earlier failed attempt. The whole vegan bandwagon was gaining momentum; Greggs had introduced their vegan sausage roll, while Ben & Jerry’s were pushing out delicious new flavours of dairy-free ice-cream. Trendy coffee chains were falling over themselves to get vegan lattes and cookies onto their menus, and nutritional information became available in abundance via the Internet. I partook of this plenitude with great gusto, and I even considered starting a blog to review the abundance of new vegan products that were coming out. I was in it for the long haul this time.

Meanwhile, from a health perspective, I assumed that as I’d ditched cheese and eggs, the results of my annual health review, a sort of medical MOT, would be an improvement on the previous year’s. I was in for a nasty surprise.

115 kg (253 pounds) Time for change

115 kg (253 pounds) Time for change

Home Truths About My Diet

I had been eating pretty much anything that didn’t contain animal products. I’d feast upon such fattening fare as fried sausages, assorted pastry goods and all manner of sweets and cakes. After a meal I would happily munch half a dozen chocolate chip cookies with a cup of tea. My cholesterol and blood pressure were going in the same direction as the pointer on the bathroom scales, and the grim facts were revealed at my next annual health review.


I weighed in at 115 kg (253 pounds), and I’d retained my permanently swollen left ankle, which had been with me for about five years. I was rather self-conscious about it, particularly in the summer when I wore shorts and it looked like I was smuggling a butternut squash in my sock. I assumed this would be with me forever, so I had learned to live with it.

The vegan fry-up was a common sight on my table

The vegan fry-up was a common sight on my table

Obesity, Pre-Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol and a Swollen Ankle

But weight was only one part of my health woes. According to the scale they use to measure cholesterol, mine had once stood at an artery-clogging 6, and it was still the wrong side of the healthy upper ceiling of 5.

I'd had a worrisome conversation with my doctor about how my lipids were causing concern, and statins and their side effects. I foresaw my decline into their use as inevitible. Then the doctor delivered even less welcome news; a pre-diabetes diagnosis.

I have covered my pre-diabetes experience in another article, but just to recap, to diagnose diabetes we use the HbA1c scale, which registers average blood glucose levels for the last two to three months. On this scale, a reading under 42 is normal, 42 to 47 indicates pre-diabetes, and 48 and over is full diabetes. My reading was 43, well down the pre-diabtes road.

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So I had issues with my weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, pre-diabetes and a swollen ankle to boot. My future looked pretty grim, but there was a faint sputtering candle among the dark thoughts these unwanted results had inevitibly triggered.

Healthy option: Lentil curry with kale, brown rice and wholewheat sweet potato roti

Healthy option: Lentil curry with kale, brown rice and wholewheat sweet potato roti

Could a Plant-Based Diet Reverse My Ailments?

During my aforementioned online study of vegan nutrition, I came across videos by doctors who were promoting a whole food plant-based diet to arrest, and in some cases reverse some of the West’s most common illnesses, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. I decided to put their suggestions to the test to see for myself if they would be effective.

I ditched white rice in favour of brown, and swapped white pasta for wholewheat. I cut right back on oil, and I shunned sweet things. At the outset of my whole food journey, I was concerned that I’d miss all those sweet goodies I loved, but this didn’t happen. I adapted to my new eating regime quite happily, and walking down the bakery aisle at the supermarket without giving in to temptation was easier than I’d anticipated. In place of all those goodies, there was lots of kale, sweet potatoes, broccoli, fresh fruit and all kinds of beans.

So that was my dietary life in the months following my unwelcome results. My next health review was put back due to Covid, so eighteen-months had passed since that last review. Here’s how it went.

My Health Review Results

My weight was down from 115 kg to 102 (224 pounds). I’m no expert, but I’d say that it was as a direct result of that weight loss that my ankles returned to symmetry after all those years. My cholesterol, which you will recall had once stood at an artery-clogging 6, was down to a very safe 4.1. On the HbA1c scale, I had slid from a concerning 43 to a healthy 35, which means I am no longer pre-diabetic. My blood pressure was still a little on the high side, so I’m continuing low-dosage medication for that, but I have my next review coming up soon, so I’ll see how that has fared over the past year. The biggest gain of all for me though is that I feel great, so I'll be continuing down this road.

Further Reading on a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

Footnote

To get my weight up to 115 kilograms for the bathroom scales photo above (yeah, nice socks) I put cans of food from the pantry into a rucksack, which I had on my back for the weigh in. When I took the rucksack off, I was genuinely astonished at how heavy it was. That was weight I used to carry around all of the time.

Healthy homemade soup and wholemeal pittas with hummus and salad

Healthy homemade soup and wholemeal pittas with hummus and salad

Whole Food Plant-Based Playlist

As a young punk rock type, I was delighted when a local bar put a few punk singles onto the jukebox, including this piece of mastery. It has everything; great guitars, kitchen sink lyrics, and a catchy chorus. Sadly, frontman Nicky Tesco died in February 2022, aged 66.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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