Saudis go­ing ve­gan, of­ten to avoid obe­sity


JED­DAH: Saudis are at high risk of obe­sity, which is one of the lead­ing avoid­able causes of death in the King­dom. Many are opt­ing for healthy op­tions such as veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and ve­g­an­ism to avoid obe­sity, while oth­ers have con­verted to them out of a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward liv­ing or­gan­isms.

With the spread of health aware­ness from the Health Min­istry, and peo­ple want­ing to stick to a proper diet and pur­sue a healthy way of liv­ing, many are switch­ing to ve­g­an­ism.

Leena Bab­sail, founder and CEO of start-up Hon­est, started the pro­ject to al­ter peo­ple’s mis­con­cep­tions about food man­u­fac­tur­ing and to in­tro­duce prod­ucts that are free of ar­ti­fi­cial and chem­i­cal ad­di­tives.

She said: “I started Hon­est be­cause as a con­sumer, I couldn’t find prod­ucts that weren’t pro­cessed but tasted good and didn’t have any ar­ti­fi­cials and col­or­ing. I wanted to cre­ate a brand that peo­ple could trust with­out hav­ing to go over the in­gre­di­ents be­cause they knew it would never of­fer them bad fats, re­fined and pro­cessed su­gar.”

Bab­sail be­lieves it is in­hu­mane to con­sume that kind of prod­uct, even if some spe­cial­ists say small amounts of food col­or­ing are harm­less, es­pe­cially when it comes to chil­dren.

“There’s this ob­ses­sion that has over­taken peo­ple since the 1980s about calo­rie in­take; I think snack­ing on some­thing which is a 1,000 calo­ries but fully nat­u­ral is more im­por­tant than stick­ing to a 200-calo­rie snack that is full of sat­u­rated fat.”

She be­lieves peo­ple are start­ing to care about the food they di­gest be­cause there’s more aware­ness now but they have false in­for­ma­tion. “The ‘healthy’ la­bel is now on every­thing, so peo­ple aren’t sure which snacks to go for.”

Dr. Vi­vian We­hbe, a nutri­tion and obe­sity spe­cial­ist, be­lieves a lot of peo­ple are tak­ing a ve­gan di­rec­tion be­cause ex­ces­sive meat con­sump­tion could lead to weight gain. “We rec­om­mend that those with high choles­terol lev­els and blood pres­sure, in­di­vid­u­als who strug­gle with obe­sity and even cancer pa­tients steer clear of red and white meat and to eat more veg­eta­bles.”

She be­lieves it is a healthy lifestyle if ve­g­ans know how to pick their food and re­place meat with ap­pro­pri­ate sus­te­nance. “Fruits and veg­eta­bles lack pro­tein and iron, and veg­e­tar­ian pro­tein can be found in legumes, to avoid ane­mic re­ac­tions due to mal­nu­tri­tion.”

Duaa Badr, a pro­ject man­ager in Jed­dah, turned ve­gan once she re­al­ized she was sur­viv­ing on a diet of junk food and un­healthy choices.

Af­ter a 10-day detox pro­gram that was plant-based with lots of juices, soup and sal­ads, she no­ticed im­me­di­ate re­sults. “By the fifth day, I was feel­ing much lighter and my en­ergy wasn’t af­fected at all. Be­sides, I was en­joy­ing the food I was eat­ing.”

Badr de­cided to stick to a plant­based diet. “What urged me to switch to ve­g­an­ism was to take care of my health and lose the ex­tra weight,” she said.

“Be­ing ve­gan in Saudi Ara­bia isn’t easy. There aren’t many op­tions for ve­g­ans if they wish to eat out — and lots of wait­ers aren’t aware of ve­g­an­ism. The ideal sit­u­a­tion is cook­ing at home, but that isn’t al­ways achiev­able, as I don’t have enough time for it.

“I am notic­ing the change and I see more aware­ness about it now than when I started a year and a half ago, which is al­ways up­lift­ing,” she added.

Ah­mad Ab­dul­salam, from Jed­dah, told Arab News: “I be­came a veg­e­tar­ian be­cause I couldn’t fathom the thought of chew­ing a liv­ing, breath­ing crea­ture. The an­i­mal rights ad­vo­cate in me awoke, and I de­cided I was never go­ing to put any kind of meat inside my body ever again.”

No­tably, Prince Khaled, son of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, pro­motes healthy lifestyles as a ve­gan him­self. He has an­nounced on his Face­book page that Saudi Ara­bia will open at least 10 ve­gan restau­rants by 2020.

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