Categories: Food

Journey to a plant-based diet

Yvonne Smith prepares a Wild Rice Salad during her Journey to Healthy Eating class at the Red Willow Community Church.

For more than 30 years Yvonne Smith has been on a path experimenting and discovering healthier ways of eating.

Still on that journey, Smith has come to embrace a whole-food, plant-based diet free of unprocessed goodies. For her the evil trinity of food is oils, dairy and meat.

At the same time, she floods her system with healthy nutrients from eating large amounts of unprocessed grains (buckwheat, oats, quinoa, bulgur), vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.

Many would consider this a radical dietary departure. For Smith, it is a healing experience that prevented a downward slide of health issues, and she is eager to share her successes with others.

Good nutrition is a key to healthy living, and through trial and error, Smith has developed recipes, tips and techniques that help her along the way.

At the time of her candid testimony, the St. Albert resident was hosting a free cooking demonstration on salads to a crowd of 25 at Red Willow Church.

“Whole grains and vegetables are the most satisfying foods. I don’t get hungry as quickly and you lose weight quickly if that’s your objective,” Smith said.

She had spent three decades enjoying a typical North American diet cycling through yo-yo weight loss. After changing her nutritional game plan to a plant-based diet, the excess weight “melted off.”

But losing weight was not a primary goal. Through the years, she suffered from eczema flare-ups, irritable bowel syndrome, a hiatal hernia, severe abdominal pain and an eruption of mucous in the throat whenever she ate dairy products.

Smith was also prone to fibroid cysts and kept hoping they wouldn’t turn cancerous. “My muscles started getting weaker – my arms, my legs. We didn’t know what it was. I was tested for MS but nothing showed up on the tests. When my legs started giving out, my doctor suggested I be put on braces. I was only 52. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do.”

Dr. Caldwell Essely’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, advocated eliminating all processed oils including heart-healthy olive oil from diets. He believed processed oils injured the epithelial lining of the stomach and intestines and caused inflammation.

“At first I thought it was quackery. We need oil in our diet I thought,” she said adding she’d always used Udo’s Oil and the more expensive olive oils. But they were all processed.

As an experiment, she eliminated all cooking oils using broth or water as a replacement.

“After two months, my eczema disappeared and my fibroids shrunk to the size of a pea.” She slowly gained strength in her arms and legs and today boasts the energy level of a woman half her age.

But the complete shift to a plant-based diet did not come easily to someone who was baking cakes in Grade 3 and enjoyed steak and lobster as much as the next person.

“When I started eating brown rice, I had to mix it with white rice. The taste was just too powerful for me.”

Transitioning was a gradual process made easier after retiring from Bernina Canada. She was a saleswoman, constantly on the road showing retailers the latest innovations in technology.

Today, retirement allows her the option of setting her own schedule – one that usually involves two meals a day.

“I got away from the traditional breakfast. I don’t usually eat until I’m hungry. That’s about 10:30 a.m. I’ll cook whole grain oats or groats and throw in a handful of raisins and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Close to 5 p.m. I’ll have supper. Like tonight we’re having veggie meatballs with sweet and sour sauce, grains and brown rice.”

Fad diets often trigger hunger pangs at unexpected moments. To keep hunger at bay, Smith centres her meals on a starch rich diet.

“Whole grains, potatoes, legumes – that’s what satisfies me,” she said adding that she advocates Dr. John. McDougall’s The Starch Solution, a diet plan that believes carbs are not an enemy.

“The real key is finding food you love and finding a healthier way to make it. For myself, when I learned to make pizza or lasagna without cheese or making ice cream without dairy, there was no turning back.”

Shifting from a western to a plant-based diet is a big adjustment. Different bodies react in different ways.

“If anyone embarks on this journey, they should keep in touch with their doctor and keep doing blood work. It’s a serious change. Just be open ended. Start with one meal. Start with one day. Start with one week.”

“You might fall off the wagon and that’s OK. You get back on it and before you know it, there’s a difference.”

Judging by the questions asked at Smith’s cooking demonstration, the crowd was enjoying and appreciating her enthusiasm and ideas.

“Teaching gives me a real joy. It gives me satisfaction when people come up to me for continued support and I enjoy giving back to my community. When I was working, I was way too busy looking after life, but now I have the opportunity to give back and it’s very rewarding.”

Smith will host two more cooking demonstrations. Soups are the theme on Wednesday, Feb. 8 and Salads Beyond Lettuce is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 22. Both demos run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Red Willow Community Church, 15 Corriveau Ave. Attendance is free, however donations to cover costs are welcome.

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.