Changing lives: Treat our food as our medicine

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Dr. Walter Vermeulen

Talofa Samoa!

In several previous Health columns we have stressed the importance of building and keeping a strong immune system to fight infections or prevent cancer. 

The famous Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace many years ago in recognition for his work in Africa, is quoted as having said that “Each patient carries his own doctor inside himself (his immune system).” People are mostly unaware of this until they observe the effects of following the whole foods, plant based (W.F.P.B.) diet in wound healing and the prevention of colds and boils. 

There is yet another asset that humans have that helps to keep them healthy and of which, again, they usually are not aware. I am talking of the many trillions of bacteria that live in our intestines. In fact, there are more bacterial cells in our gut than there are human cells in our entire body! Our gut bacteria (or microbes) serve as a filter for all the food we eat, day in, day out. 

Technically speaking, food is a foreign object to our body and the microbial community within each of us significantly influences how the nutrients in the food are absorbed into our body.

How do we make sure that our intestines harbour the good bacteria? It is simple: by eating the W.F.P.B. diet. On the other hand, if we eat animal products, junk and fast food, dairy products and eggs, the good bacteria can’t survive and are replaced by types of bacteria that thrive on these foods. 

Not only that but over the past few years scientists have found out that these bad bugs produce chemicals that do harm to our body. If we eat a lot of meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese or eggs, the bad bacteria are able to convert certain components of the food (like choline and carnitine) into a substance called trimethylamine (T.M.A.), which is absorbed in our body and can lead to the production of other chemicals (like nitrosamines) that have cancer-causing activity. 

Recently scientists at the famous Cleveland Clinic have found out that TMA can be transformed in our liver into trimethylamine oxide (T.M.A.O.), which contributes to clogging of the arteries, leading to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

A word of comfort: those who strictly consume plant foods are not able to manufacture T.M.A.O., because they do not possess intestinal bacteria capable of producing it. The moral of the story: stick to the WFPB diet!

Typical Western animal based diets can “decimate” our good gut bacteria but the good news is that only one month on a plant-based diet results in an increase of the good guys, and a decrease in the bad disease-causing microbes. 

How can we further support the beneficial micro-organisms that populate our intestines? It is through the consumption of Pre- and Probiotics. 

By definition, Prebiotics are ‘food ingredients that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms”. Science became aware of them only about 20 years ago. Dietary prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate or food for them. And what are some of the most readily available food sources that are ideal prebiotics? 

Raw oats and ripe bananas! So, stick to your daily oats-fruits-plant milk recipe that we routinely offer to participants of M.E.T.I’s Health Seminars and as part of our W.F.P.B. nutrition program.

Probiotics are microorganisms that are claimed to provide health benefits when consumed.

Although there are numerous claimed benefits of using commercial probiotics (a multibillion dollar industry worldwide!), such claims are not backed by scientific evidence and are prevented as ‘deceptive advertisements’ in some countries. 

Historically, humans had plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting the foods to keep them from spoiling.

What are some of the probiotic-rich foods that traditionally have been used? 

Yogurt, which is a fermented animal milk product. Sauerkraut, extremely popular in Germany today and made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables. Kimchi, a cousin to sauerkraut and the Korean way of fermented veggies. Miso, which is fermented soybean paste. It has been a staple in Chinese and Japanese diets for thousands of years. 

So, what are the probiotic-rich foods available to you, right now in Samoa? If you follow the W.F.P.B. diet you should stay away from animal milk based yogurt. We hope one day the importers will have soy milk based yogurt in the shops. Sauerkraut and Kimchi are a bit foreign to Samoan taste buds.

In my opinion, your best bet right now is to engage in some ‘consumer advocacy’ and shop around for miso paste, occasionally imported by some of the local merchants. Adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup.

The M.E.T.I. project in four villages to raise awareness of the benefits of the W.F.P.B. diet to prevent or reverse non-communicable diseases is now under way. As explained in our previous Health Column, the selection of the villages in this project was guided by village leaders, who had personal experience with the WFPB diet and reversed their medical condition thanks to strictly following the diet. These individuals (our so-called ‘champions’), because of their status in the village are ‘opinion leaders’, who by their example, encourage the village community to follow their lead. Four such ‘champions’ invited METI to select their village for the implementation of its Integrated Healthy Living Project.

We are happy to present here –in his own words- the testimony of one of our ‘champions’, the Reverend Palemia Reupena, who has reversed his high blood pressure by strictly following the W.F.P.B. diet. It is upon his invitation that M.E.T.I’s Project has now started in Samalaeulu. Over the weeks and months to come we will keep you informed about the project’s progress.

 

NAME: REVEREND 

PALEMIA REUPENA

VILLAGE: SAMALAEULU

We have been serving as Church ministers for the E.F.K.S. at its Samalaeulu parish for over twenty eight years now. The Good Lord has blessed us with three lovely children, a boy and two girls. All is well with our work for the church with regards to the development of each individual family in our congregation, both the material and spiritual aspects of their lives. 

But, as a result of these many years of service, and the busy nature of our calling, I tended to pay less attention to my health. Over the years, Blood Pressure readings started to soar higher and higher each time we visited the hospital. Gout, an uninvited mean partner who had been living with me for the last fifteen years had become worse. Obesity was obvious and evident, as our home scale cannot take my weight readings anymore… And I knew that, the stream of my life was slowly and surely flowing down towards the rough seas…

But, as a man of God, I had never lost Hope. And fortunately, a little bird happened to land at our home one day, brought us the Olive branch, and told us about M.E.T.I. We went to the M.E.T.I. office the following week, just when they were conducting their usual lecturing sessions for their new converts. It was the 21st day of March 2018 that we registered. The welcoming M.E.T.I. staff took our weight, sugar level and Blood Pressure readings as first steps to this programme. I weighed over 151 kilograms that day, and my BP reading was also bad as well, except for my sugar level reading which was normal at the time.

These frightening readings and the well prepared lecture delivered by Dr. Walter Vermeulen’s associates that day, marked a turning point in our lives. It shed a bright light on us, to remind us again, of the importance of our health.

It has also taught us that we should  ‘treat our food as our medicine, and not medicine as our food..’ After attending the Seminar, we instantly decided to make a complete U-Turn from our old eating habits. And even the Fonotele (the E.F.K.S. Annual General Assembly) this year with its usual lavish meals did not bother us, as we had fixed and focussed our hearts on our set goal to follow M.E.T.I’s program. 

It is the first time ever that we became cautious of what we eat and drink. To be honest with you, we know that the results we now have from the Whole Foods Plant Based Nutrition approach by M.E.T.I, is true and real. It really worked for us. It has done miracles to our lives, especially our health. I have lost almost 17 kg since day one. 

My BP reading is now back to normal. My gout has left me and I am certain that it will not come back again. I am feeling better and stronger every other day. And Mum is doing better as well. What a rejuvenating experience for both of us! And as METI advised, it is always better to work as a team and to have a Good Samaritan at your side.  And thanks to our new found strength, we took the initiative to establish a small vegetables garden of our own.

M.E.T.I’s programme is hard and tough at the start, but the initial sacrifice rapidly brings results that were unexpected.  As a result, we couldn’t keep this new found treasure a secret and have now started to share it with the members of our congregation and the rest of the village. Many members of our parish, who are on medications for different health issues, have joined us in our journey. 

I urge you all my dear readers, especially my work colleagues to take up the call now and join the M.E.T.I. program. Our Health must always be a paramount concern for all of us. It is in our own hands. Healthy body, healthy mind. Our Lord needs a healthy temple to be His abode.  We thank you so much Dr Vermeulen and your hard working team for this initiative and the lifesaving work for the people of Samoa. May God bless you all. 

 

*If you, reading this Health column or any of your family or friends are suffering from NCD, it might be wise to come to the METI Clinic at Motootua to enroll in our Health Seminars to get all the details of how to start the life-saving WFPB nutrition program. You can reach us at 7625528 or 7239297 during working hours, 8 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday.



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