"The doctor gave me an ultimatum that I have to take medicine to lower my blood pressure." Tzu Chi volunteer Ong Wee Heng shared that his annual health screening results in September this year triggered him to take part in the ‘Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge’. He recorded his blood pressure every day and after just a few days of having the plant-based diet, his blood pressure returned to normal and has remained stable since. At the end of 21 days, he even shed 3 kg, convincing him that we are indeed what we eat.
Although Ong Wee Heng has been a vegetarian for many years, his diet was unhealthy as he preferred strong flavours and fried food. This valuable experience has led him to decide to continue to maintain a full plant-based diet.
Riding on the success of the “Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge” organised by Tzu Chi volunteers from the east zone, the team at the north zone took the baton and promoted the second season of the 21-day full plant-based diet program, which saw the participation by 80 people. From 3 October to 23 October 2021, professional physicians, nutritionists and a vegetarian vendor worked hand in hand to guide the participants in attaining good health and nutrition through their meals.
On 30 October, all participants gathered online to witness the “magic” of the diet and also share their experiences. Healthcare professionals were invited to present on the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. Dr Ho Xin Qin analysed the data of the 46 blood test reports received and she disclosed that the ‘three high’ indexes of the participants were significantly reduced. 88% of participants with high cholesterol, 70% of those with high blood pressure, and 50% with diabetes or patients in the pre-diabetes stage saw their respective indexes returning to normal after 21 days. Data has proven that improving our eating habits can indeed enhance our health.
Skin problems healed without medication
"Palm eczema, dryness, swelling and ulceration symptoms have significantly improved under a strict plant-based diet with less oil, less salt and less sugar." Low Yee Leong, who suffers from eczema, decided to join the programme in Singapore after watching participants in Malaysia’s ‘Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge’ share how their eczema had improved significantly. The results from the challenge greatly boosted his confidence.
Having been a vegetarian for 11 years, he then decided to become a vegan to improve his health. His family was very supportive of his choice. At his recent birthday celebration, his son even made a vegan cake and the family enjoyed it free of worries for their health.
Tan Chew Sia, a nutritionist, and the food quality control team were responsible for controlling and ensuring the quality and nutrition of the meals. Tan Chew Sia was also participating in the challenge. Having worn masks for an extended period during the pandemic has made her facial skin more sensitive and more acne-prone. The acne disappeared after just 21 days, and her skin condition improved. It is evident that a fully plant-based diet is effective against inflammation too.
Eat right to regain good health
There were both vegetarians and non-vegetarians among the participants. One of the participants, Tay Kok Liong, had suffered from constipation for a long time, but during the 21-day challenge, he had bowel movement twice a day and felt relaxed and comfortable.
"My insomnia is gone. I can sleep well for seven hours at night," claimed Phang Ghee Hiang, Tay Kok Liong’s wife. She also shared that she had struggled with blood sugar and blood pressure problems for over 20 years but after the challenge, she was happy to see that her blood sugar index had dropped from 8mmol/L to 4.6mmol/ L and her blood pressure fell from 150mmHg to around 115mmHg.
The couple’s daughter who lives abroad saw a friend taking part and introduced them to the challenge. After completing the programme, when Phang Ghee Hiang had some wanton noodle outside, she found it too salty and had to dilute it with water. They shared that they would continue to maintain a healthy diet and stop eating unhealthy food from now on.
Another participant, Goo Ai Hwa went on to share that she had no confidence in being a vegetarian initially and worried about not getting enough nutrition and energy. Still, the three-week experience proved that her worries were unfounded. "After taking the meals, my mind is sharp, and I feel more refreshed and relaxed."
After the 21-day challenge, Goo Ai Hwa continued to persevere and gradually learned to cook. She firmly believed that: "eating right benefits us".
Curb the desire and stick to natural taste
The participants also shared the difficult moments they encountered during the challenge. Kok Lee Hian said frankly that “(Initially), I could hardly eat as the taste was not what I expected and I complained to a Tzu Chi sister,” It was at that point that she realised she had a strong desire for food.
"The sister asked me to calm down and eat slowly and mindfully. True enough, the taste of the food started to emerge." She was really excited when she realised that she was starting to have lighter steps and no longer panting after walking.
Another participant, Katerin Sugiarso, had a similar experience as Kok Lee Hian. He described how his mindset shifted over the three weeks: “The first week was a challenge of taste. After overcoming that, the second week was a psychological barrier and greed. The third week was a breeze – just enjoy the food and it was over." After 21 days, he could manage healthy cooking methods better and started to pay attention to food labels to choose fully plant-based ingredients.
Some participants even set targets, including Lim Pei Chin who was conscious of her high cholesterol and tummy size and realised that health is a treasure that needs maintenance.
She said that looking at the different colours of brown rice every day made her happy. Cooked with natural ingredients, dishes such as curry tofu, tempeh and long beans were delicious. The taste, presentation and aroma blended well, and she was not only eating healthy but feeling great. After 21 days, her body showed amazing changes with her waist circumference successfully reduced by 8cm.
Vegetarian chef re-calibrates
Some participants were simply curious if the 21-day challenge was effective. Tzu Chi volunteer Eng Juat Lee who is good at cooking vegetarian food, came to find it out for himself this round.
"After 21 days in the challenge, I realised that I did not pay careful attention to whether the food ingredients were healthy in the past", she said regrettably. She hopes that in future, she will be able to share the benefits of natural plant-based diets when she teaches others to cook. She will also share with her students on how we should read nutrition labels when we buy food and go for products with less oil, less salt, less sugar, and no added colouring.
"Vegetarian food is good for our body, and the 21-day plant-based diet health challenge is a vegetarian diet that puts our mind at ease." Eng Juat Lee encourages those who suffer from the three highs and those who want to lose weight to give it a try.
(Screen capture by Ng Hock Soon)
A short video of Dr Eddie Tan from Tzu Chi Medical Association in Selangor, Malaysia, was also played during the online session. Dr Eddie Tan reminded everyone that what we should be overcoming is not the various health indicators but our own desire for rich-tasting food. As every human body is built differently, some people may experience more significant improvement in their health while others may need more time.
As for how the initiative may be sustained, Dr Eddie Tan encouraged everyone to set milestones, learn to cook and continue to refer to the ‘Tasty Vege’ Facebook page for delicious whole plant-based diet recipes. They may also join the Telegram group formed by ‘Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge’ graduates to learn more and accompany one other on this journey towards better health.