Vegan & fat-free? Possible & tasty

Dr Caldwell B Esselstyn Jr, called the pioneer in developing non-invasive treatment for coronary heart diseases and the man who cured former US president Bill Clinton through a plant based diet after his failed bypass, doesn’t have numbers on his side to prove to his critics that his completely vegan and oil free diet plan can't just prevent but reverse heart ailments.

But he has followers - there are many - and is the inspiration behind The heart smart oil free cookbook, (Strait Times Press) a collection of 47 oil and fat free recipes from famous chefs, nutritionists and restaurants.

Put together by Mayura Mohta, George Jacobs and supported by the Singapore Heart Foundation, the cookbook is not about just vegan recipes, but goes beyond them to say that giving up animal-based foods for the sake of the heart doesn’t really mean gulping down bland, uninteresting food. And, it answers a lot of questions, and reasons with the sceptical convert using science and research.

Good oil and fat free recipes apart, what clicks about the book is its simple, non-preachy, matter-of-fact text which, at least till one is reading it, seems to have the power to move even the staunchest non-believer in such a diet plan.

The heart smart oil free cookbook has a mission. To start with, the foreword says that humans are like rabbits and our bodies haven’t evolved much to eat large portions, especially meat; our teeth are best suited for plant food and our long gut favours slow digestion.

It quotes heavily from Dr Esselstyn’s study ‘Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease’ which included 22 patients with severe coronary artery disease; five of them had been given just a year to live.

Within months, Dr Esselstyn’s plant based nutrition programme worked on the disease and lowered their risk to other life threatening diseases linked to an animal based diet, the groundbreaking study concluded.

There are Dr Esselstyn’s answers for possible excuses like, ‘Oh, I was flying so had to eat what the airline gave me’, ‘I couldn’t have possibly asked my host to fret over such a meal for me. It would be so rude!, What if I am craving for fat?’ or ‘You see, the restaurant turned down my request for oil-free food’. It is like somebody firmly holding one’s head and turning it away from all the fried, fatty and non-veg food by showing him how ‘powerfully and swiftly the body can heal itself from a devastating illness when patients and their families make the right food choices’.

Among the recipe pages are some realisations – that we don't really have to start a hunt for oil free vegan dishes, and such dishes can be tasty, too. We may have been making them all the while without knowing they fit this bill. Cases in point: The chickpea potato chat or the roasted bell pepper and pumpkin soup or the ridiculously easy lentil soup.

The USP of the cookbook is that it doesn’t shock readers into immediately emptying their refrigerators and kitchen cabinets of all things with meat, oil and fat, but goes from enlightening, encouraging to being strict, handing out advice and tips while taking no excuses on what gave a follower of the diet plan a reason to break his regimen. Beginners can start with just one such meal a week.

Overall, the book is a good investment for those planning to switch and those already living by the vegan, oil-free plan.

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