If Malaysians were to adopt a plant-based diet, they’d be able to see a positive change in their overall health and day-to-day productivity, says Savor of Life CEO
By AZALEA AZUAR
DELICIOUS food is what Malaysia is known for, for sure. Since the Movement Control Order (MCO) has been extended to control the widespread Covid-19 pandemic, we have no choice but to stay home to dream of all our favourite dishes served at all the best restaurants.
Of course we are still able to order food via delivery apps or take-away from our favourite outlets, but the sensation is certainly a little different.
Nothing beats eating at the “mamak” stall where you could smell the freshly-cooked roti canai.
You’d probably miss the waiter serving you fresh teh tarik — with frothy bubbles popping on its surface.
And yes, you might also miss the football season when the stall would be crowded with customers as they set their eyes on the screen and cheer for their favourite teams.
Well, as much as we miss going to the “mamak” or having a burger at one of those favourite fast-food chains, just be reminded that the outlets only serve the purpose of comforting your soul instead of nourishing us with nutritional value.
The MCO is a good time to adjust our habits and an opportunity for us to turn to healthy home-cooked meals.
Tackling the Lifestyle Disease Pandemic
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic is not the only thing we have to struggle with right now. There is also the “lifestyle disease pandemic”, which could worsen during the MCO if we don’t take care of ourselves.
This is where Savor of Life plays a role in tackling lifestyle problems. The social enterprise, which focuses on building behaviour change systems, fosters the community by teaching sustainable lifestyles.
Founded by CEO Dr Shaun Kuan in December 2018, the unit has more than 20 pilot users just two months later. Today, it serves a community of just above 1,000 people.
“I started out as a medical doctor, and I noticed that majority of the patients who entered the wards were of various complications or conditions resulting from obesity, wrong lifestyle choices, diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol.
“I felt gutted that I couldn’t do more and really wanted to find a way to help them or work with them before they get to the point where they face serious health issues,” said Dr Kuan.
That notion gave birth to Savor of Life, a project that is envisioned to save people who are unwell and help them reverse their conditions.
In the last six months, the social enterprise has managed to help more than 150 individual patients via the delivery of more than 8,000 meals.
Promoting Plant-based Meals
From Nasi Lemak Burrito to Mexican Quinoa Stew, Savor of Life has 20 items on its menu and they are all cooked using plant-based ingredients.
Dr Kuan’s choice in using plant-based diets comes from research which proves that it is beneficial in all-cause morbidity.
“Among the benefits are prevention and retention of weight loss, retained lowered cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, cure of certain mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, and even proven significance in cases of heart disease and cancer,” Dr Kuan said.
He said if Malaysians were to adopt a plant-based diet, they’d be able to see a positive change in their overall health and day-to-day productivity.
Dr Kuan is also optimistic that a plant-based diet is becoming a trend.
“We’ve met and screened more than 1,000 Malaysians while running our events, and we can say that a plant-based diet seems to be more of an upcoming trend.
“To put it optimistically, this trend is in its infancy with plenty of room and potential to be widely adopted,” he said.
This upcoming trend augurs well with Savor of Life’s plant-based diets. As it is, many have chosen to try it and they end up becoming long-term supporters and lovers of plant-based diet.
“We find that we are able to dispel the myth that healthy, nutritious food that heals you has to be bland and not delicious,” Dr Kuan added.
Savor of Life’s favourite items is a tie between the paneer butter and the eggplant parmigiana.
Healthy and Home-cooked
During the MCO, it is only natural for one to get bored and turn to food for comfort.
To curb that “need to snack”, Dr Kuan said people need to be very conscious of what they eat.
“Firstly, we recommend rationing how much unhealthy food you are buying in the first place. It would be great to get into the habit of reading nutrition labels.”
Dr Kuan recommended that one should look at how many gramme of sugar, saturated fat or cholesterol there is in 100g of the snack.
“Every manufacturer has to provide a standard measurement of how much of those ingredients are in every 100g. That’s how you figure out how certain foods are supposedly made,” he said.
For instance, if there is 40g of sugar added in every 100g of the product, then it consists of 40% sugar. This way, people would be able to understand if they are comfortable consuming snacks that contain almost 50% sugar.
“Notice the first and second ingredients that are on the list. Many people don’t know that manufacturers have to list their ingredients in order of amount or proportion. So, if your snack’s ingredient list starts with flour and salt, you’d know that the food you are consuming contains the highest proportion of flour and salt,” Kuan said.
The elderly and more vulnerable also need to remain healthy since they have a higher chance of developing serious health complications.
“For hypertension patients with poorly controlled blood pressure, a plant-based diet and lifestyle change can lower blood pressure linearly within a matter of days.”
Dr Kuan said the elderly and vulnerable also need to eat a well-balanced diet which is supplemented with vitamins, minerals and oils found only in plants, fruits, nuts and grain.
“We have done our research, and based on the evidence, we promote a lifestyle with a minimum 95% whole-food plant-based diet. With that in mind, you can stick to a balanced diet without anything other than the above,” he said.
Dr Kuan said health issues faced by vegetarians and vegans can be attributed to a lack of variety in their diet. At the same time, many still consume large amounts of highly processed foods.
Keeping your Mental Health in Check
Apart from providing healthy, plant-based meals, Savor of Life is also trying to educate people and raise awareness on the importance of mental health.
“I think people are aware that mental health problems exist, but the depth of awareness and understanding differ greatly across different ages, groups and demographics. Essentially, Malaysians lead high-stress lives and we are incredibly overworked,” said Dr Kuan.
During the MCO, those who are living alone can especially sink into loneliness.
“Firstly, if you know you are at risk for mental illness, please reach out for help. Con- tact the volunteer counsellors or psychologists, or call someone you trust. You could also drop us a message and we will always be here to help,” Dr Kuan advised.
During the MCO, The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur has ceased their operations at their centre in Jalan Templer.
Those who are in distress can reach out to them via Skype with their IDs “BefKL Skype 1” and “BefKL Skype 2”, available 24 hours.
In fact, there has been a 13% increase in the number of calls received during the first seven days of MCO. Some 9% of the calls were related to Covid-19 or MCO issues.
“For others who are feeling restless, stressed and lonely, it is sometimes necessary to shut off from the news and alerts that keep pouring in and learn to pace yourselves. Focus on your family, friends, pets, plants and the nature.”
Dr Kuan said people should enjoy the slower pace of life that the MCO has presented. It’s also the time to remember all the things we could be grateful for.
“Sometimes, it’s all about taking the time to notice the things that are right in front of us and recognising the silver lining in all situations,” he said.
After all, when there is darkness, light will somehow shine through…
Assisting the Frontliners
The medical frontliners have been working tirelessly to treat the Covid-19 patients. They work for hours, with lack of sleep, while skipping meals and holding on to toilet breaks.
While the rest are trying to stay away from those tested positive with the virus, the medical frontliners are the ones who have extremely close contact with them.
“As you may have already heard, many doctors have been drafted to join the frontlines in the Klang Valley, and one of my ex-colleagues’ story on social media — where she shared that she had to leave her baby behind to be of service — moved our team to tears,” said Dr Kuan.
This heartbreaking story inspired Dr Kuan’s team to launch a small donation campaign that will send free meals to the medical field to keep the frontliners healthy as they work long hours.
“The campaign raised double its amount in three days and the demand from the hospitals made us produce 10 times more meals each day.
“Within the 10 days, we have delivered more than 3,300 nutritious yet super tasty therapeutic meals to the frontlines from the donations we received.”
Savor of Life is also sending free meals to the elderly and high-risk profiles as they need the protection as well.
“In terms of sales, we actually aren’t earning a cent as the meals to the frontliners are produced at a cost. On many days, we are running at a loss as we had to scale the production process ad hoc,” said Dr Kuan. However, they are fulfilling an urgent need. As a start-up company, Dr Kuan believed that this is the largest impact they are able to generate amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For us, knowing that we’ve been able to help to the fullest of our abilities is rewarding enough for the team and we hope that our contributions can continue to make a positive difference,” he said.
To those who would like to make a contribution, bank in your donation into Savor of Life’s CIMB account at 8009832226 and indicate what you would like to do with that contribution.
For more information regarding the social enterprise, feel free to head to their website at savoroflife.com.