LagosMums Interviews Affiong Osochukwu On Plant-based Lifestyle

This week, our focus is on Healthy Living. The phrase, “you are what you eat” is absolutely true as nutrients from the foods you eat have a great impact on your health and state of mind. There are many arguments about which diet is best. We believe that we should embrace a diet that emphasizes fresh, whole ingredients and minimizes processed foods for overall wellness.

This is why LagosMums interviewed Affiong Osuchukwu; a raw & plant-based food explorer. Read as she shares her experience on adopting a plant-based lifestyle with us.

Please introduce yourself

I am a plant food explorer, classically trained chef, content creator and advocate for adopting a plant-based lifestyle. In addition, I am also a self-proclaimed ‘foodist’ that has way too many cookbooks and who dreams about food all the time. My other role is as co-founder of Oh So Nutrition; a lifestyle company focused on promoting wellness by providing food & beverage options and programs that help the whole family adopt healthier living habits.

My current mission is to educate people on the benefits of plant-based food, create and share recipes and solutions related to living a plant-based lifestyle. My big focus is on bringing the Nigerian factors into consideration and celebrating local ingredients. I desire to help others make healthier food choices and to celebrate fresh produce in a whole new way.

What inspired you to start a plant-based lifestyle?

My foray into plant-based living began six years ago and was due to health reasons, as well as, my desire for my family to live a healthier, well-thier, cleaner life. In 2014 I was on the verge of a 2nd major surgery and was wondering why. The one thing that came to my mind at the time was, it must be food. I had changed many other aspects of my lifestyle at the time, but my diet had not changed. I was still eating and drinking the exact same way between one surgery and the next. A number of allergy tests revealed that there were a number of foods that I was also allergic or had very high sensitivities to. My husband also had some struggles with his health so these instances were inspiration enough for me.

How has the journey been so far?

The journey towards living a completely plant-based lifestyle has been an enlightening and an exciting one for me. So many myths and misconceptions about food exist today and through the work, I have done so far, I’ve been able to unravel many of them. The most exciting part though has been the sustained positive changes to my body and my health, and that of my family. Unbeknown to me, I have even had a positive influence on many other people around me.

I spend much of my time researching the impact of food on lifestyle and disease, understanding various diets and learning to change what and how I eat constantly. Embracing a plant-based lifestyle is exactly that. It is living off of food that is grown as close to its natural state as possible. It excludes refined, processed artificial ingredients, as well as, any animal products or byproducts including; meat, chicken, seafood, dairy and eggs.

[Tweet “The journey towards living a completely plant-based lifestyle has been an enlightening and an exciting one for me. – Affiong Osochukwu”]

The beginning of my journey involved cutting out the most obvious culprits such as beef and dairy, and any food that originally had four legs. I, later on, cut out chicken and became a pescatarian. Then one day I just stopped eating animal products and any animal by-products (for example eggs). Cutting out many foods outright can leave the best of us wondering what to eat. Living in Lagos without access to many of the convenient alternatives to conventional foods you can find abroad left me hungry. I missed some of my favourites, most especially bread and cheese. Also, the salads were not my thing and they had never really been. So, I think this is where my true journey began. 

Aside from understanding food, I started testing and creating recipes to replace those foods I missed the most. Creating and testing healthy plant-based food alternatives lead to two endeavours for me. One of them is becoming a certified Raw & Plant-Based chef and launching the Plant Food Federation because it’s a platform I use to share recipes and educate people on the benefits of plant-based foods. The other is Oh So Nutrition, a company I founded in my kitchen and partnered with my sister-friend who came on in the early days as a co-founder. This solved my second problem, which was access to convenient fast, fresh, healthy grab-n-go food that people like myself living life in the hecticness of Lagos could trust.

How easy is it in Lagos? Can you eat out at restaurants or events?

So Lagos is interesting. I would say that it is both really easy and sometimes a pain. The easy part: When it comes to cooking at home, Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, is easy because you only have access to most foods when they are fresh and in season. Like now, agbalumo and mangoes are in season. When they’re gone we all wait impatiently until next year. Also, taking out the excess oil, fried everything and excess animal products from most traditional foods, you will find that they are super healthy. Yes! Most of us as Nigerians do not believe our food is healthy, and we spend our time looking to foreign foods as “healthy-food” standard. We need to learn to embrace what we already have and that is truly amazing in variety, nutrients and health benefits.

The hard part of being in Lagos is eating out. So, there is only one restaurant in Lagos that I know of that has vegan on the menu that is in VI. I go there all the time when I want to eat out with friends and family. They know me. I have tried other places, but I end up watching everyone else eat. Many people in the food industry are barely aware of what a plant-based lifestyle is here, or food allergies, or being vegan.

No, taking the meat out of the stew does not make it plant-based! I educate everywhere I go. That said, I have learned to make this easier on myself. I eat before I go out so that I am not starving, however, I’ll have fruit or a salad when I’m out so as not to seem anti-social. I also ask the owners and chefs to make something off the menu for me – we work it out together. Many people are open to learning and are accommodating, and the Lagos restaurant scene is evolving. Many of my friends make a huge effort to cater to my dietary needs when they host dinners, which I admire and appreciate and to be honest, so do they. They always learn something new about food.

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

Well, it has been discovered that embracing more plant-based foods as part of your daily diet is transformative. Most people, like myself, make the switch due to personal health reasons. Others for ethical or environmental reasons. But, most people make the switch because it makes them feel and look better. Everyone’s reason is personal. And how far towards 100% plant-based a person goes is also personal.

What eating more plant-based foods, or becoming completely plant-based has been known to do for people? The list is long, but five top results are;

  1. Natural weight loss – plant-based foods are lower in calories and higher in nutrients and fibre
  2. Improved digestion – eating more plant-based natural, whole foods, means your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard and higher levels of nutrients are absorbed
  3. Plants give our bodies instant energy – Eating whole foods, which are clean sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fruit, sustain energy levels much more naturally. Foods high in fibre cause blood sugar levels to increase and decline slowly and steadily, preventing sugar rushes and crashes
  4. Everything just starts to glow; your hair, your eyes, your skin, your nails – Goes back to the point of higher nutrient absorption. Also, the detoxifying effects of plants, mixed with the elimination benefits of plants, combined with the easily-digestible aspect of plants means less internal toxins
  5. A higher level of immunity – A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system. Adoption of a plant-based diet makes for a happy gut because the food is easily digestible and so good at facilitating elimination.

What changes does one have to make to live a plant-based lifestyle?

For most people, the best way to adopt a plant-based lifestyle is one step at a time. Start by increasing your intake of fresh, raw and plant-based foods using a crowding out method, i.e., crowd out from your plate the things you want to cut out. A few people are able to do this cold an overnight switch, which can often take a lot of willpower. Either way, do what is best for you. Each person is different. And also, either way, continue to visit the PFF because making the switch and what to eat while switching is something we will certainly be discussing here.

Is it possible to get all the needed nutrients from a plant-based diet?

This is something I get asked constantly. Where do you get your protein? Are you deficient in calories, “oh you must be”! And, “you must only eat salads”. These are all far from the truth.  Human beings are not actually designed to digest animal products. All the nutrients, protein and calories we need to function daily can be obtained from plant-based foods.

Are there any myths or misconceptions to living a plant-based life?

There are so many. But the three main ones are what I had mentioned previously. Protein, calories and limited options. Being on a plant-based diet does not mean someone is being deprived of enjoying food or eating well. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Being on a plant-based diet is one of the best choices we can make for ourselves as human beings when it comes to our overall health and wellness.  

[Tweet “Being on a plant-based diet is one of the best choices we can make for ourselves as human beings when it comes to our overall health and wellness. Affiong Osochukwu”]

Are all plant-based meals automatically healthy?

This is another myth. No, not all plant-based meals are automatically healthy. Deep fat fried vegetables, overcooked vegetables, lots of oil, excess salt and sugar. These are technically plant-based, but definitely not healthy. Also, as the plant-based food industry grows, there are many refined and processed plant-based foods that also contain a lot of not so healthy preservatives and additives. In Nigeria, access to these packaged for retail options is not yet a huge issue. However, it is something to watch out for. I always encourage people to read food labels to understand the ingredients and the amount of sugar and additives in the packaged foods they buy.

How do you ensure that they are organically grown?

In Nigeria at the moment, organic, just as plant-based, are budding concepts. There is a Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), which works as an umbrella organisation for all stakeholders involved in organic agriculture. They make an effort to certify producers who are following the organic principles of growing food. So if you find organic produce, ask if it is NOAN certified. But, this certification is a process and will take some years to become more mainstream.

Many people may grow produce and because they grow it themselves on their farms, they will consider their produce organic, but it is not. Organic food or farming means having been produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. In many cases, some kind of chemical has been used to increase yield. But also know that it’s not just the produce; but also the seeds used to grow that need to be organic.

What I advise people is that the first goal is to eat more plant-based foods, fresh fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, grains, tubers and starches. Then switch out ingredients for organic produce as soon as you gain access to them.

Can you share some recipes with us?

Of course. I share lots of recipes on my blog on-going. I encourage everyone to visit it often for ideas, recipes and inspiration.

What inspired you to start sharing on your Instagram page”?

With all the work and research I’ve done; I have amassed a vast amount of knowledge about food, diet, recipes, lifestyle, and wellness. It behoves me to share what I know that it may help others. There is so much noise out there on social media about what to and what not to do. My hope is that I can help make things simpler for someone out there.

Can we contact you for more information or consultation?

Yes. My contact information can be found on my blog. I also plan to host a few workshops and classes, having run a successful pilot last year.

Thank you Affiong for sharing your experience with the LagosMums community and inspiring us. We definitely learnt a lot from this article! Hope you have been inspired to adopt a healthy lifestyle for the whole family? For more, visit the healthy living category here.

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