JEDDAH: Saudis are at high risk of obesity, which is one of the leading avoidable causes of death in the Kingdom. Many are opting for healthy options such as vegetarianism and veganism to avoid obesity, while others have converted to them out of a sense of responsibility toward living organisms.
With the spread of health awareness from the Health Ministry, and people wanting to stick to a proper diet and pursue a healthy way of living, many are switching to veganism.
Leena Babsail, founder and CEO of start-up Honest, started the project to alter people’s misconceptions about food manufacturing and to introduce products that are free of artificial and chemical additives.
She said: “I started Honest because as a consumer, I couldn’t find products that weren’t processed but tasted good and didn’t have any artificials and coloring. I wanted to create a brand that people could trust without having to go over the ingredients because they knew it would never offer them bad fats, refined and processed sugar.”
Babsail believes it is inhumane to consume that kind of product, even if some specialists say small amounts of food coloring are harmless, especially when it comes to children.
“There’s this obsession that has overtaken people since the 1980s about calorie intake; I think snacking on something which is a 1,000 calories but fully natural is more important than sticking to a 200-calorie snack that is full of saturated fat.”
She believes people are starting to care about the food they digest because there’s more awareness now but they have false information. “The ‘healthy’ label is now on everything, so people aren’t sure which snacks to go for.”
Dr. Vivian Wehbe, a nutrition and obesity specialist, believes a lot of people are taking a vegan direction because excessive meat consumption could lead to weight gain. “We recommend that those with high cholesterol levels and blood pressure, individuals who struggle with obesity and even cancer patients steer clear of red and white meat and to eat more vegetables.”
She believes it is a healthy lifestyle if vegans know how to pick their food and replace meat with appropriate sustenance. “Fruits and vegetables lack protein and iron, and vegetarian protein can be found in legumes, to avoid anemic reactions due to malnutrition.”
Duaa Badr, a project manager in Jeddah, turned vegan once she realized she was surviving on a diet of junk food and unhealthy choices.
After a 10-day detox program that was plant-based with lots of juices, soup and salads, she noticed immediate results. “By the fifth day, I was feeling much lighter and my energy wasn’t affected at all. Besides, I was enjoying the food I was eating.”
Badr decided to stick to a plant-based diet. “What urged me to switch to veganism was to take care of my health and lose the extra weight,” she said.
“Being vegan in Saudi Arabia isn’t easy. There aren’t many options for vegans if they wish to eat out — and lots of waiters aren’t aware of veganism. The ideal situation is cooking at home, but that isn’t always achievable, as I don’t have enough time for it.
“I am noticing the change and I see more awareness about it now than when I started a year and a half ago, which is always uplifting,” she added.
Ahmad Abdulsalam, from Jeddah, told Arab News: “I became a vegetarian because I couldn’t fathom the thought of chewing a living, breathing creature. The animal rights advocate in me awoke, and I decided I was never going to put any kind of meat inside my body ever again.”
Notably, Prince Khaled, son of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, promotes healthy lifestyles as a vegan himself. He has announced on his Facebook page that Saudi Arabia will open at least 10 vegan restaurants by 2020.