By Denise Lodge
Three years ago, Ontarians Irene and Doug Vaughan received a somewhat alarming call from Doug’s doctor. Doug, who has had type-2 diabetes for forty years, was informed that his blood-draw numbers were worsening. Irene and Doug’s daughter told them about Dr. Neal Barnard’s book Reversing Diabetes, which advocates a vegan diet. In Irene’s words, after reading the book, the pair became vegan, “cold tofurky.” Doug’s blood results showed immediate improvement, and have continued to improve; three years after the phone call, the two are still vegan, at ages 77 and 82.
Learning to Make Balanced Nutritious Vegan Meals
Irene says the transition to veganism was not entirely easy, “as it meant learning how to meal-plan and cook all over again.” After becoming vegan, Irene spent a lot of time “looking for vegan recipes, and a lot of time worrying about balanced meals and obtaining the proper nutrition.”
The Vaughans’ niece, also a vegan, advised that they plan their meals around the grain, instead of around meat. Irene found that this approach “helped considerably.” Irene learned from Dr. Barnard’s book that if one-quarter of your plate is filled with grains, another quarter with legumes, and the remaining half with vegetables, “you are getting a balanced meal.” Grains, such as brown rice or pasta, fuel your body; legumes, such as beans or lentils, are rich in protein and soluble fibre; and vegetables, of which there are many seasonal varieties, contain nutrients such as calcium and vitamins A, C, and K.
To meet their nutritional requirements, the Vaughans simply added a vitamin B12 tablet to their daily regimen. Irene says that she “did not miss having any type of meat” when she became vegan, and although she enjoys dairy, “there are good substitutes for these products, [so she is] not tempted to cheat.” Doug and Irene travelled to Spain in 2009; it was the first trip the two took after becoming vegan. Although the tour leader did his best to accommodate the couple, “meals were at times monotonous,” as he was not sure what vegans are able to eat.
Ways Veganism Improved Their Health
Doug’s “blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels are just where his doctor wants them.” He “plays a good game of golf, [and] in winter he also skis” with Irene. This past summer, he built a wood shed, and stained the Vaughans’ two-story garage and loft. His doctor recently commented on how amazed he is by Doug’s physical well-being.
Irene has seen improvements in her arthritis joint pain, and in her cholesterol levels. Before becoming vegan, Irene often was “bent over with pain when rising from a seated position.” Frequently, when she lifted something as light as a dinner plate, she experienced “a sudden shooting pain” in her wrist that extended up into her arm. She also had knee and hip pains, but has found that since becoming vegan, “these aging problems have abated very considerably.”
Irene takes no over-the-counter medication, other than the vitamin B12 supplement, and exercises on a regular basis; she enjoys swimming and golfing in the summer, as well as cross-country and alpine skiing in the winter. Irene has routine bone density tests, which show that she has osteopenia, a condition characterized by low bone mineral density. However, Irene says that her numbers compare favourably to those of younger women.
The two have regular physical check-ups, and informed their doctor of their transition to veganism from the outset. He checks their blood for levels of vitamin B12, iron, and other nutrients, and so far there are no concerns regarding their diet.
Impact on Family and Friends
When the Vaughans entertain guests in their home, they serve vegan meals, except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Irene and Doug’s healthy diet has affected their family’s eating habits; one of their daughters and one of their sons both recently “adopted mostly vegetarian fare.”
The Vaughan family grew up as “meat-and-potato-eaters,” but since this thriving couple transitioned to veganism, they have experienced many health benefits, exemplifying that it is never too late to start something new.