Catherine Carr Counsellor and Vegan Food Coach
People are often uncomfortable around vegans — jokes Catherine Carr, adding that they are often viewed with trepidation as if on conversion mission, seeking unquestioning followers for their new religion. The Sydney-based Counsellor and Vegan Food Coach has long believed in the use of food as medicine but is mindful of the fact that each person is on their own food journey, and we can’t always be so dogmatic about our diet — life gets busy, and it needs to be lived.

Having battled Hashimoto’s disease and the increasing side-effects of the medications she had been taking for many years, Catherine was heavily impacted by the food and pharma documentary What the Health in 2017, and decided to transition to a vegan diet. Whilst she admits it was not always easy, in addition to the expected weight loss and energy gain, she noticed a huge impact on her joint pain to the point she was able to give up her daily pain relief medication.

Here, Catherine outlines a few simple, achievable tips from her popular website, Gently Vegan, that don’t require a ‘full vegan’ commitment, but if practised regularly can significantly help women over fifty with joint pain and inflammation.

Inflammation is a symptom of most immune system diseases. My immune system had been compromised with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis; a condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, which reduces the thyroid’s ability to make hormones. It is a disease that primarily affects middle-aged women, (kindly) resulting in weight gain, fatigue, cognitive changes, sensitivity to the cold and in many cases, joint pain and inflammation.

Being in a constant state of inflammation and joint pain is not only debilitating, but it can often lead to depression. Regular cortisone injections directly into the most painful joints can offer a temporary reprieve but in no way are a long-term fix.

 

Counsellor and Vegan Food Coach Catherine Carr

Counsellor and Vegan Food Coach Catherine Carr. Photo Supplied.

At 54, I now feel healthier and more energetic than I did at 45, which I put down to a proactive approach to my health. For me, adopting a vegan diet had an amazing effect in decreasing inflammation and boosting my immune system. Even trips to the supermarket become a new adventure – how many vegan treats could I find? Farmers markets were even more exciting. I was dusting off long-forgotten cooking skills from my childhood, reaching into the memory banks for family favourites I could convert to vegan options.

They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit and I will freely tell all who will listen that I have found this to be true. Three weeks into my transition to a vegan life, I felt amazing! The kilos dropped off me in all the right places, my energy levels skyrocketed and my fitness levels had me pumped at the gym.

Many women over 50 suffer some form of joint inflammation or the beginnings of arthritis, and to that end alone it is worth trying to introduce more plant-based meals into your diet.

And it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition — even if you don’t intend to ever be fully vegan, you will still reap health benefits by cutting down your meat consumption. It is important to point out of course that if you do ever plan on going vegan or vegetarian, you should talk to your doctor first and also seek guidance from a qualified dietician.

My top five daily habits.
While implementing five new habits may seem overwhelming, starting by adding one a week over five weeks is potentially more achievable. These are simply suggestions for small life habits that can fit into any life routine, with the objective to be as time efficient as possible.

Refreshing Beetroot Juice. Photo by Alex Loup.

Fresh beetroot juice is full of powerful antioxidants, rich in Vitamin C, and helps in the absorption of iron. Photo by Alex Loup.

 

My morning kick-start anti-inflammatory juice.
My daily breakfast routine starts with a fresh juice, made up of 1 freshly squeezed orange, 1 small beetroot, a teaspoon-sized piece of fresh ginger, a 1/2 teaspoon-sized piece of fresh turmeric and 1 large green kiwifruit. Each of these ingredients is known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and blended together they deliver a refreshing and energising morning drink.

To streamline my breakfast routine I try to prepare this juice in three-day batches. To achieve this I always make sure I have a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice, a container of chopped up beetroot, peeled ginger and peeled turmeric ready to go. The kiwifruit can be peeled on the day, thrown into the Nutribullet with the remainder of the ingredients, and you have a healthy kickstart to your morning.

Not a fan of green tea? Try lemon and match water instead.
I was never a fan of the taste of green tea. And drinking the required amount of water each day can be made easier by adding a few tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a teaspoon of ceremonial grade matcha. Matcha powder is technically a stronger version of green tea, but in this combination, the lemon becomes the predominant taste while still offering the antioxidant benefits of Matcha — it’s like an anti-inflammatory magic bullet.

Up your quota of green, leafy salads.
Having a green leafy salad, even just as a side dish is an achievable daily goal. I try to make a version of the salad below for my lunch on a daily basis.

  • 1-2 handfuls of leafy greens, I usually buy a mixed greens base. I do believe organic is worth the investment, as its higher in nutrients and there are no inflammatory chemicals to worry about.
  • 1 small cucumber, a fantastic alkalizing vegetable that adds a refreshing crispness.
  • 1/2 a ripe avocado, rich in flavour and full of healthy unsaturated fats and antioxidants.
  • 1 bunch of broccolini, lightly steamed and then blanched in iced water. Broccolini, like all cruciferous vegetables, packs an antioxidant punch and is rich in Vitamin C and calcium.
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, in with the broccolini, lightly steamed and blanched in iced water. Asparagus is full of antioxidants, Vitamin E, folate, iron, calcium and fibre.
  • 1 cup of quinoa, this beautiful whole grain is packed with protein. It can be easily cooked in the rice cooker in advance to throw into nourish bowls, salads and soups on the go.
  • 6-8 raw almonds, another great source of protein, which also helps with appetite and weight control. They also offer healthy monounsaturated fats, and are a rich source of magnesium which improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients through your body.
  • For the dressing, blend ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ of ripe avocado in a blender or Nutribullet, toss the dressing through the salad, and then sprinkle some freshly grated ginger on top.
Vegan Salad. Photo by Edgar Castrejon.

Upping your intake of plant-based foods is linked to lower risk of obesity and chronic disease. Photo by Edgar Castrejon.

 

Add a little Rose Oil to your skin routine.
Good quality essential oil is amazing for skin inflammation and is also highly nourishing and relaxing. I like to use Jurlique Pure Rose Essential Oil in a warm evening bath as a way to way to relax and prepare for a good nights’ sleep. I also love to use MV Organic Rose Plus Booster on my face to calm and moisturise my skin during the night.

Light exercise, it’s a must.
Light exercise is a proven stress reliever, it keeps your blood flow regular and offers meditative benefits. It’s also an essential habit for good health. I always start my day with a walk; it doesn’t matter when you fit yours in. I am a great believer in prioritising exercise in your diary at a time that is achievable.

Successful habits need to fit into your lifestyle. If home life pressures make mornings impossible then a walk at lunchtime or a yoga class in the evening might be what works best for you and makes it a more achievable habit in the long run.

Counsellor and Vegan Food Coach Catherine Carr acknowledges that everyone is on their own food journey. Her passion project Gently Vegan is an inspirational journey of food and lifestyle, a community where plant-based options are celebrated as daily choices, without pressure and without judgement, but simply to share the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

For information and support relating to Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism, visit the Australian Thyroid Foundation, or for more on the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, start off by visiting the Health Department owned Health Direct website, which has additional links to the Dieticians Association of Australia, Women’s and Children’s Health Networks and more.

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