Interview with Nimisha Raja

This is the story about a woman whose journey to better health and more compassionate living inspired many others to make positive changes in their lives.

picture of Nimisha Raja

Nimisha Raja left a corporate world to dedicate herself to helping others adopt a healthier lifestyle. She founded her own company, Evolving Appetites, and offers wide variety of services, from easy-to-follow cooking classes and workshops, such as Sustainable weight loss, to personal consultations.

During past 11 years, she often appeared on TV and radio stations, and edited Lifelines, a publication of the Toronto Vegetarian Association.

We are happy to catch up with Nimisha to get her thoughts on the topic of healthy vegan lifestyle.

1. Nimisha, thank you for taking part in our interview. Please take a moment to tell readers a little bit about yourself, your company, Evolving Appetites, and any products or services you have to offer our readers.

Nimisha: Thank you Olga for this opportunity to interact with your readers via this interview. I've been vegetarian since birth, as I was born into a Hindu family. Hence, the vegetarianism was initially centred around compassion rather than health. (Hindus believe it's not necessary to kill for food, and that all creatures are sacred.) However, I was raised eating dairy and eggs - more about that later.

My company is the result of my deep desire to help other people transform their lives through healthier food choices. I do this in several different ways: I teach vegan cooking classes at various Loblaws cooking schools in the greater Toronto area; I speak on behalf of the Toronto Vegetarian Association at various community events; and offer personal consultations by phone, email or in person if the client is in the Toronto area.

2. Nimisha, our readers have this good intention to eat healthier, but oftentimes they don't know where to start. The amount of information is overwhelming, and everyone has an individual body reaction to foods.
As an expert in helping people to transition to a healthier diet, what advice would you give them? What are the first most important steps they could do?

My first piece of advice is to learn as much as possible about nutrition, to try to understand how your body uses food as fuel. I know with time constraints and the plethora of information that is available out there, it's hard to determine where to start.

My nutrition "bible" is "The China Study" by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. It's the only study of its kind offering more than three decades of scientific evidence on the relationship between diet and disease. Another good resource is Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and its affiliate, NutritionMD.

I would take studies that appear in newspapers, TV and other mainstream media with a large grain of salt. Those studies are often funded by industry, and hence the results are often tainted. And they're often done over a very short period of time due to funding constraints, and don't offer long-term data. These stories also often contradict each other - one day, coffee is good for you, the next day it isn't. We've all run into that frustration. Stick with solid, long-term science, and you'll be on a saner path.

3. In their testimonials on your website, Evolving Appetites, your clients call you "one of the most passionate vegan experts in Toronto". Could you share with our readers, why are you so passionate about the vegan lifestyle? What made you go vegan after years of being vegetarian, and were there any health-related reasons?

I would like to say health, but in reality, my passion comes from an overwhelming compassion for animals. I cry inconsolably when I see factory farm or slaughterhouse footage. I want to be a voice for these tortured creatures who don't have a voice of their own.

However, health was definitely a motivating factor as well. I've had monthly cramps since I was 13 (later diagnosed with uterine fibroids), and in the past have suffered from headaches and low energy. That led to my quest for optimum health.

The key driver for me adopting a vegan diet was learning through my volunteer work with the Toronto Vegetarian Association that the egg and dairy industries were just as cruel and damaging to ones health as the meat industry. The revelation or epiphany at the time was, "Oh my, I'm a hypocrite!" Being raised as a Hindu and vegetarian for compassionate reasons, here I was contributing to the unspeakably cruel veal industry (male calves born on a dairy farm are shipped off to veal farms where they're kept in crates too small to move to keep their flesh tender), and male baby chicks are gassed to death on egg laying farms. So that was a real turning point. But the great side effects after only 2 weeks of not consuming eggs and dairy were that my digestive issues disappeared, my sinuses opened up and my cramps got milder!

4. You have spent years doing marketing and sales in a stressful corporate environment, and gained a lot of weight despite being a vegan. That really scared me - I thought that veganism was one of the healthiest lifestyle choices. Didn't your experience show that vegan diet can be not that healthy for you after all?

Yes, that scared me too! Here I thought I was being really healthy by not eating any animal products, and yet, I gained weight, and was still plagued by headaches and cramps. What I discovered is that you can be a junk food vegan - I was having fun with my new lifestyle discovering ways to make vegan cakes, cookies, cheese substitutes, etc. And of course, potato chips, french fries, falafels (deep fried!), soy ice cream and sodas are all vegan, but none of these items will help you achieve good health. So that was a very difficult lesson to learn - that processed junk food, even though it may be vegan, is not healthy! Being on the road a lot working in the corporate arena, I was eating a lot of restaurant meals, and lots of processed food - it was all vegan, but certainly not healthy.

5. Speaking of losing weight, I know you run a workshop about sustainable weight loss. Having lost 25 pounds yourself, you are living proof that your method works. Could you share some valuable tips with our readers, what should they do to lose weight and stay slim?

The key to good health is a WHOLE FOODS, PLANT-BASED diet that is comprised of lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts/seeds, and whole grains. I encourage people to take the focus off their weight, and instead focus on what is truly healthy. The weight then just comes off. Understanding the difference between whole foods and processed foods is a key. Now, one doesn't need to be fanatic about this - for example, whole grain pasta (yes, it's processed wheat, but still has fibre) with tomato sauce is a perfectly good vegan meal. I have a simple rule: if a food has fibre in it, eat it; if it doesn't, don't eat it. healthy foods beans

This eliminates meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, refined oils, processed foods, but leaves you with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts/seeds, and whole grains to choose from. The refined oils part was a difficult one to adopt, because we're so brainwashed into thinking that olive oil is a health food. While in very small quantities it's okay, pouring it over your salad is not. It's still too much fat and far too refined. Your liver has to work very hard to break it down. Better to eat the olive rather than olive oil (that WHOLE foods principle again!) :-)

6. Many people think that both vegan and vegetarian diets will rob them off hedonistic pleasures of life, that they are just too restrictive. What would you say to them, and, honestly, does it feel like that to you?

Well, at first, it seemed that way - that's why early on in my transition, I sought out ways to make "treats" such as vegan chocolate cake and vegan chocolate chip cookies. But when good health didn't really happen doing that, I had more learning to do. fruit as healthy snacks

It doesn't mean you can never have a piece of dark chocolate or enjoy the occasional serving of soy ice cream. It just means these types of treats can't be part of your daily intake. Save them for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays.

Also, redefining what treat means is helpful. I often treat myself to an exotic tropical fruit such as mangosteen, fresh young coconut, papaya, pineapple or mango as a treat. In the winter, frozen berries are one of my favourite treats - I make smoothies with them or enjoy them plain. By doing this, I'm getting a huge load of antioxidants (cancer fighters), fibre, vitamins and minerals, my taste buds are happy and I'm avoiding the health destroying fats, oils and sugar from those other so called "treats".

7. You teach a lot of cooking classes and workshops on the topic of healthy food and healthy living. What are the most frequent questions people ask you?

If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked, "Where do you get your protein?", I'd be retired on a tropical island. People are just obsessed with protein. We've been brainwashed into thinking protein only comes from animals. The truth is, we're a society suffering from consuming TOO MUCH protein - namely animal protein. Kidney stones, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and a host of other illnesses are attributable to consuming too much protein (source: The China Study). Plant foods contain all the protein we need. As long as you're consuming enough calories for your body size and activity level, it's impossible to be protein deficient. fruit as healthy snacks

The next most pressing question, especially when they learn I don't consume dairy, is "Where do you get your calcium?" Again, effective brainwashing from the dairy industry that moo juice is the only place to get calcium. Sesame seeds, almonds, collard greens, kale, fortified soy or almond milk are just a few plant foods that are rich in bio-available calcium that are better for you than milk. There are many other plant sources of calcium.

8. What are your favorite healthy food snacks? Could you give our readers some ideas and examples of easy to make, tasty, healthy snacks? hot air popcorn machine

I love seasoned popcorn - I add curry seasoning, or Mexican, or sometimes just drizzle hot sauce on it - YUM!! (My weakness is salty, crunchy snacks as opposed to the sweets.) As long as it's not the microwave packages, air popped popcorn with seasoning of your choice can be a very healthy, high fibre snack.

In the sweet treat area, I enjoy the odd piece of really good quality fair trade, organic dark chocolate.

On a day-to-day, snacks are usually fresh cut veggies (sometimes with a healthy dip like oil-free hummus or a tofu dip), fresh or dried fruit, and home made trail mix comprised of sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins and raw pecans or walnuts.

9. Nimisha, thanks again for joining us today. For this last question, please tell us what first got you interested in healthier lifestyle, what sparked your interest, at what point of your life did this happen?

I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in late 1992 - that initially sparked my quest for a healthier lifestyle. But I ran into a lot of misinformation, and fumbled around a lot with various alternative therapies that just didn't work.

I think I would have to say volunteering for TVA really got me on the right path - that started in 1996. I learned so much by just helping around their resource centre and getting involved in their outreach activities.

Reading books and exploring websites just added to that knowledge.

And of course, there's nothing like direct experience to help you really learn what your body needs.

Thank you for sharing this great information. I learned something new today!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I hope it will help your readers with their quest for optimum health.

You can find Nimisha's contact information here.


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