Last week I attended the first Health Fest in Heiloo (a small town close to where I live). Three entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to organise this Health Fest with a lot of enthusiasm and effort. There was lots to see, do, taste and learn, with a collective aim to improve our health and well-being.
One of the distinguished guests was Dr. Heleen Roex, a Paediatrician (n.p.) who migrated with her family from The Netherlands to Australia in 2000. In 2010 she became fascinated by the abundance of well executed studies that all indicate that plantbased food is not only preventative for many chronic diseases, but can also play a curative role in stopping and even reversing disease. In 2011 she was rewarded a certificate in plantbased nutrition at Cornell University, New York and in 2014 she became Australia’s first certified for Food for Life instructor (PCRM.org) and is now running Food for Life courses in Adelaide, Australia. Together with her husband Dr. A. Roex an Obstetrician-Gynaecologist, they present on health and nutrition backed by sound research, in Australia and the Netherlands and other European countries such as Belgium and Portugal. both for the general public as well as in hospitals and medical students.
When I learned she would be giving a plantbased cooking demo and a lecture about the benefits of plantbased food I must admit I was pretty stoked! So, despite the fact that the Health Fest was held during a holiday weekend, which happened to be a warm summer’s weekend as well, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity to meet a plantbased physician (a first for me!) who promotes a healthy plantbased lifestyle!
So together with my husband and my notepad loaded with questions, I hoped I would be able to have a short conversation with Dr. Heleen Roex after her cooking demo. She started the demo with an example of breakfast of scrambled tofu with lots of veggies, followed by lunch that consisted of a quinoa-chickpea salad with an orange juice-miso based dressing and closing off with a dinner dish of black bean chili. Of course after each meal there was an opportunity for the audience to taste.
Being a vegan chef myself I thought that there would not necessarily be much for me to learn here, but I was wrong. I actually díd learn a thing or two. For instance, Heleen promotes cooking without oil and showed her audience how to do that. You start by frying onions, stirring them continuously and every now and then add a bit of boiled water to prevent them from sticking to the bottom. Also does she chop up garlic cloves some 10 minutes before preparation. The reason for that is that one of the health promoting components found in garlic is the enzyme that allows the formation of allicin. The trick is that chopping your garlic is needed for allicin to form. This process takes up to 10 minutes. For this reason, you must chop garlic 5 to 10 minutes before using. Consume or cook with garlic right away and your garlic won’t live up to its full protective, disease fighting potential. She also explained about the health benefits of tofu and took away the prejudice of soy being controversial.
Another thing I learned is that she is very well organised. All her vegetables were chopped up and put in containers with numbers on the lids, which of course is an excellent way not to lose track during a cooking demo! I will definitely copy that the next time I give a workshop!
During the cooking demo Dr. Roex kept on giving all kinds of information about ingredients, taste enhancers, health benefits etc. I really enjoyed myself.
After the demo she was willing to answer a few questions I had prepared and in all my excitement I forgot to take pictures of the food, of the cooking demo… silly me, but I did ask her the following:
Q: Is there a difference in popularity of plantbased food between Australia and the Netherlands?
Dr. Roex: “No not really, it is pretty much the same. A plantbased lifestyle is increasingly popular in the big cities, but in the countryside hardly found. The only difference maybe is that when you go to a restaurant in Australia they are more flexible to adapt to your preference, while in the Netherlands they sometimes raise an eyebrow when you have a special request.
In the USA, a plantbased lifestyle is bigger, especially on the West- and East coasts.”
Then I explained Dr. Roex about how big and well spread a plantbased lifestyle is in Israel, with Tel Aviv being the absolute role-model with over ten 100% plantbased restaurants, fine plantbased dining and plantbased milk available in every coffeeshop etc.
Q: What is your opinion about all these new processed vegan products, like ready made meals, vegan nuggets etc. we find in the supermarkets nowadays?
Dr. Roex: “Good for the animals, Good for the environment, Not so good for people.”
Q: When you give presentations about plantbased food in hospitals what is the general reaction? Are physicians open-minded or resistant?
Dr. Roex: “Most doctors are interested, but not many take it on board straight away, a few show resistance even after convincing research.
When I still used to practise, people came to me being a doctor with questions about healthy food. And I never knew what to answer. During my studies in university I did not learn about food, that was not part of the education. And sadly it still isn’t.
That is why the Food for Life program is so effective. This is a 5 week program and the message is repeated during this course and that is more effective and likely to succeed then a one hour only presentation.”
Q: Would you also advice hospitals to serve patients plantbased food?
Dr. Roex: “I would like to advise every hospital and healthcare facility to offer healthy plant-based meals to their patients, staff and visitors. To get healthcare professionals more and better informed on nutrition, we also teach and present at “Grand Rounds” in hospitals in Australia.”
The need for education is high. I will keep on educating with presentations and cooking demo’s like today. You must have noticed that there were only a few people in the audience, but if I have inspired only one of them it was worth it. We have to keep on going and continue to teach the people.”
It was a real shame that I did not have time to attend her lecture as well, but I am sure that she will be back in the Netherlands on many occasions and hopefully I will get another chance.
In the meantime it was an honour to have been able to attend Dr. Roex’s cooking demo and listen to her vision. She is doing such good work and I can only hope that more people will follow in her footsteps.
Want to read more about Dr. Heleen Roex and her work? click here