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The French-Syrian Chef, who has called the Philippines his home since 2012, shares wisdom on his plant-based diet that we can all learn a thing or two from.

Now more than ever, care and diligence on one’s health is a focus many of us are prioritizing, with boosting our immunity through natural whole foods and a healthier lifestyle a topic on the rise the past few months. As straightforward as the concept may seem, a deeper understanding of eating healthier and its benefits can be helpful in controlling what we consume on the daily. We talk with Chef Xavier Btesh, renowned chef and a promoter of a plant-based lifestyle, to share some advice on how Filipinos can learn more about the benefits of integrating plant-based food into our lives. 

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Opening on his background, Xavier shares that he’s always been updating himself with new information on diet and food trends, “As one of the brand ambassadors to the meatless protein, Quorn, I’m always reading about healthy food trends.” This curiosity for the field led him to study more into the field which he shares, “So, when I mentioned the plant based diet to our CEO, he encouraged me to enroll for the online courses [at Cornell University] and learn the precept of nutritionist T. Collin Campbell.” In his deeper learning of Campbell’s work he realized a more realized approach to diet. “More than a diet, it’s a lifestyle that allows you to consume and buy healthier food. In which you privilege non-processed food, healthy products, and local producers—it’s all about consciousness,” he says. One specific work of Campbell that Xavier highlights is The China Study which it’s full title goes—The China study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health—which gives a concrete idea about what it declares as a book. Briefly put, Xavier shares, “The China Study by T. Collin Campbell is a worldwide bestseller that explains the connection between nutrition and health and how you can improve it with what you eat, heart disease, diabetes, cancers, are all connected to our diet.” More than just elaborating on the science of dieting, Btesh shares that the book also delves into the business of diet trends, “The book also allows you to find your way in the food and supplement lobbying and understand the impact of those trends on what is our daily consumption.”

“Start slowly, lower your meat consumption, go for veggies, buy dry beans rather than canned, munch on nuts rather than chips, cut in half your fats (yes, even olive oil) and you’ll be on the right path.”

Aside from reading up The China Study to be more informed on a plant-based diet, Xavier shares the basic information the one will learn from the text, he excitingly shares, “Basically the plant-based diet feeds our immune cells with the right fuel and they keep us healthy and protected, now feed them with junk and they’ll stop working!” To ease in people to the idea or for people who get too intimidated by the start of the practice, Xavier shares some comforting advice saying, “I always tell my friends, ‘Have a Mary Kondo moment in your kitchen pantries and ask yourself if those canned, bleached, processed food really bring joy in your life?’” 

Asking people to take a quick assessment of what they buy and what they eat on the daily that they don’t even put much thought into. “Start slowly, lower your meat consumption, go for veggies, buy dry beans rather than canned, munch on nuts rather than chips, cut in half your fats (yes, even olive oil) and you’ll be on the right path. After a few days going plant-based, I felt the difference in my sleep, my skin, and my weight, and that encouraged me,” he shares on the gradual bit by bit changes that one can do to fully integrate the plant-based lifestyle.

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Some tips that Xavier shares from personal experience is to take everything, even going plant-based, in moderation. “I totally stopped eating meat few years ago, but the misconception is that vegan is always healthy. Not true, you can be vegan and still eat junk food, the plant based  [dirt] takes you to an all new level and that’s a real game changer even if you’re not vegan, but I don’t take things too drastically.” He shares how you don’t have to follow the rules of it religiously to reap the health benefits. “Though The China Study bans all fats and animal products I still allow myself a few pleasures,” he says. “As an overweight kid, I was on a diet most of my life. Now, I don’t diet anymore. I’m just conscious of what is good or not for me.”

Finally, giving his comments on Filipino eating habits, he expresses his appreciation for the culture than any critique. “Eating habits here in the Philippines reveals how much Filipino like to eat, share and enjoy being together and that’s what food is all about,” he shares with a grin. 

All things considered, Xavier reminds us in the end that it’s all about balancing what you eat. “Just stay conscious of what is in your plate, don’t go for both deep fried and heavy sugars in the same meal, don’t nurse a soda while having wine on the side, if you go for processed carbs like pasta have a light veggies salad as a starter.” Needless to say, it is a undertaking that starts in the mind, apparently. Once that level of concern and under is out of the way, the rest, as they say, will follow.

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