Bassem Youssef: How A Plant-Based Diet Changed His Life

Bassem Youssef: The Comedian Who Doesn’t Joke About His Health

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Now that we’ve heard the different examples of seemingly miraculous health transformations that made Bassem Youssef ditch animal products, we dug even deeper to know what the doctor has to say about the dynamics and challenges of the plant based lifestyle being applied in our modern day, meat based world.

What’s your number one tip to give to someone undertaking a vegan or plant based lifestyle?

“The will to do it has to come from within, and the way to come from inside is you have to read a lot about it because I can tell you how good this is for you but if you’re not convinced that this is the way you will not be motivated to actually do it. My number two tip is to never get hungry, because when you get hungry you’ll be tempted to eat the other stuff. This is not a diet, so don’t starve yourself. When you get invited [out] you’re tempted. That’s the only problem. But you know what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. It becomes a self-regulating process.”

Is there a book you would recommend about how to start living a plant based life?

“There are many of them. The bible of all of this is The China Study…A very easy and funny book to read is The Starch Solution, written by Dr. John McDougall. He’s a funny guy and his videos on the internet are extremely funny. He’s aversive and he’s aggressive and the way he explains it is very simple. Also, Eat to Live and another book called The Low Carb Fraud, because we were raised up to be carbo-phobes. Well actually, carbohydrates are your friends as long as you’re not eating white bread and sugar. We are carbohydrate machines. We are meant to have carbohydrates as our fuel. All this happened in the 1950’s, 1960’s of protein, protein, protein and the active diet and all of that made people fear from carbohydrates. But no, if you eat healthy that’s fine. I also recommend for people to watch Forks over Knives, because most of these doctors are featured in this story. It’s very educational.”

What differences, advantages and disadvantages have you experienced in Egypt versus outside of it, like in the U.S.? How can these issues be solved?

“I think people have the same problem everywhere because the system is not equipped to serve that kind of plant based, whole food diet because basically there’s not that much money in it….Of course there is amazing stuff in CA, but you have to drive to it. It is the same problem everywhere….it’s very tempting. These are all places of affluence, of delicious fatty stuff that is readily available. Look at our Egyptian and Lebanese cuisine, it’s very vegan. The difficulties are the same; at the end of the day the way I was able to do it was to make a system at home. The days I eat at home are much more rewarding because I can control my food and I’m not tempted by anything…If you actually stick to the cooking, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re in California, Dubai or Egypt.”

With so much new evidence pointing towards a meat and dairy free diet being most beneficial why are organizations (like the USDA) still supporting low-fat dairy and animal protein based diets?

“I don’t like to be one of those advocates of conspiracy theories, but basically there’s no conspiracy, bascially it’s money. Again, this is not conspiracy this is business. and these are people who have a lot of money to control the system. I mean, one year the dairy industry spent $163 million on medical research to prove that dairy is good for you. A lot of medical societies in the US are totally sponsored by meat, dairy and pharmaceutical companies. They are protecting their interests and they are blocking this kind of research. Even Colin Campbell, who wrote The China Study was harassed and thrown out of CalTech (California Institute of Technology). Even without the conspiracy it is very difficult to face a huge campaign that will drown any voice. This is stuff that has been working for years. You stop anyone in the street and ask them “protein”, the first that comes to their mind is meat. No question about it. People ask where do you get your protein where you do you get your calcium? And I tell them nobody asks the gorilla, the horse, the elephant these questions. The gorilla is the strongest animal in the jungle pound for pound. These are the strongest animals, the fastest and the biggest and nobody asks them. The cow that you eat for your protein eats greens!

The American govt. subsidizes dairy and meat industries with 30 billion dollars a year. At the same time, the same American government subsidizes produce with 3 million dollars. 3 million versus 30 billion, so you do the math. The amount of money that is available for these industries to advocate and advertise for themselves can drown any voice. So it’s not like there’s a conspiracy, they’re underfunded.”

Why don’t modern doctors have a background in nutrition?

“I’m very sorry to say that we are doctors and we do not get good nutrition education. This is true in Egypt and true in America. We are not trained well nutritionally. And many of the nutritionists, many of them do the status quo and are being sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.”

Is eating plant based a save-all end-all for chronic illness?

“I truly believe that it is a good, alternative way to help understand how we can treat chronic illness. I’m not the kind of person to give promises…this is very dangerous, but I think we have very encouraging evidence to see that this could actually work and I hope to see more funding and more people getting benefit out of it.”

What do you think of juice cleanses and quick fix detoxes for the shorterm.

“The problem with this is that people defer to this for a quick fix, but the thing is that many of the people who do this return back to their lifestyle. I’m not advocating a diet, I’m advocating a life changing experience which will stay with you…So if the juice cleanse and whatever detox happens are followed by an informed, educated way of life that’s fine. But usually it is just a quick fix and you’re back to business as usual.”

Do you believe in “superfoods”, or is it purely a marketing tool?

“No, I don’t. I think you get healthy more by elimination than by addition. Meaning that, I really don’t believe people have to be super sophisticated, getting the fancy organic mish 3aref eh…get greens ya m3alam w khalas. Get the lentil, get the fuul, just eliminate the animal protein, eliminate the sugar and the deep fried stuff, eliminate the processed stuff and you’re fine. I mean quinoa is great, but if you don’t have quinoa you have other sources of protein, you don’t have to have the quinoa and the kale, which in Egypt are very expensive also. Really, live as poor man in your food. Go to a supermarket and go to the produce section and be creative and innovative with the recipes. Get the eggplant and sweet potatoes and turmeric and all of that. You don’t need the superfood…whatever eggs cillinium millinium nutrients…If you get the normal stuff that your mother and my mother used to cook at home as Egyptians…you really don’t need much.”

Out of cheese, milk, eggs, fish, chicken and meat what was the easiest and what was the hardest thing to give up? How did you overcome it? How long did it take?

“For me the hardest is the cheese. Meat was not much of a problem, but cheese was very difficult. Cheese was extremely difficult, very tempting till today. That’s why a lot people say I’m vegetarian and I say oh so you eat cheese and they say yes. It’s the same. Milk, which is the liquid form of cheese, they consider it liquid meat. If you look at the components of the carbohydrate, the proteins and the fat and the cholesterol in milk, it’s the same exactly as meat.”

If you can have animal protein once or twice a week, why cut it out completely?

“There are no benefits, because every time you eat it you get cholesterol, which you don’t need. If you Google vegan body builders and vegan athletes you’ll find amazing results. I think animal products are delicious and they are very difficult to give up, and I think someone who will cut animal protein to once or twice a week it’s much better than having it 3 times a day. If you have chronic illness, the recommendation is cut it out completely. “

Digestion is a huge process, it takes a lot of your body energy and this why when you see animals, or if you have a pet or a baby in your house and they get sick, you will notice they’ll not eat. It’s innate in their nature that they’ll just drink water and sleep, because this is the way they overcome this kind of illness. They preserve their energy to combat the illness instead of digesting.

And people who have diseases or who want to lose weight dramatically like Mostafa I’m extremely strict with them. People who still want to have it, I mean of course having it once a week, twice a week, but it doesn’t mean ok I’ll have meat a couple times  a week, and then I’ll have eggs couple times a week, then I’ll have chicken…So, yeah of course, look at our diets. We eat eggs in the morning, we eat meat or chicken in the afternoon, we eat cheese or chocolate as a snack and we eat cheese again or yogurt again at dinner. We are consuming animal protein 3 times a day, so to cut it down to once a week…”

From a medical perspective, how do you recommend a plant based diet for someone who only feels good with animal protein in their diet, or those who when they have carbs or fruit it makes them sick (to their stomach)? How can you reconcile these physical or genetic variations with diet, and can you honestly suggest a plant based diet is for everyone?

“I think you have a huge spectrum of plant based food. If one fruit doesn’t work, you have many other foods that could work. If you have one kind of carbohydrate that didn’t work…I mean we are humans, we are built differently and of course there is no formula to fix all, but I think the problems with plant based diets are much less than an animal based diet. I think people who eat a high fat diet have more variety of problems and that’s why education is very important, that’s why reading is very important and that’s why if you have a problem you shouldn’t just go and get ready made menus. You just need to understand what works for you.”

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What your favorite online magazine or website?

The Daily Crisp! Forks over Knives and Mind Body Green.

What’s your favorite Egyptian plant based meal?

Shorbat 3ads and wara’ 3anab.

Best health advice he can give?

You need to get your own research and get second-hand opinions.

What’s your healthiest travel habit?

Always find open buffets, because they have a really good salad section.

What inspires you the most?

Sporty people on Instagram.

What’s your rule for life?

To always try to live comfortably and happily.

What are your at home kitchen essentials?

Lemon, arugula, spinach, green leafy vegetables.

What’s your perfect day look like, am-pm?

A dose of sports, reading and watching some of my favorite shows or videos.

 

 

A teacher by practice and a writer by nature, Carly has resided in Cairo for six years. A lover of music, dance, travel, the arts and all things promoting growth and wellbeing, she’s constantly looking to learn and for new experiences to be had. She finds satisfaction in a perfect book to lose herself in, an exceptional dinner to share with loved ones, a workout to test her limits and booking flights to a new location. She finds inspiration from those who seek to evolve and push boundaries. Carly has been educated in the United States and Egypt, but considers the earth to be the best educator; “To understand just one life you have to swallow the world.”-Salman Rushdie