Saudis going vegan, often to avoid obesity

Photo courtesy: American Dietetic Association
Updated 13 March 2018
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Saudis going vegan, often to avoid obesity

JEDDAH: Saudis are at high risk of obesity, which is one of the leading avoidable causes of death in the Kingdom. Many are opting for healthy options such as vegetarianism and veganism to avoid obesity, while others have converted to them out of a sense of responsibility toward living organisms.
With the spread of health awareness from the Health Ministry, and people wanting to stick to a proper diet and pursue a healthy way of living, many are switching to veganism.
Leena Babsail, founder and CEO of start-up Honest, started the project to alter people’s misconceptions about food manufacturing and to introduce products that are free of artificial and chemical additives.
She said: “I started Honest because as a consumer, I couldn’t find products that weren’t processed but tasted good and didn’t have any artificials and coloring. I wanted to create a brand that people could trust without having to go over the ingredients because they knew it would never offer them bad fats, refined and processed sugar.”
Babsail believes it is inhumane to consume that kind of product, even if some specialists say small amounts of food coloring are harmless, especially when it comes to children.
“There’s this obsession that has overtaken people since the 1980s about calorie intake; I think snacking on something which is a 1,000 calories but fully natural is more important than sticking to a 200-calorie snack that is full of saturated fat.”
She believes people are starting to care about the food they digest because there’s more awareness now but they have false information. “The ‘healthy’ label is now on everything, so people aren’t sure which snacks to go for.”
Dr. Vivian Wehbe, a nutrition and obesity specialist, believes a lot of people are taking a vegan direction because excessive meat consumption could lead to weight gain. “We recommend that those with high cholesterol levels and blood pressure, individuals who struggle with obesity and even cancer patients steer clear of red and white meat and to eat more vegetables.”
She believes it is a healthy lifestyle if vegans know how to pick their food and replace meat with appropriate sustenance. “Fruits and vegetables lack protein and iron, and vegetarian protein can be found in legumes, to avoid anemic reactions due to malnutrition.”
Duaa Badr, a project manager in Jeddah, turned vegan once she realized she was surviving on a diet of junk food and unhealthy choices.
After a 10-day detox program that was plant-based with lots of juices, soup and salads, she noticed immediate results. “By the fifth day, I was feeling much lighter and my energy wasn’t affected at all. Besides, I was enjoying the food I was eating.”
Badr decided to stick to a plant-based diet. “What urged me to switch to veganism was to take care of my health and lose the extra weight,” she said.
“Being vegan in Saudi Arabia isn’t easy. There aren’t many options for vegans if they wish to eat out — and lots of waiters aren’t aware of veganism. The ideal situation is cooking at home, but that isn’t always achievable, as I don’t have enough time for it.
“I am noticing the change and I see more awareness about it now than when I started a year and a half ago, which is always uplifting,” she added.
Ahmad Abdulsalam, from Jeddah, told Arab News: “I became a vegetarian because I couldn’t fathom the thought of chewing a living, breathing creature. The animal rights advocate in me awoke, and I decided I was never going to put any kind of meat inside my body ever again.”
Notably, Prince Khaled, son of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, promotes healthy lifestyles as a vegan himself. He has announced on his Facebook page that Saudi Arabia will open at least 10 vegan restaurants by 2020.


Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”