Mary Minihane gave up meat over 40 years ago and believes her health is due to a simple diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and greens she tells Margaret Jennings.
As you settle down to enjoy the turkey and the ham on Christmas Day spare a thought for Cork woman Mary Minihane, who at the age of 64 has been a vegetarian for over four decades.
Back in 1974 as a young woman, when Mary made the decision to never eat meat again, she stood out from the crowd. Nowadays it’s a mainstream lifestyle decision and most restaurants offer vegetarian options.
The Kinsale-based mother of one took it a step further however — she became vegan, that is eliminating dairy and eggs as well as other animal products from her diet, 15 years ago.
You could say that as an older woman she is a ‘poster girl’ for ageing healthily: “My health is amazing. I haven’t an ache or a pain. I will be 65 in March. After that I get the pension and I can’t believe it — I will be running down the road to collect it,” she jokes.
Mary, who is currently treasurer and membership secretary of the Vegetarian Society of Ireland, has adopted certain perspectives on healthy eating that would be against mainstream views such as only eating foods in their natural form.
Having said that, she can’t remember when she last visited a doctor — apart from when she had an attack of vertigo on a flight to the US about eight years ago.
“I don’t go to doctors because I don’t feel the need to. My health is my responsibility and there is nothing wrong with me,” she says. “I believe the body is naturally designed to heal itself if you get out of the way and let it. But what most people do is interfere – they kind of panic and don’t give it a chance.
“If you eat light easily digestible foods and let your body get on with it, it will, but if you’re sick and you start eating meat and your body has to concentrate on digesting it, it’s too busy doing that.”
She does this all the time anyway, which she fully believes contributes to her rude health: “I eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and greens — that’s all I’ve eaten since I became vegan in 2001.”
Neither does she eat bread: “I don’t eat any grains — I don’t believe they are meant to be consumed by humans. I believe that unless you can eat something in its natural form — the way our ancestors did before they learnt about food processing — then your body wasn’t designed to eat it.”
We humans have learnt to adapt but the fact that we can eat something, doesn’t mean that we should, she argues. Just because we can survive on it doesn’t mean we will thrive on it.
Having walked the talk, she gives her personal advice for ageing well for those of us considering some change, post festivities.
Mary is obviously in the non-dairy camp when it comes to the conflicted views among health professionals about what should be our sources of calcium for bone health. “We are told dairy is good for our bones, but there is more osteoporosis and bone breakage in the countries that consume the most milk. And there are lots of stats to back this up. The biggest one is the Harvard Nurses Study that involved a couple of hundred thousand people followed for years, many years ago,” she says.
Mary is in line with the WHO nutritional recommendations and well researched health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which includes plant-based fruit and vegetables but she does not include olive oil in this: “People think olive oil for example, is healthy — olives are healthy, olive oils aren’t. Your body evolved at a time when there was no such thing as cold pressed olive oil. It’s better than others, but it’s 100% fat. If olive oil helps you to eat your greens then do use it, but don’t think it is adding to your health.”
She quotes Dr Michael Greger, the American physician and New York Times bestselling author’s research at www.nutritionfacts.org as one of her main sources of nutritional information.
“Most people are drinking dirty water. The best investment anyone can make in their health is to buy a reverse osmosis filtering system or a water distiller and drink clean water. People are going out spending a fortune on organic food and then coming home and drinking tap water.”
Don’t let Mary’s approach put you off your Christmas dinner though. It’s all personal choice and although her husband Mike eats vegetarian in their home, he eats meat otherwise, as does her 43-year-old son Roman.
There is plenty of time in the new year to take up some healthier habits too if you are so inclined. “I would say it’s never too late to change your diet and your health,” says Mary. “I administer several health-related Facebook groups and I read amazing stories about older people changing their diet and recovering from ill health — even in their 80s.”
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