She teaches how to eat smart

PHOTO: She teaches how to eat smart

Her aim is to empower Singaporeans to make smart food choices and cook nutritious meals. And she does this through her cooking and writing as well as her social enterprise Healthfriend, which organises workshops that are often free.

Said Mrs Mayura Mohta: "While it is easy to do 'chequebook charity', I figured that if I could combine my passion for health with community service it would give me immense satisfaction. I believe Healthfriend's contribution to community welfare is through spreading the message of healthy eating."

What influenced her to pursue a healthy lifestyle and to care for others was her experience with genetic disease. At the age of 14 her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and the doctor advised her family to switch to a vegetarian diet.

But it was only after she moved from Mumbai to Singapore in 2004 with her husband, who works in the finance industry, and two daughters now aged 17 and 21, that she pursued her passion for nutrition.

"I was into fitness but my knowledge of nutrition was very basic. My interest in holistic nutrition and wellness was spurred only in Singapore," said the permanent resident, who has a master's in microbiology and has written two books - The Heart Smart Oil-Free Cookbook, which has oil-free recipes for patients of heart disease, and The Wholefood Kitchen, a cookbook utilising local ingredients for vegetarian and vegan Asian recipes.

She joined various fitness and health centres such as the Singapore Sports Council and Vegetarian Society Singapore. She then realised that she could form a social enterprise based on health, as she felt that there was a "more vibrant health culture" here than in India.

She added: "Even while walking on the street, you always see people cycling or jogging. The gap, I felt, was on proper guidance in nutrition. Of course agencies like the Health Promotion Board produce a lot of material and campaigns, but I felt there was a need for it to be disseminated at a micro level."

Mrs Mohta has worked with various local organisations such as Rainbow Centre, a charity for children with special needs, and the Society for WINGS (Women's Initiative For Ageing Succesfully) which is based in Bishan. She taught the women there how to age gracefully by taking care of their health.

"I especially enjoyed working with the 40-plus ladies at WINGS. Teaching them how to nourish themselves to prevent illness was a rewarding experience. We looked for not only healthy but affordable food options and planned healthy menus," said Mrs Mohta.

She also organised workshops for patients of chronic diseases at Brahm Centre, a voluntary welfare organisation located at Tan Tock Seng Hospital dedicated to offering education programmes and activities that promote happy and healthy living. These diseases are often genetic and their effects can be delayed.

Said Mrs Mohta: "My workshops at Brahm Centre were also a source of tremendous joy to me as the people I met were eager to learn and adopt simple nutritional solutions to either prevent or control lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.

"Their trust and willingness to change their dietary habits was a lesson in positivity. They laughed and joked about their health problems. Despite the difficulties, most people wanted to change for the better.

"It made me aware that there are so many ways to reach out and help people. These voluntary workshops were the most satisfying as I was able to reach out to all those who were actively seeking a healthy lifestyle."

With her workshops, Mrs Mohta has convinced many Singaporeans to adopt elements of her vegan diet which incorporates raw foods, whole grains and meals which are often nutrient-dense and gluten-free. However, she still says that people should have an 80-20 meal plan, where 80 per cent of the meals are healthy while 20 per cent are cheat meals, which allow people to fulfil their cravings without overindulging on junk food.

Said hairstylist Daniel Tan: "I used to suffer from skin rashes and stomach cramps. But these problems have almost vanished after following her gluten-free diet plan. I now eat more grains like quinoa, millet and brown rice and have given up breads, cakes and wheat products."

Even vegetarians have noticed benefits from attending Mrs Mohta's workshops.

Said housewife Neha Mehta: "I am a vegetarian who likes traditional foods and I take good care of my health. However, after attending Mayura's workshop I have discovered a variety of new healthy foods such as watercress, buckwheat, etc. which I experiment with regularly to create nutritious modern meals for my family."

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