Vegan triathlete Kunal Mutha, talks about the benefits of plant-based food and his vegan milk brand Only Earth
Plant-based food: The pandemic has made us all pause our insanely fast lives, re-evaluate our priorities and become more conscious about our health and fitness.
If you are healthy and fit, you will have better immunity and hence better chances of fighting the Covid-19 virus or any other pandemic, which exoerts believe might become a frequent occurrence.
The right food is a big part of this awareness, which has resulted in soaring popularity of plant-based diets.
But what exactly is plant-based food? Ivory Station got Kunal Mutha, 35- year old founder of Only Earth, a vegan, plant-based food and milk brand that supplies to Starbucks and Oberoi, to decode plant-based foods. Mutha is also a vegan athlete and has completed 3 Ironman Triathlons in New Zealand, Italy and Sri Lanka.
An alumni of the University of Nottingham, Kunal struggled with heart palpitations and was desperately looking for a cure. That combined with his concern for climate change and animal cruelty led him to venture into a plant-based food and beverage business.
Only Earth, a Singapore-based company’s vision is to help people eat right for a better tomorrow. The idea is simple; when you follow a plant-based diet, you get a nutritious meal that has a minimum carbon footprint.
Only Earth was launched in May 2021. Their products are available in over 1000 retail outlets in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Goa. They are also expanding their distribution network in Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
How should one start incorporating plant-based alternatives in their diet?
You can either choose to completely switch to a vegan diet immediately or gradually cut off animal-based products. One must ensure they consume balanced and varied whole food plant-based products like whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, vegetables and fruits in their diet. With regards to milk, almond and oats very easily complement your coffee, tea, and cereals. Once you get used to the taste, you will also appreciate its health benefits.
Kunal Mutha, Founder- Only Earth
What are the benefits of a vegan diet?
There are a number of health benefits that make for a compelling case to turn vegan. Besides shrinking our environmental footprint, especially in the context of climate change, a whole food plant-based diet can help you achieve the highest levels of fitness while reducing inflammation in your body and also help cure chronic diseases.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the USA, vegans are less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure than meat-eaters. When you have the right combination of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) that are plant-based, clean nutrition, your immune system is better equipped to fight diseases. Vegans can get all the nutrients they need from plant protein, fiber, and minerals, without eating meat or dairy, which are high in cholesterol and saturated animal fat. Moreover, vegan dishes can be extremely delicious.
Are more people embracing veganism now?
Veganism is going mainstream. Over 60 percent of Indians suffer from milk intolerance, many of them haven’t realized it as yet. Studies suggest that as a child, your body can break down lactose but as we grow older, we lose that ability. This is one of the main reasons why people opt for a plant-based diet.
The ongoing pandemic has also made a lot of people cautious about what they consume. People are being conscious about adding more greens to their plates and have understood the long-term impact it has on their health. There has also been more awareness about the benefits of plant-based beverages, especially for people suffering from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and PCOD.
What are some common misconceptions about vegan food?
The most common is that people believe that they must drink milk and it’s byproducts for optimal health. A vegan diet has all the necessary ingredients to stay fit, in fact, more than in a non-vegetarian diet.
Many food borne illnesses are a result of contamination of meat. Salmonella and E. Coli infections are some of the common afflictions that can be easily avoided by removing meat from your diet.
What piqued your interest in plant-based products?
My personal journey with Veganism made me think about this category as a great business opportunity. Going Vegan 2 years ago helped me, both, from a health and lifestyle perspective. My heart palpitation issue, which I lived with for several years, has disappeared.
How did you get into triathlon?
It all started in 2017 when I was preparing for a 19 day Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal. This is supposed to be quite challenging as it was at a higher altitude than the Mount Everest Base Camp.
I had ro train hard and also lose significant amount of weight, build strength and endurance. Unfortunately, I had to call it off due to excessive work load. This made me look at alternative challenges like running a Marathon.
I signed up for my first Marathon in Chennai. That experience was so amazing that I ended up finishing about 7 marathons in the same year. In spite of the new found love for running, my quest for mountains kept growing.
I made it my goal to pursue mountaineering and hopefully climbing Mt. Everest one day. I started doing research and following mountaineers who have climbed Everest in the past. I wanted to know what they did to develop the skills required for high altitude climbing.
That’s when I came across the profile of an amputee mountaineer who had conquered Everest. He highlighted in his experience that endurance is key to mountaineering and he built it while preparing for long distance triathlons like Ironman. This inspired me to look at Triathlon as a stepping stone to get into mountaineering.
How did your diet help you overcome heart palpitations?
I became vegan only for the ethical reasons. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware on the health benefits of following a plant based diet. By just taking out dairy products from my regular diet, I saw immense overall improvement in my body. The heart palpitation sort of disappeared in about few weeks after I made the switch.
What is the idea behind the inception of Only Earth?
Only Earth was born out of my realisation of our planet’s rapid deterioration. We have evolved in every aspect of life, be it exploring the outer space, living longer, travelling at supersonic speed, but our food system is still extremely inefficient and unsustainable. A majority of us are still consuming the required nutrients from secondary sources through meat and dairy.
With our products, we wish to offer consumers a choice of healthy and clean alternatives, which will have a positive impact on theirs and the planet’s health.
What is your product’s USP and how is it different from competitors?
Our biggest USP is the taste profile. Only Earth’s range includes oats, coconut, and almonds in unsweetened variants. We have launched unsweetened options of lactose-free milk, ensuring that they are lower in calorie count than cow’s milk. We source high-quality key ingredients from European countries. We have ensured that our products have a great consistency and taste, which has helped us tie up with leading cafes and hotels such as Starbucks, Oberoi, etc. The other benefits include high intake of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which are either naturally present or fortified into the product– all critical to your nutrition.
We walk the talk when it comes to saving the planet. We have collaborated with Reefscapers in the Maldives to support the creation and installation of artificial reefs in the southern atolls to restore and instigate natural growth. We are also partnering with other wildlife conservation establishments to support them in their efforts to conserve endangered species. Our promise of planting 100,000 trees in 5 years is fortified with every sip that you take.
Only Earth Oat Milk
What other products are in the works?
The product development team is also working on launching a number of non-dairy alternative products such as cheese, butter and spreads by early next year.
Tell us about the challenges you faced while setting up Only Earth
The plant-based sector is still in its infancy in India and many other regions, which increases the cost of the products. As the volume increases, we wish to achieve price parity with animal-based products.
Only Earth currently has 3 variants: Coconut, Oats and Almond that will be available in a 1L and 250ml packs. The 1L packs are priced at Rs300 and will be available on Amazon, Qtrove, Vegan Dukan.
By Tanvi Gupta
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