As a pharmacist turned plant-based chef, I believe I have a unique perspective on health. My evolution from prescriptions to plants was health inspired-triggered by an unexpected diagnosis. After multiple less-than-pleasant medical tests I was told, at the age of 23, that I did indeed have multiple sclerosis.
Learning to accept and live with the chronic neurological autoimmune disease flipped my personal and professional life upside down. I had to do some serious soul-searching. Through cleaning up my diet and switching to a plant-based lifestyle, I realized that my love of food extended far beyond my own kitchen. I took an enormous (ginormous!) leap of faith—I left my pharmacy career, studied to become a holistic nutritionist, and moved to New York to train at the Natural Gourmet Institute; New York's leading plant-based culinary school.
Today, almost 10 years since my diagnosis, food and health are my life. I love to share my approach in all things health and food by educating others through workshops, one-on-one counseling sessions, and my plant-based, gluten-free food blog, Rise Shine Cook.
I'm adamant that health starts in the kitchen and that healthy food, like really healthy food, can be delicious and satisfying no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Here I'm sharing my top health hacks. These are small changes that make a huge difference in my life and nuggets of wisdom that I share with my clients and followers.
1. Water frying
I love showing others how easy this is! Frying in water rather than oil can reduce our exposure to oxidized fats—these are fats that have deteriorated under the influence of heat, light, and oxygen. Oxidized fats cause inflammation in the body and can damage our health.
Replacing oil with water is a nutritional slam-dunk when it comes to health-supportive cooking. Whenever a recipe calls for sautéing in oil, swap the oil for a few tablespoons of water. I like to keep a glass of water next to the stove and add more water as needed to prevent burning.
2. A salad a day
I have a colorful leafy green salad every day for lunch. I always add some grains, nuts, and legumes, but this salad is packed with fresh veggies. Vegetable-based salads provide anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, live enzymes, and fiber. I believe a salad a day can instantly upgrade anyone's diet and it's the best way to get a variety of essential nutrients.
I always ensure that my salad has some healthy fat from nuts or avocados, some plant-based protein from grains, nuts, seeds, or beans, and I top it off with homemade vinaigrette. Remember that keeping unhealthy things out of your salad is also essential.
3. Rule of 5
My soapbox is eat more plants and fewer processed foods. The more plant-based foods we consume, the better, but of equal importance is removing processed, packaged, and convenience foods from our diets.
These foods are generally made from artificial ingredients as well as refined flours, sugars, and fats. As a society we've come to rely on processed foods a lot! And although I believe we can pretty much eliminate them completely from our diets, there are times when a pre-made, packaged, or boxed food is necessary.
This is where I implement my rule of five. If a food label has more than five ingredients, I put it back. These five ingredients have to be recognizable, at the very least. Once I see a long list of unfamiliar ingredients, I put the product back on the shelf.
4. Super seedy
A superfood refers to a whole food that has a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio. Perhaps my favorite superfoods are the super-seeds flaxseed, chia seed, and hemp seed.
These seeds have a lot going on in the nutrition department, but my favorite quality is their delivery of essential fatty acids. Chia seeds and freshly ground flaxseed are a fantastic plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. Flax has the added benefit of lignans and chia seeds, which deliver a healthy dose of calcium and magnesium. Hemp seeds have an ideal omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio (1:3) and provide complete protein. I like to use all three in sweet and savory recipes.
5. Go nuts.
Get a little nutty every single day! Some people avoid nuts because they are high in calories and fat. However, studies have shown that those who regularly incorporate fresh nuts into their diet maintain a healthier body weight and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
I have 1 to 2 ounces (or about one palmful) of nuts most days of the week, either in salads, smoothies, and oatmeal or on their own as a snack. I keep a variety of nuts in my freezer at all times. Make sure your nuts are fresh, not roasted or salted or covered in oils.
6. Be the early bird.
This is not food- or diet-related but getting up early is one of the most powerful health hacks I've experienced. I started by getting out of bed 30 minutes earlier than normal. I would use this time to do a 20-minute yoga video or meditate. Then I started getting up an hour earlier and added in some journaling. Sometimes I get up and just sit in the quiet with my tea.
Getting up early is like mental stretching for your day. We often jump out of bed and get to all our morning tasks—make breakfast, get dressed, wake family, remember everything, get out the door! Sleep is of utmost importance, but getting to bed earlier and waking earlier will change your life. Robin Sharma says, "The way you begin your day really does determine how you live your day," and I couldn't agree more.
7. Made for walking
I love fitness and being in shape, but all the clamor of trending workout fads often drowns out the power of walking. Walking is simple and gentle yet its benefits for the mind, body, and spirit are profound and long-lasting.
I try to walk for one hour at least three times a week. It clears my mind and leaves me feeling open and energized. Walking doesn't require any special equipment or complex routines, and it's free! Walk it out.
As we move through different stages of our lives and as our priorities shift so will our routines and health needs. It's important to listen to our bodies and adjust accordingly. Being healthy is a culmination of all the little things we do; believe that small changes make a big difference!