New Year, New You
Happy New Year! January is often a time for a renewed interest in our health, but where do we start when we want to make positive changes that will last a lifetime, rather than just a few weeks?
Over the next weeks, I'll be highlighting several influential people/holistic practitioners that have made a postive and lasting impact on my health - they are the people I turn to when something goes wrong in my body, and the people who have helped me on my journey from unhealthy/unhappy to the joyful place I now inhabit.
For me, healthy food is the beginning. When things are going well inside, everything on the outside works a little better too. Good food gives me sustained energy, and has a direct impact on my mood, emotions and clarity of mind. So first up, it's the beautiful woman who continues to inspire and educate my food choices. She is a big part of the reason that I eventually adopted a plant-based diet, and is responsible for many of the delicious recipes that I regularly make. And if you talk to me about food, her name will undoubtedly come up in about 5 seconds ;)
Sarah Britton is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Nutritional Practitioner, and the award winning blogger behind My New Roots. I asked her all about food, healthy eating and how to make good choices as we navigate the aisles.
Can you tell me a little about your background and food philosophy and what led you to this way of eating/cooking?
I grew up in a very standard fare kind of household – lots of pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, canned and frozen food and I actually felt really bad my whole life (without knowing it) because I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
When I went to live on an organic farm in Arizona, everything changed very dramatically within the first few days. Within the first two weeks I had given up processed food, (sort of unwillingly I’ll add), but I just ate what we were growing on the farm, and this fog that had sort of bogged me down my whole life lifted and I felt unbelievable - so energised, awake and clear-headed, and it was incredible.
The initial five weeks turned into one year, and throughout that year, I learned how to cook– I mean my parents cooked a little bit, not a lot really … neither of them like cooking that much – but I was really drawn into it and when you’re farming, you can’t not care about what you’re eating; it’s what you’re dealing with every single day. Food becomes this very central part of your life, and I couldn’t quite believe that I could MAKE stuff that I had previously thought I had to buy in the store. So, I was inspired and excited, but when I got back to Toronto I wasn’t quite sure what to do - I had been living a life so in tune with nature and then suddenly found myself back in a city. I thought I’d take a couple of cooking courses and bide my time until I figured things out, and I actually stumbled across a school called The Institute of Holistic Nutrition (based in Toronto). It seemed a little nuts to sign up because I’d just finished a design degree and spent a year on the farm, but something spoke to me and I said “what the hell … let me just see what this is like”. I knew right away it was the best decision I’d ever made – the curriculum was incredible, it was very interdisciplinary and I loved it.
One thing I didn’t love, however, which ties into my food philosophy, was that I encountered a lot of extremism. In this field of health and wellness, there’s a lot of black and white, and I’m just not into it – I’m not into labels, I’m not into right and wrong – life is lived on a spectrum rather than at the extremes. When you’re transitioning into a healthier way of eating, it’s really important to enjoy it and have fun and embrace the process and embrace the mistakes that you make! If you feel like having a pizza one day, then just get a pizza and enjoy it and move on; it doesn’t make you a bad person. But there’s a lot of people that criticise others for not being vegan or raw or paleo or whatever. That exhausts me – I just do what I do and I like to put that positive energy into the world and hopefully it inspires people to take on the challenge of becoming healthier – not in a drudgery kind of way, but in a fun way – an “I’m going to wake up, and I’m going to feel really good” kind of way.
And after having worked on the farm – having a very clear idea of how food is grown and how it is brought to us, I feel that it’s very important to choose the source of your food carefully, not just from an environmental perspective but from an ethics perspective -there are so many injustices in the food world and understanding how much incredible work – backbreaking work- goes into making something as simple as a tomato, it’s very important to source it carefully. I realise it’s not always realistic all of the time, but these days farmer’s markets are popping up all over the place, and that’s a great sign. Living in big cities where there’s one every day – that’s just unbelievable to me! Connecting with the people who grow our food is one of the most important things we can do. And growing your own food is of course, one of the best things you can do - but if you can’t do that, get to know a farmer, they’re pretty rad people ….
How can a plant-based diet improve overall health?
Some time ago, let’s say like late eighties, we were still under the impression that you needed meat to survive – like that’s what gives people life: meat and dairy and eggs. But we’ve figured out that that is not actually true. You can get everything you need from a plant-based diet, and not only that, you’re getting far more nutrient-dense foods, without animal based cholesterol and without animal based fats (which are highly saturated, cause inflammation in the body, and all kinds of issues). With a plant based diet, the benefits are immeasurable, not only for your health, but also for the health of the planet. Eating meat has the biggest impact on the environment, more than any other choice you make – driving a car, flying in planes – it makes a huge difference. Even if you’re just an environmentalist, from that perspective, cutting back on meat and dairy and eggs is a fantastic idea and you’ll probably even feel better – plant based food digests more easily. You’ll feel better, you’ll feel lighter and more clear headed, and your body will run more smoothly.
Your recipes are inclusive of labels (i.e. vegan, GF, vegetarian, etc), but, as a collection, they don't adhere to any one label. What's the philosophy behind this and do people find it difficult to understand because they can't categorize it?
Like I said before, I’m just not into labels - labels are for cereal boxes. I think if we put labels on ourselves, we get really frustrated when we veer off-track. Food should be fun and joyful and sexy and awesome and not restrictive. I don’t think the words guilt and food should ever be in the same sentence – eating should be a joy and a celebration – every single time we eat. On the website, I put things in categories so that if my readers are vegan or gluten-free, etc, they can find recipes easily on the site, but myself, I don’t subscribe to any one set of rules because for me it’s limiting and I’m a human and I don’t want to be put in a box. That’s also the reason why I don’t put the calorie count on my recipes (which drives some people crazy) – but the reason I don’t do that is because IT DOESN’T MATTER! Isn’t it refreshing not to think about that? Isn’t it awesome just to know that every single one of the calories that I’ve put into my recipes are good for you? Yay! Freedom! That’s how I feel about it. So, no labels, no calories, no fat grams, no carbs – let’s just eat, let’s just enjoy our food. When you’re eating this way you don’t have to think about that stuff – it’s actually total liberation from the mania surrounding food and diets. And because your body gets everything it needs, your weight will naturally balance itself out and your appetite will regulate itself (that’s actually the most amazing thing - I used to overeat and by eating this way I just know when I’m full). I’ve actually been the same weight for the last 15 years!
What would you recommend as a first step to someone wanting to make their eating habits more nutritious?
I would recommend, that instead of cutting stuff out (which is what we usually think of when we’re trying to be more healthy), the first step is ADDING more food in; adding more greens, adding more root vegetables, adding more citrus, adding more berries. Because when you add in all that good stuff, it just kind of elbows the bad stuff out.
Another thing I’m always trying to convince people of, which is hard to until you try it, is when you start eating healthier food, your cravings for bad food diminish and you get to the point where you don’t even WANT bad food. Case in point, the other day my husband wanted to have a fun breakfast, so I went to the bakery to get big sugary, non-vegan, carb-loaded gluten-loaded cinnamon buns (because they’re delicious). But I got there, and looked at them, and came home with just one. He was like “What’s wrong with you?”, but I just didn’t want it, and that’s what happens 99% of the time. Of course, there’s the odd day when I just really need a cookie or something, but I know it’s going to make me feel sick! Even just looking at that kind of food, I already know I don’t want it. For me, a former sugar addict and junk food addict, this is the most fantastic feeling of freedom. I felt very chained to my addiction for so long and to now look at a chocolate bar with literally no desire to eat it, makes me feel really good. It’s very relieving, because I was a prisoner of my dietary urges, which is no fun at all.
So … adding more stuff, that’s the first step.
And actually, even before that – drinking more water! You don’t even have to buy anything to do this – just drink lots of water. Most people are just insanely dehydrated. We cannot think that coffee and tea and soda are a good source of hydration; yes, they’re based on water but they act differently in our cells. Water is the most important thing. Then we start bringing in all the yummy healthy foods, elbowing out the bad stuff, and THEN start cutting out the other stuff. But you know what? That’s probably going to happen naturally anyway.
Which recipe do you make most at home?
It’s definitely the four corners lentil soup – we make it probably once a week in our house … my husband even has it memorized and can make it without looking at the recipe! It’s fast and easy – it makes a ton, you can double or triple the recipe and stick the leftovers in the freezer – and you have something filling and nutritious in about 20 minutes. It’s inexpensive, all the ingredients are readily available at regular grocery stores and you can even keep everything on hand in your cupboard – it’s very much a staple food kind of recipe. We make it all the time. Bam, can’t go wrong.
What's your favourite show-stopper recipe?
Great question! Well … maybe because I just posted it, but I’d say the whole roasted cauliflower with skhug – that was a really good one! It’s just beautiful, and it’s so great anytime of year but perfect for a special occasion. The falafel waffles are also really good - that’s a pretty epic meal. The roasted carrots and fennel with harissa is delicious, I love that recipe too. And I can’t forget, the raw vegan dreamcake – that’s also a good one and looks beautiful.
Can you offer any advice on how not to eat an entire batch of your Raw Brownies in one go?
Haha, you’re on your own with that one, I can’t help you! I actually keep the raw brownies in the freezer (although that doesn’t stop me from going in for more, because they’re actually really good frozen!). Just eat until you’re full and enjoy every bite.
Find out more about Sarah Britton and all of her amazing recipes here. Order the My New Roots cookbook here, pre-order her new book "Naturally Nourished" here or find the My New Roots app on the app store. Naturally Nourished is available February 2017, and the My New Roots Cookbook is available now.