Disclaimer: I love cookbooks, especially ones about healthy cooking. I own a couple of shelves full of recipe books, mostly plant-based recipes, none boring, including Plenty and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. Such books reflect the expanding awareness of just how exciting vegetables, grains and legumes can be when prepared in the right way.
So a book by Signs’ “Food Matters” dietitian Sue Radd—Food as Medicine: Cooking for Your Best Health*—is a valuable contribution to this area of cookery, while also furthering the very valid connection between what we eat and how we feel. As Radd puts it, “Your diet is the cornerstone of health improvement.” Which is why she has assembled 150 of her best recipes to demonstrate exactly how food can be used as medicine, along with the scientific evidence that shows that better health starts in the kitchen.
And truthfully, I can attest to this, because my love of healthy food nowadays is something of a contrast to the way it used to be about five years ago when I was big (literally) into decadently unhealthful foods. Back then, I weighed an embarrassing amount, thanks to enjoying generous portions and far too many treats. But in 2013 I had my tonsils removed, and the surgeon who performed the tonsillectomy encouraged me to lose weight when I recovered.
I could have easily ignored his advice or allowed my pride to be offended by his entirely rather personal suggestion, legitimate though it was, but somehow his comment stuck with me through the two weeks of post-surgery recovery and soft food diet. It gave me time to rethink my approach to what I ate—both in terms of quantity and quality—and make a commitment to exercise.
Perhaps you could say that I stopped making excuses for myself. I really did have the time to exercise when I made it a priority, and I didn’t need to “reward” myself with junk food or “help” myself feel better after a bad day with a mountain of comfort food.
The results speak for themselves. I now weigh just about half the amount I used to—I’m right in the middle of the healthy BMI range, have an active lifestyle and have found that my overall health has greatly improved. For example, the biggest health benefit is having fewer migraine headaches. I’d always been vegetarian by choice, but now I’m much more mindful of what I eat and how it is prepared.
As such, I absolutely recommend Food as Medicine, as it is much more than a beautifully designed, generously illustrated cookbook. It really is a “comprehensive introduction to cooking food as medicine in your kitchen,” as Radd describes it. It features a variety of plant-based recipes that all sound as amazing as they look on paper. They are all simple, healthy, and don’t involve a score of obscure ingredients that can only be found in specialty stores. Radd has made the recipes in Food as Medicine both accessible and affordable, which means that there are no excuses for failing to give them a try.
Among my favourite recipes are Roasted Vegetables on Couscous with Moroccan dressing (easy and flavoursome); Cannellini Bean and Carrot Soup with Parsley (the beans are rich in fibre and potassium, while carrots are a great source of Vitamin A); Chocolate Truffle Cakes with Raspberries (simply delicious); Caramel Date Sauce (there are two ingredients and it requires next to no effort); and Sunflower Seed Sour Cream (sunflower seeds are a wonderful source of iron).
Additionally, recipes can easily be altered for dietary tastes, such as if you’re gluten- or lactose-intolerance. But there are also plenty of gluten- and lactose-free recipes in Food as Medicine.
There are also seasonal menu plans that will help you to make the most of the recipes in the book. Before you get started on cooking anything, there is an eminently practical guide to making over your kitchen, pantry, fridge and freezer so that your healthy lifestyle change can be more easily sustained. Don’t skip this bit. If you have food around that will sabotage your efforts to make healthy choices, it’s likely to do just that! It can take time to get used to moving away from eating ready-made things or junk food, but it’s worth it to cut down on those items.
Radd also provides comprehensive health information, explaining the latest scientific health research. The “More Detailed Health Information” section at the back of the book is excellent, and it is followed by “Helpful Notes on Various Foods,” which explains just what makes the fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods used in this book so good for you.
Apart from the beautiful layout and simplicity of the recipes, one of the things I really enjoyed about Food as Medicine is that it focuses on plant-based nutrition—something that’s not only healthy for you but better for the environment.
Whether you’re looking to make some healthy changes to the way you eat, want to lose some weight or need new food inspiration, Food as Medicine is a great place to start. It might be best to not think of Food as Medicine as a diet book in the traditional sense.
It isn’t about detoxing, fads or quick fixes. It’s about changing your food choices to make every meal matter. And you are the one with the power to make that difference, if you choose to.
* Food as Medicine: Cooking for Your Best Health, by Sue Radd, Signs Publishing Company, Warburton, 2016.