From a new restaurant to a new trendy food (I’m talking about you kale!), the way we eat is something that is a huge part of our everyday life. I was really excited to have the opportunity to spend some time with Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley, authors of the new cookbook (okay, it’s new for us in the US, it’s been in Europe longer!) The Art of Eating Well. Their message is simple: you should eat good food that makes you feel good. The receipes that they’ve developed in their book are just that, from a black bean brownie (seriously, it’s insanely good) to pastas made from vegetables, they present a fresh take on treating your body well. I tagged along while they shopped for groceries at the Union Square Farmer’s Market and made dinner for friends while in New York this fall and I learned a lot. So here it is, The Art of Eating Well!
What is your food philosophy?
Melissa: In a nutshell, it’s eating good food to make you feel good.
Jasmin: There are three areas. One, you’ve got the whole way you eat and your relationship with food. There is an aspect of slowing down, being mindful and once you tune in, you can make better decisions.
Two, it’s to keep things as natural as possible and make food as digestible as possible. Not just the chewing, but cooking foods makes them a lot easier for you to assimilate their nutrients. Its all about nutrient dense foods and we have such small stomachs, you need to put the good stuff in.
And three, it’s kind of based on meat and vegetables. We look at the plate as having 2/3 green vegetables and then either a protein or a more starchy food. We use saturated fats for cooking with, because they are more nourishing. We don’t eat gluten, grain and refined sugars. Really, it’s about real whole foods that do you good from the inside out.
What is holding people back from changing the way they eat? Are they intimidated?
M: I think that maybe they think it will be a hardship or that it doesn’t work. But it does and actually, even changing one thing can have a big impact. In the book, we have 10 things to start the day with. Making positive changes will positively affect how you feel. It doesn’t have to be painful.
J: There are two types of people that I’ve met, one needs to understand it all and implement it completely from the beginning and the other type just adds bits and bits so they don’t remember that there was ever a changeover.
There are so many times I see people struggling with their low-fat cereal, skim milk and Diet Cokes and going to the gym and pounding away on zero nutrition. You forget that it makes you feel badly and then you go an do it again.
Being observational without getting obsessed is such an amazing tool. When you observe what is going in your body, that change can make such a huge difference.
Why should you be avoiding low-fat, fat-free food products?
Jasmin: One, you need fat, it’s part of food. you need it for hormones, you need it for your skin. Fat is an incredible source of energy and I’m not talking about refined fats, vegetable oils or margarines.
The body is designed to use fat and sugar for quick energy. And that is why we are drawn to sweet, fatty foods because it delivers on everything.
If you’re making a health food product and you take out fat, which is the satisfaction, you’re going to have to mimic something fatty by putting in all sorts of chemicals and processed items and then you up the sugar because thats the only way you’re going to get flavor.
M: The general rule is, you want to eat food in it’s entire state. You never want to take out fats, the only fat you should be worried about are vegetable oils, which comes back to what we talk about in the book and being mindful about what you’re cooking in.
How do calories factor into your philosophy?
J: Calories are not a good way to determine what goes into your body. It means nothing and it’s one tiny aspect of food. For example, eating 500 calories of broccoli is very different from eating 500 calories of cake. Basically, it has no relevance.
M: I saw something on Instagram that said, “Stop counting calories, start counting chemicals.” One of the other things about calories is, it’s easy for people to latch on to them and they become obsessive. It’s not about what they are eating, it’s about calories. You’re not thinking about your meal as something delicious or something nourishing, but does this work with my calorie counter?
What is your approach to fitness in relation to food?
J: I think for people that are into fitness, they realized that food is 80% of that. If you are going to do something like boxing, or running, you’re actually using your muscles and you need to repair them. You are using your body, it’s brilliant that you’re moving your muscles but at the same time you need nutrition even more. I used to be all about the hard core exercises because I felt like it was making me feel alive. Now I’m understanding, since I started meditating, since I’ve started understanding food that it’s about a balance. If your work is hectic, you need to balance it with some really chill downtime. If you’re a very active person then combine that with eating well.
I love the breakfast section of your book. Do you look at breakfast being one of the most important meals of the day?
M: You definitely don’t want to be skipping breakfast. Smoothies are a really good, portable way to get your breakfast– we’ve come at the book from a working persons life.
J: Even though we have different sections, all meals can be the same. I ate leftovers from last night for breakfast today. Starting off the day with breakfast stabilizes your blood sugar levels, it sets the right intentions. Even if you have to go to a boozy work lunch where you can’t choose the menu, you know you’ve got some kind of nutrition in your belly to start the day. Skipping breakfast delimits the calories you eat in a day and can backfire massively. You’ve fasted all night and you need to break that fast and get some nutrition in you and get things moving.
What’s one of the most surprising things you’ve been cooking with?
M: Black beans. Like in the black bean brownies, we were surprised by that.
J: We make noodles out of vegetables, we make mash out of cauliflower, that we use ghee.
I think people will be surprised that you use dairy in your book. What do you look for when you’re eating dairy?
J: Provenance. When possible, an un-pasteurized cheese but at the same time, it’s had bacteria introduced to it to turn it into a cheese and that helps to break down the lactose. You’ll see there is no milk in our book because it’s really hard to get proper milk. It’s always been homogenized and highly pasteurized. At least with yogurts and things, they are fermented, they are alive. You can get good, full fat organic yogurts nowadays.
It’s also fat as well. Dairy has been a huge source of protein and fat for so many tribes and people. It’s important to get the source right and cheese is one of the easiest ones to find because we are so into artisan foods nowadays.
What is the deal with gluten? Why do you cook gluten-free?
M: Gluten now is in almost everything. It’s used in sauces, dips, drinks, pretty much anything processed. Almost everyone is better with it taken out. With things like bread and baking, we don’t need it. We can, not mimic it, but in our baking we don’t need it. If you don’t need it, why have it? People who didn’t think they had an intolerance when we started with them, they still feel better without it. They don’t feel as bloated, they don’t feel as heavy.
J: It’s glue-y. People have very poor digestion in modern life due to antibiotics, overeating, lack of nutrition, the chemicals we spray and it’s just one of those things we’ve eaten in abundance. Bread was also an important part of the diet for many people for a long time but it was prepared in a completely different way. Wheat has been massively hybridized, we’re all eating the same thing. By taking people’s dependency on grains away, we are opening people up to more vegetables.
You can over-eat grains. It’s harder to over-eat cheese or butter. With grains, not only do they realize a very happy feeling that makes you overeat on them, but it’s just everywhere.
What is the biggest difference in eating that you notice being in America?
J: What is so interesting in America is that you guys are mad about snacks, crackers, popcorns. People drinking sodas, hearing that slurping sound. Your portion sizes and your snack department is huge. But at the same time, you have a juice bar on every corner.
What do you think of these fad foods? Like kale?
M: I don’t mind it because if every month a new vegetable gets special attention and people adopt it, it’s great. I think it’s like juicing, if it gets people to start thinking about healthy eating then its good. We love all vegetables, they’ve all got their perks. You don’t want to eat kale everything, it’s important to have a rainbow of vegetables.
What is your favorite thing to cook with?
J: Cauliflower because it’s genius in imitating the mouth feel of mash.
Okay, do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
M: Ah no, I was afraid you would ask me that!
Okay, you can pick two…or three if you had to eat them everyday…
J: Steak and cauliflower mash, Mung Dahl and BB brownies.
M: Courgetti and Ragu, Sesame Chicken Cucumber noodle salad and the rice bar.
The Art of Eating Well, by Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley