Lee Holmes thought she was doing everything right: She ate low-fat foods, worked out and stayed busy with a career she loved in the entertainment industry. But seven years ago, she started to feel drained, depressed and, often, in pain. She chalked it up to a life without a pause button and bumping up to age 40, until she was hit with a truth bomb: A nonspecific autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia were the real culprits dragging her down. Like the 50-million Americans, most of them women, who have been diagnosed with some type of autoimmune disease, her body’s immune system had somehow gone haywire and basically turned on itself.
Lee wasn’t content to be a passive player in her own health and well-being. So she started researching the immune system and the effects of diet and lifestyle on the body’s ability to stay healthy. It will come as no surprise that what we put into our bodies impacts our health. What did surprise Lee was just how big an impact our digestion system has on how well we think, look and feel. And even better, you don’t have to be Julia Child to prepare recipes that rev up your body and even treat chronic health issues.
We caught up with the Sydney-based author and whole food expert on our Australian adventure and were instantly drawn in by her straightforward nutritional advice. Then we tasted her simple-to-concoct (not to mention digest) recipes. Here’s what she had to say:
Naturally: Do you have any tips on changing a way of eating that, for many of us, started when we were only 2 years old? And just how bad were your eating habits before you received your diagnosis?
Lee: I used to think my diet was healthy. I would eat Lean Cuisine and low-fat meals thinking that they were good for me, but in actual fact many of them were loaded with bad fats, artificial sugars, preservatives, chemicals and additives, which were wreaking havoc on my system. One of the biggest tips that I can give you is to take it slow and gradually change your diet over from processed foods to more natural whole foods. Just try and change one thing a day or a week, even, until you get into the swing of things. Just work at your own pace.
One of the biggest tips that I can give you is to take it slow and gradually change your diet over from processed foods to more natural whole foods.
N: What has been the most earth-rocking surprise you’ve learned about the link between diet, digestion and feeling better?
L: The most shattering piece of science that I have discovered about the gut and digestion is that it is intrinsically linked to so many other systems in your body. Did you know that up to 80% of immune tissue is located in your gut? So if you have an autoimmune problem, the gut is one of the first places you should be looking. Also 70—80% of serotonin is manufactured in the gut, so it can affect your moods. I talk about this a lot in my four week online Heal Your Gut program.
N: Does diet really have power over how I feel physically and emotionally?
L: Yes, absolutely. Foods not only have the power to feed you nutritionally and provide energy and vitality but also have ingredients and properties to elevate and lift your mood and release feel-good hormones in the body. Mounting evidence says that omega-3 fatty acids which are found in abundance in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna may help ease depressive symptoms. And on the flipslide, there’s plenty of research on the mind-altering effects of caffeine and alcohol too.
N: We all have our demons…chocolate, liquor, fast food for instance…How pure do we have to be in order to feel better?
L: I follow the 80/20 rule, which is balanced and has moderation. Life is too short to be a diet zealot and you don’t want to end up with disordered eating.
N: Thanks for gearing your recipes to the time-strapped and kitchen-challenged. How do you come up with them?
L: I love to get into the kitchen and experiment with different ingredients. Sometimes I’ll eat or see a recipe that excites me, and then I will go about creating a healthy version of it.
N: How critical is getting stress under control to maintaining good health? What have you found are the best ways to do that?
L: Sometimes stress can be a positive force propelling you to be motivated and get things done. But on the flip side, stress can also be a negative force—and periods of prolonged stress can take a toll on your health. When you are watching a scary movie or have a job interview or a speech to get through, your fight or flight response can kick in, flooding your body with hormones and making your heart beat faster, your hands get sweaty and your blood pressure start to rise. But during periods of prolonged stress, your body can get stuck in that fight/flight mode, and then you can’t seem to find the off switch. Some of the ways to bring your body out of stress are to learn deep breathing and meditation, or to practice yoga. Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reduce stress but also boost immune functioning.
N: Do you take any particular supplements, or is that cheating/less effective than going directly to the food source?
L: I take MSM [biological sulfur that is found in most plants and animals] for my fibromyalgia, plus krill oil and probiotics. I do prefer to try to get nutrition from my food whenever possible.
N: Okay, here comes an age-old question: How do we get our kids to eat their vegetables?
L: Most kids love pasta, so take advantage of it and make a sauce that’s full of vegetables. When cooking the sauce as you normally would, add zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, kale or any other vegetable you’d like to sneak in. Use a handheld blender to smooth the sauce before dishing it up with a bowl of pasta. They will never know the difference.
Next time you make meatballs, use a food processor to blend carrots, mushrooms and zucchini, then add it to the meat mixture before forming the balls. When cooked, your kids won’t notice the extra veggies, but you’ll know they’re in there!
N: Do you think junk food is addictive? Why would our bodies crave what’s bad for them?
L: Yes, it can be addictive because we start to get cravings and our brain calls for these kinds of foods. Junk foods can stimulate the reward system in our brains in the same way drugs do. When we eat, the brain releases a bunch of feel-good hormones such as the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is interpreted by our brains as pleasure. When we eat junk foods they can cause a more powerful reward signal, so eating vegetables may cause a moderate release of dopamine, whereas eating a sugar donut can cause a bigger release—and that’s what makes us crave that feeling.
N: I know this is a really simple question to address a complex issue, but what does it mean that we need to eat to heal or care for our bodies at a cellular level?
L: It means that we are going directly to the cause of the problem and not just treating the symptoms. When you reach your body at a cellular or grass-roots level it means you can get to the root of the problem rather than suppressing symptoms via synthetic or artificial means.
N: Finally, what’s next for you, Lee?
L: I am launching my Heal Your Gut (a four-week online program) in the U.S. in 2015, so I’m very excited about that. I’m planning a trip over to the U.S.—I love the country and the people; I just can’t wait to visit.
Mint Choc Chip Smoothie
Move over mint slices. This smoothie tastes just like mint choc chip ice cream, only it’s much healthier. In fact, the traditional biscuity version has got nothing on this blended variety, which is full of sweet minty creaminess, minus the bloat. If you don’t have fresh spinach, frozen will do just fine.
1 peeled and frozen banana
1 bunch of spinach leaves
1/4 cup organic nut butter
1/2 avocado, peeled and pit removed
handful of mint leaves, or 1/8 teaspoon alcohol-free peppermint extract
1 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
1 Cup almond milk
1/2 Cup coconut water
handful of ice (optional)
3 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
Place all the ingredients except the cacao nibs in a powerful blender and blend until smooth. Add the cacao nibs and blend for another 5–10 seconds. Pour into a tall glass and serve.
This is fast, easy and so good for you. Shrimp contain a natural pink pigment—astaxanthin—a powerful antioxidant that protects skin against sun damage and improves elasticity. It even helps to improve uneven skin tone, leaving you with a youthful, healthy glow. Want proof? Just look at these pictures of Lee!
1 pound of peeled and deveined raw shrimp
2 tablespoons of red curry paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon coconut oil
14 oz of coconut milk (additive-free)
1 handful of basil leaves
Asian greens (optional)
1. Combine the shrimp, curry paste, garlic, ginger and lime juice in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Remove the shrimp from the fridge. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté for a couple of minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and add the basil and cook for one more minute.
Serve immediately on a bed of Asian greens.
Cleansing Turmeric and Ginger Tea
Turmeric is not just a sunny, bright spice to curry up dishes, says Lee. It’s also commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic and Unani medicine. You’l love this cleansing tea with its alkalizing and detoxifying properties, which provide powerful anti-inflammatory action. Turmeric is a superhero ingredient that helps to heal and prevent dry skin, slow aging, diminish wrinkles and improve skin’ elasticity. Indian women use turmeric as a facial cleanser and exfoliant.
1 cup almond or rice milk
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Stevia liquid, to taste
1. Add the almond milk to a small saucepan and heat gently until it reaches room temperature.
2. Add the turmeric and ginger to a mug. Pour a small amount of warm milk into the mug and stir to create a liquid paste, ensuring there are no lumps. Add the remaining milk and sweeten with a few drops of stevia.
SUPERCHARGED TIP: If you are using fresh turmeric, handle with care as it stains easily. If you do happen to turn your favorite garment yellow, try a squeeze of lemon juice, or dab the spot with a little eucalyptus oil to remove the stain.
This is a naturally easy gelato recipe that will sweep you away with its astonishing taste and deliver maximum refreshment on sunny days. Lee says the raspberries are an exceptional food because the antioxidants help reduce visible signs of aging. Can we get an extra serving of anti-aging gelato, please?
1¼ cups raw cashew nuts
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 drops of stevia liquid
½ cup additive-free coconut milk
1. Place all the ingredients in a high-speed food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer into three individual ice cream molds or ramekins. Place in the freezer for 2 hours or until they have set.
2. Remove from the molds before serving by running a warm knife along the inside edge of the mold.
Cranberry and Walnut Granola
It strikes Lee as odd that some people think store-bought granolas have received health-food cult status. She says they are usually full of sugar and brimming with bad fats. Whipping up a batch of her delicious granola is easy, wholesome and delicious. Once you get a hang of it, Lee says, you can swap out ingredients and customize your own supercharged granola.
1½ cups quinoa or brown rice flakes
¾ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon almond flakes
1 tablespoon flax seeds
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup rice malt syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut flakes
Almond milk to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2. Combine the quinoa, walnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almond flakes, flax seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and mix well to combine.
3. Place the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat and heat until it has melted. Add the rice malt syrup and vanilla and stir for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.
4. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir well, ensuring the dry ingredients are coated thoroughly.
5. Transfer the granola to the baking tray in a single layer, then cook in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring frequently and breaking up any clumps that form. Remove from the oven, add the coconut flakes and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Cool.
6. To serve, place in bowl and top with almond milk.
SuperCharged Turmeric, Cauliflower and Almond
Lee loves turmeric for its healing powers, and here its earthy fragrance works well to transform what she calls “frumpy vegeatables” into “anti-inflammatory bundles of wellness.”
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ red onion, finely diced
⅓ cup chopped almonds
For the dressing:
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Place the cauliflower on a baking tray. Pour over the olive oil, ensuring the cauliflower is evenly coated. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
3. Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine.
4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and place in a serving bowl. Add the parsley and onion, pour over the dressing and stir to combine well.
5. Serve topped with the chopped almonds.